What’s the best way to expose corruption?
By his own reckoning, Fairfax journalist Nick McKenzie’s exposé of bribery and corruption allegations against Unaoil unfolded like a le Carré thriller or a Jason Bourne film.
McKenzie published the results of an international investigation into global oil company, Unaoil, stating “the family business from Monaco has systematically corrupted the global oil industry, distributing many millions of dollars worth of bribes on behalf of corporate behemoths including Samsung, Rolls-Royce, Halliburton and Australia’s own Leighton Holdings.” His story was sparked by a whistleblower’s leaking of a vast cache of emails and documents.
McKenzie wrote (his source): “Le Figaro wanted anti-bribery authorities to launch a major investigation into Unaoil. Le Figaro believed a big media exposé would help achieve this.” Following publication, the F.B.I, Australian Federal Police, and Britain’s Serious Fraud Office are among those investigating the claims. And, predictably, Unaoil says it’s launching legal action.
The Panama Papers and other major leaks also relied heavily on media to bring to light details of widespread corruption, bribery and corporate wrongdoing. The trouble is, investigating these leaks is really expensive, it’s time-consuming, needs massive resources and unwavering commitment from media operators.
Encouraging those operators to continue such investigations is a role Transparency International takes seriously by staging The Role of Investigative Journalism and A Free Media in Fighting Corruption event, and sponsoring One World’s corruption reporting media award, saying “The media plays a crucial role in providing citizens with information that enables them to stand up to and fight the corrupt. This takes courage and determination from the reporters and the people who tell stories, sometimes at great personal risk.
“By its very nature, corruption is secretive and hidden, so it requires special skills to detect and explain.” – Transparency International
In one of its annual global corruption barometers, Transparency International wrote: “… it was revealed that a whistleblower sent the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists 2.5 million electronic files containing what the consortium calls ‘the biggest stockpile of inside information about the offshore system ever obtained by a media organisation’. The actions of this one individual resulted in the largest-ever exposé of a high-stakes, secretive world that fosters and hides large-scale fraud, money laundering, tax evasion, corruption and other wrongdoing. With corruption seen as a serious problem around the world, and on the rise, and with governments being largely judged as insufficient, it is important that ordinary people feel empowered to do their part in stopping corruption.”
And Transparency International backs up its words by sponsoring a second international media award – the Latin American Investigative Journalism Award, about which it says: “Investigative journalism is key in digging up information that can shed light on wrongdoings. This is especially important in countries with weak institutions where repeated acts of corruption go unquestioned. In these countries the press is often the only way to uncover stories where the public interest is being ill-served.
“If people do not know about government, business and non-governmental organisation dealings, it makes it impossible to hold the powerful to account.
“Despite personal danger and the challenges of obtaining resources to carry out their work, investigative journalists continue to play a key role in uncovering wrongdoing and exposing crimes that undermine democracy and human rights.”
In conclusion, perhaps we should consider the words of Australian-born, two-term World Bank president, James D. Wolfensohn who tackled this issue in addressing the World Press Freedom Committee: “A free Press is not a luxury. A free Press is at the absolute core of equitable development because… if there is no searchlight on corruption and inequitable practices, you cannot build the public consensus needed to bring about change.”
IMAGE: used under licence from shutterstock.com.