Fighting corruption needs free media

As I have pointed out before, there is a very real connection between media suppression and corruption. (New corruption list out. Still a link between corruption and media suppression)

The combined forces of democratic institutions and free media are an unbeatable team to address the issue of corruption. And before anyone gets all high and mighty, democracy and free press do not guarantee and end to corruption. But at least this combination helps reduce it and bring the violators to justice.

Generally when most people talk about “free media” they mean  free and unfettered traditional media such as newspapers and television. If the Arab Spring has taught us anything, it is that online social media have to be included in the mix.

Besides calling for  secular and democratic governments, the protesters in Tunisia and Egypt called for an end to corruption.

And while traditional media were able to deal with large-scale investigations into corrupt practices in the past, staffing cutbacks have reduced the ability for a continuation of this type of important public service. Public-interest groups are working to fill in the gap, but one has to wonder about a hidden political agenda driving the investigation.

So that takes us to the role of social media fighting corruption.

At first glance, social media is a curse and a blessing in the fight.

The curse because of the lack of a filter on determining what is rumor and what is fact. What became clear in the Arab Spring uprisings, however, shows that — too a large degree — the social media postings were self-correcting.

The London School on Economics issued a new report this month that all should read: Harnessing Social Media Tools to Fight Corruption.

Note the opening of the report’s introduction:

Print media—often referred to as the fourth estate—has served as a corruption watchdog for over two hundred years. Investigative journalism serves as a check on governments and engages the public in an assessment of its efficiency. At the end of the Cold War, it was assumed that a free press would fortify democratic ideals across the world, and development agencies began funding countless projects aimed at training investigative journalists.1 However, these watchdog reporters were met by constraints, particularly government censorship and the demand for more marketable stories.2

As print media wanes in the face of globalisation, investigative journalism and international coverage are the two budgets most likely to be cut by media corporations.3 In his remarks before U.S. Congress about the death of investigative journalism, author David Simon concluded, ―it is going to be one of the great times to be a corrupt politician.‖4

But as one door closes, another opens. A 2010 report by Technology for Transparency suggests that the so-called fifth estate, or ―networked citizen media platforms that rely on the volunteer contributions of citizens‖ can not only fill the role of watchdog, but also enhance the rate and scope of investigation once provided by professional journalists. These platforms, enabled by online networks, technologies and social media are engaging Internet and mobile phone users to demand transparency and making corrupt behaviour risky for public and private sector actors alike.

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Filed under Censorship, Corruption, International News Coverage

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