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Friend or Foe? Media's Role in Anti-Corruption Work

Fumiko Nagano's picture

One of the dilemmas voiced by anti-corruption agencies at the UNODC-CommGAP organized learning event on the role of communication in anti-corruption efforts last November was the challenge of working with the media. On the one hand, anti-corruption agencies understood the importance of media relations. On the other, many of them had had unpleasant experiences with journalists, leaving them frustrated and suspicious of the media profession as a whole.

For anti-corruption agencies to be successful in their work, however, media may possibly be their greatest ally. In many countries, anti-corruption agencies face an uphill battle. They are created simply to meet international standards or for governments to demonstrate their “commitment” to combat corruption. Given their mandate, anti-corruption agencies don’t rank high in the popularity contest among their public institution peers. With little political backing and limited resources, anti-corruption agencies often find themselves lone champions for reform, fighting for their own survival instead of fighting corruption. If these agencies are to survive and thrive, they need to generate widespread public support for themselves and their work. So how can this be done? Enter the media.

As Pippa Norris and Sina Odugbemi discuss in CommGAP’s upcoming volume, Public Sentinel: News Media and Governance Reform, media can play the role of watchdogs, agenda setters and gatekeepers in a society. Media can support the anti-corruption struggle through reporting on corrupt behaviors by public officials, putting corruption on the public agenda, and covering corruption from diverse, wide-ranging perspectives. If a good working relationship can be established with the media, an anti-corruption agency can benefit from increased publicity that could generate broad public support for it. In turn, public support can help shield it from political backlash and create an environment for it to pursue its politically difficult mandate.

In my recent phone conversation with Sandra Blagojevic, Advisor to Slovenia’s Commission for the Prevention of Corruption, we discussed the anti-corruption agency’s fascinating experience with media relations and public opinion. When it was first created in 2004, the agency enjoyed no political support and very limited resources. However, with a unique approach to developing its own in-house investigative capacity, liaising with journalists, and getting them to cover the topic, the agency was able to establish a collaborative relationship with the media that put corruption on the public agenda and garnered public support for both itself and the cause. The result of the agency’s media relations efforts was remarkable: when the previous government tried to shut down the agency, people threatened to pass a referendum against this measure, effectively coming to its rescue. Today, the agency enjoys a 90% increase in its budget—a testament not only to the strength and popularity of its work, but also to the power of public opinion. And, as media can help shape public opinion, it is all the more important to help anti-corruption agencies recognize the role of media in their work and develop their media relations capacity.

Photo Credit: Flickr user MikeBlyth

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