For Reporters, New Hurdles in Exposing Corruption

By Covering Business     April 7, 2012

By Nizar Manek
Columbia Journalism School ‘12

It’s a common trope that to investigate corruption, a journalist has got to follow the money. Now, some reporters say, trends in globalization and regulation are making the trail harder to follow.

A panel of three journalists spoke last week at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism about the challenges of investigating crime and corruption around the world. Because large-scale corruption frequently involves actors outside the country, the panelists emphasized the importance of a transnational, cooperative approach.

Reporting on governmental corruption often requires investigating companies outside the nation’s borders, the panelists said. For example, Raphael Marques de Morais, an investigative journalist who runs the watchdog website Maka Angola, said the 2012 Angolan federal budget had earmarked about $17 million for a private Angolan company to push a public relations campaign to improve the government’s image on CNN. For Marques, that meant reaching out to CNN International to challenge the organization on its coverage of Angola. He said his investigation is still underway.

Misha Glenny, who covered organized crime in Yugoslavia during its decent into war, said reporting on systemic corruption was best done over a long period of time. He said he conducted interviews in a “very laid back way” while working for the BBC World Service.

“I slid into war in Yugoslavia, not as a war correspondent or investigative journalist, but as a political correspondent,” Glenny said. “Then as the war developed, what I observed was that the conflict in Yugoslavia, rather than being a case of overheated nationalist passions and strategies of vengeance that reached back to the Second World War, was really a cover for the grabbing of state assets by new national elites in the former Yugoslavia.”

Oleg Kashin, who covers youth and political movements for the Russian paper Kommersant, said different readerships have different levels of interest in corruption. No one in Russia is shocked by corruption, he said, so domestically, the impact of investigative journalism can be limited.

Kashin added that reporting about Russian corruption would be more effective in U.S. and European publications because Russian officials have interests in those areas.

Marquez also stressed the importance of stepping up the pressure on corrupt officials in the U.S. and Europe. “Without the west,” he said, “where are they going to spend these millions?”

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