Media : Fighting Corruption or Sustaining it ?

A free Press is not a luxury. A free Press is at the absolute core of equitable development because if you cannot enfranchise poor people, if they do not have a right to expression, if there is no searchlight on corruption and inequitable practices, you cannot build the public consensus needed to bring about change.
— James D. Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank in a speech to the World Press Freedom Committee Washington, D.C., November 8, 1999

A free press is among the most effective mechanism of external controls on bureaucratic corruption and promotion of good governance. Today, the media has a distinct presence in our homes – providing us with a wealth of information on a multitude of channels – they are equally well established as parts of the social structures and world of values around us. This makes it imperative that we take an interest in the kinds of values the media promote in their work. It has the potential to curb extortive corruption—when government officials refuse or delay a service to extract a rent, and collusive corruption—where client and bureaucrat have a mutual interest in the corrupt act as in instances of tax evasion.

When the media are working well to prevent corruption, they employ investigative journalism to reveal inequities, and violations and, in an educational sense, reinforce social values that reduce the incidence of corruption in government and business. Relying on freedom of speech, the media perform their watchdog function in society as they curb and expose social injustice. Thus, it not only promotes good governance but helps to controlling corruption. It also raises public awareness about corruption, its causes, consequences and possible remedies and also investigates and reports incidences of corruption. The effectiveness of the media, in turn, depends on access to information and freedom of expression, as well as a professional and ethical cadre of investigative journalists.

The media can act as a force against corruption in ways that are both tangible and intangible. It can expose corrupt officials, prompting investigations by official bodies, reinforce the work and legitimacy of both parliaments and their anti-corruption bodies, get the investigation launched by authorities, the scrapping of a law or policy that fosters a climate ripe with opportunities for corruption, the impeachment or forced resignation of a crooked politician, the firing of an official, the launching of judicial proceedings, the issuing of public recommendations by a watchdog body, and so on. Through it’s work, it can also intangibly keeps checks on corruption which arise from the broader social climate of enhanced political pluralism, enlivened public debate and a heightened sense of accountability among politicians, public bodies and institutions that are inevitably the by-product of a hard-hitting, independent news media.

Even in the massive corruption expose in the organization of the 2010 Commonwealth Games was covered by media in which they produced evidence of excessive costs, huge – overrun of budgets, favoritism in contracts, shabby infrastructure, etc. Similarly, media exposed the 2G Spectrum scam in which a loss of lakhs of crores of rupees was caused to the Central Exchequer and again in the Adarsh society scam, the media highlighted how the housing meant for war widows was being allocated to politically connected persons.

Media gave due coverage to the anti – corruption movements launched in the country by Anna Hazare to table an effective Jan Lokpal bill and for the return of black money which was being stashed in overseas tax havens of Swiss banks. The Jan Lokpal Bill, also referred to as the Citizen’s Ombudsman Bill, is an anti-corruption bill drafted and drawn up by civil society activists in India seeking the appointment of a Jan Lokpal, an independent body to investigate corruption cases. The anti – corruption movement crusader and the website of the India Against Corruption movement calls the Lokpal Bill of the government an “eyewash”, and hosts a critique of that government bill and lists the difference between the bills drafted by the government and civil society.

These hullabaloo is long over but the collective voice and awakened conscience against corruption, as was raised, all across India and overseas keeps the crusade alive. Media can most effectively awaken the tech – savvy youth and people, fed up of jaded regimes. This new generation would not identity themselves as a political of identity, as their sole interest is in upward mobility, consumerism.

From protests of Ram Lila Maidan to Takism Square, both have been historical events for the country of India and Turkey respectively. While the anti corruption movement in India in 2011 was intended to alter the Constitution, the protests in Turkey in 2013 were about preserving the same. From Tunisia to Yemen, the corruption of Middle Eastern regimes has played a significant role in motivating the Arab Spring in 2011. Former Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and his family faced trial in absentia for, among other crimes, money laundering and drug trafficking. Egyptian courts charged former President Hosni Mubarak with corruption and sentenced in absentia his former finance minister, Youssef Boutros-Ghali, to 30 years in prison on charges of corruption and embezzlement of public money. Frustration with cronyism and corruption was a key grievance of those protesting in the streets in Libya, Syria, and Yemen as well.

In Iran, following the controversial presidential elections of 2009, the civil upsurge was nicknamed ‘Twitter Revolution’ since social networking became the communication tool for the protesters. Several people died in the ensuing clash.

Media has inspired millions of people to show their hatred of corruption and corrupt societies and their dissent towards it. The numerous unorganized spontaneous protests wouldn’t have been historical, had it not been for the power of media that transformed them into amplified urban uprisings, juxtaposed with the deftness and crudity of the State which was indifferent and contemptuous and would resort to methods like lathi charge or use of water cannons on peaceful protesters.

Sometimes, while investigating one case of corruption, the media uncover other abuses as well. A corruption charge can also be brought by accident as the by-product of a different case, as happened in Finland in 1993, when a former minister was charged with receiving a bribe. The entire case arose from a statement in the personal diaries of the former director of a failed group of banks when the diaries were published by a journalist. It was hardly the journalist’s intention to initiate a bribery trial but only to provide an account of the process that led to the failure of the banks.

In the case of President Perez in Venezuela, two investigative stories in the Caracas daily El Universal exposed that Perez and two aides had made millions by changing Venezuelan currency into dollars just ahead of a devaluation. After Venezuelan lawmakers began impeachment proceedings, Perez was forced to step down. In United States, Dan Rostenkowski, a former member of the House of Representatives, lost his congressional seat after the Chicago Sun – Times published a series of investigative reports over the course of two and a half years. In the 1996 scandal, involvement of international organization was exposed. The independent Kenyan press shed light on the malaria control-chemicals deal organized by the Ministry of Health, Mr. Donald Kimutai and reported that non-approved malaria chemicals were going to be bought through a foreign firm, Equip Agencies Ltd., at a price far higher than the price necessary to buy the goods locally. Also, a side payment of 400,000,000 Kenya Shillings was made to Equip Agencies Ltd. by the Health Ministry while no goods were delivered. This scandal burst out during the visit of an IMF team in Nairobi. That team put pressure on the government to clear the scandal. Mr. Kimutai was first transferred to the position of chairman of the Industry Commerce Development Corporation (ICDC) and only in a second stag, he was fired. Media has also acted as a check on the integrity of state anti-corruption bodies in the the U.S. city of Detroit, the judiciary—was in evidence in 1981, when a radio station’s investigation of corruption and irregularities in the local bankruptcy court was credited with leading to the dismissal and retirement of several judges, lawyers and bankruptcy trustees, as well as a change in the way judges are assigned to cases. Media also shaped public opinion in the case in point in United Kingdom, Canada and Italy. Lawrence Kilimwiko, chairman of Tanzania’s Association of Journalists and Media Workers, has observed, the rise of private-sector news media in that nation. This was marked as the ‘Rise of Media Moguls’ in Tanzania in 1997 and later on, in Russia in 1998.

Media is also recognized as the fourth pillar of any democracy. The independent and impartial coverage of the media during elections helps people, especially illiterates, in electing the right person to the power. Yesterday, in the Delhi Elections, a 71 year-old Balvir Singh from Narela who doesn’t have hands pressed the EVM with his nose and got his toe inked. Another 60 year – old woman in Aali Village with a stooped back exercised her right to vote. This is a sheer reminder that citizens are making informed choices in choosing their representatives, which is the first step to combat corruption. This responsive nature of the media compels politicians to be up to their promises in order to remain in power. They expose these politicians in the case they have unfulfilled agendas. Not only it can expose the loopholes in the village systems, but it can also bring forth the malpractices being conveniently carried out in such villages.

Corruption cases have been highlighted and tried by the media. One such sensational case was Schabir Shaik’s trial which was the subject of intense media attention due to the involvement of several high-profile members of the South African government. The trial sensitized the fraudulent and corrupt relationship between Durban-based businessman Schabir Shaik and South African politician and anti-apartheid leader Jacob Zuma. Shaik was pronounced guilty of corruption for paying Zuma, to further their relationship and for soliciting a bribe from the French arms company Thomson-CSF, as well as guilty of fraud for writing off Zuma’s unpaid debts.

The newspapers in India widely in 2006 that the Tax authorities in the state of Bihar felt that hiring services of eunuchs for tax recovery was the only way to prompt debtors to pay up their bills by serenading them with a delegation of singing eunuchs.The eunuchs were to get a commission of 4% of any taxes collected. In 2012, Pakistan too resorted to such a practice to recover taxes.

In the words of Malcom X : “The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.” While media ensures a greater accountability from public officers to the public (including through the media) is important, the media themselves have to be accountable, meaning thereby while defending the constitution and the validity of its democratic principles must, at the same time, adhere to its rules. The process of media accountability can be hindered due to the reluctance and unwillingness of public officials to disclose information to media practitioners.

Freedom of expression is limited in many countries, for a variety of reasons. In many developing countries, the main source of advertising is the government; in recent years Zambia, Malawi, Uganda, and Bangladesh—among others—have either restricted advertising to specific newspapers or have withdrawn all advertisements except those appearing in the state-owned press. An example of a set of principles to counteract these restrictions was set out in the Charter for a Free Press approved by journalists from 34 countries at the Voices of Freedom World Conference on Censorship Problems held in London, January 16–18, 1987.

Thus, in my humble opinion, the media can play an important public accountability role to curb corruption by monitoring and investigating the actions of those who are granted public trust and who may be tempted to abuse their office for private gain.

Sources Referred :

  1. Stapenhurst, R. ‘The Media’s Role in Curbing Corruption – World Bank‘ (2000)<siteresources.worldbank.org/INTWBIGOVANTCOR/Resources/media.pdf>
  2. Eigen, P. (1999), The Media and the Fight Against Corruption, Transparency International, Presented to the CELAP Conference, San Juan, Puerto Rico
  3. Utriainen, T.’The Role of the Media in Preventing Corruption’ <http://www.8iacc.org/papers/utriainen.html?
  4. Camaj, L. ‘The Media’s Role in Fighting Corruption:
    Media Effects on Governmental Accountability’ in ‘The International Journal of Press/Politics 18(1) 21–42’
    <http://hij.sagepub.com/content/18/1/21.full.pdf+html&gt;
  5. Charter for a free press <http://www.wpfc.org/CharterForAFreePress.html&gt;
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s