International Anti-Corruption Day: Investigative Journalists Use Technology to Combat Corruption
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In honor of International Anti-Corruption Day, IREX staff Erin Murrock shares insight on how journalists are combating corruption.
I recently witnessed/observed first-hand the challenges facing media reform in Serbia, and indeed, in most of the countries where IREX works.
The conference hall of the Media Center Belgrade was packed with journalists, representatives of media advocacy associations, universities, major TV and radio outlets, foreign embassies, and the government. They had all come to hear and debate the report issued by the Serbian Anti-Corruption Council, “Pressure and Control over the Media.” The report’s harsh criticism spared few players in the Serbian media environment.
The Anti-Corruption roundtable includes presidents of two journalist associations, a professor from the Faculty of Political Science, and the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Protection of Personal Data. The members debated the extent of economic pressure placed on Serbian media, which often requires outlets to make a difficult choice between being financed by the government and business interests or facing the failure of their outlets. Economic pressures make it difficult to determine real owners in the media, affect editorial control, and allow events to be reported without full detail or sufficient critical analysis. The Anti-Corruption council emphasized that the economic pressures placed on the media present significant obstacles to properly fulfilling its watchdog role.
The frustration I felt from Serbian journalists who suffer from this economic pressure was shared by many of the investigative journalists that I met at the Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Kyiv, Ukraine. These brave journalists, working to expose corruption around the world, provided real world examples of uncovering corruption in the sports world, organized crime in Eastern Europe, and their experiences working in difficult environments such as Pakistan and China. Investigative journalists in these countries face many difficult challenges. They publish information that governments and corporations often want to keep hidden. Their stories are complex – they map evolving structures and connections within organized crime groups, they track money trails, and they show relationships between politics and monied interests. This complexity means the cost of pursuing an in-depth investigation prohibits many from pursuing such stories.
Yet investigative journalists are increasingly taking advantage of technological advances that make their work easier and cheaper, allowing them to bypass many of the economic pressures their outlets face. Tools like Google Refine and Zotero help journalists log the massive amounts of data they obtain through investigations, social networking sites help them track down people with the information they need, and others like Google Fusion help them visualize this data into easy-to-read graphs and charts.
I saw how IREX is helping its partners take these challenges head-on, using technology to fulfill their public watchdog role. At Southern News in Nis, Serbia, Pedja Blagojevic proudly informed me, Nis was the first city in Serbia to protest the rigged elections held in 1996 during the Milosevic era, a movement which soon spread to Belgrade and other major cities. Today, Southern News’ (Juzne vesti ) web portal upholds this attitude of resisting political pressure by uncovering local news stories that would otherwise not get coverage. Southern News has been rapidly applying some of the latest technologies used by investigative journalists to provide better coverage of local events. They use open-source software that allows whistleblowers and citizens to safely and anonymously submit information to the website. Brave journalists like those at Southern News are leading the effort to promote transparency in Serbia. Perhaps one day, they and their like-minded colleagues around Serbia will make obsolete the need for an Anti-Corruption Council.