Freedom of the press is the cornerstone of democracy and good governance, as the freedom of journalists to report and comment is strongly correlated with the public’s right of access to knowledge and information and this is the foundation for transparency and accountability. It serves as a platform for discussion of a range of issues relating to governance and development, and contributes to citizen empowerment. The right to freedom of expression is enshrined within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19, which includes freedom “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.
In working to counter corruption and crime, the media has a two-fold role to play. A active and vibrant news media, providing conventional reporting on a daily, weekly or monthly news cycle, is critical for sharing information with the general public and for serving as a forum for public debate. It is complemented by investigative journalism that strives to uncover hidden information or find deeper meanings behind the news. Investigative journalism involves detailed and ongoing research, it is open-ended and happens independently from the news cycle. In an optimal scenario, quality investigative reporting alerts the public to dangers and wrongdoings, and a free press catalyzes swift action by governments and law enforcement to rectify the wrong. As a participant from the workshop explained, “An investigative journalists is a soldier”. Great investigative journalism exposes links between businesses, public officials and/or organized crime, and explains how those ties negatively impact on the public, human rights and development issues.
The risk and the challenge to journalists reporting on these topics is that corruption touches those with power and influence; organized crime is by nature covert, well resourced and violent, and the people who carry out illicit activities want to avoid detection. In fragile states, they are often better armed, better paid, and better organized than the police, so they are seldom caught and there is little information on their activities and where state institutions are compromised, they are seldom brought to justice. In these contexts, the risks to journalists and the media are great, and the results, if any, can be ephemeral.
Globally, it has become more dangerous to be a correspondent covering governance, politics and crime than it is to work on a war zone, and journalists have increasingly become the canary down the mine for poor governance. According to the data kept by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), of the 1120 journalists that have been killed for their work, the topics they were covering were politics, war, corruption and crime.
In the last year, the most dangerous places to be a journalist are in South and Central America, some Arab and North African states and Eastern Europe. In the Americas, organized crime groups openly persecute journalists and media outlets, threatening them and their families, whilst terrorizing their followers through social media. In the Middle East, as the increasingly tainted waters of the Arab Spring have bifurcated into repressive governments or virulent violent extremist movements, both regimes are targeting journalists as a way to suppress dissent or communicate fear.
In the face of these challenges, the media need to shore up their own credibility and improve the standards of journalistic practice. A strong, independent and integral media will place significant emphasis on the need for ethics, accountability and accuracy that distinguish professional investigative reporting from an increasing number of online and social media sites that often publish information without the depth and context such efforts require (UNODC, 2014). National media could adopt appropriate codes of conduct and institute self-regulatory mechanisms that would obviate the need for government-imposed regulation. Yet, for many reasons, this is an uphill struggle.
Globally, this is a not an easy time to be an investigative journalist. In the Internet era, where most online content is free, many media organizations are being forced to change their business models to survive. Today’s 24/7, high-volume news cycle values new content over in-depth, quality long-form reporting. There are fewer resources available for serious journalism, and even less for time-consuming and costly investigative projects. Increasingly, even the most well-respected international news organizations use sensationalist, celebrity-driven news rather than quality investigative reporting to build their readership bases, and rely on syndicated news content, public relations copy and government-issued press releases to fill their pages and websites. The growing sophistication of organized crime and money laundering, also using Internet-enabled technologies to provide anonymity, skip jurisdictions and collaborate effortlessly across borders places these forms of illicit practice even further beyond the scope of the 24-hour news cycle. This makes it even more difficult for journalists to embark on time-consuming and dangerous investigations in today’s rapid turnover, digitized media world where funding for any rigorous journalism is scarce.
Paradoxically, more resources, more skills and more safeguards are required by journalists to investigate and expose organized crime and corruption – the exact opposite of the conditions and trends sketched above.
Through a range of activities, including awareness raising, advocacy, research and capacity building, the Global Initiative, in partnership with a number of key global and regional organisations, is fighting to profile, strengthen and protect the work of investigative journalists, reporting on crime, corruption, conflict and their intersection.
The impact of criminal governance in West Africa West Africa is a region reputed for its multi-dimensional fragility, where widespread poverty, inequality and under-development are exacerbated by environmental degradation, conflict, terrorism, corruption, high-level capital flight, impunity, organized crime and illicit trade. In a precursor to this report, Reporting on Organized Crime, Corruption and Governance – […]
Abajo la versión en español Investigating and exposing organized crime is regarded as one of the most dangerous beats in the world. And as the labyrinths of transnational organized crime networks grow ever more convoluted, so the threats posed to journalists crop up in new and unexpected places. Scores of journalists have been killed while […]