Yesterday, CommGAP  and UNODC  co-hosted a side event during the Third Conference of the State Parties to the UN Convention against Corruption , taking place this week in Doha, Qatar. Entitled, “Media Relations and Good Practices in Awareness-Raising Campaigns ,” the event consisted of two sessions, focusing on the importance of media relations for an anti-corruption agency to get its message across to the public and generate public support, and of awareness raising campaigns to engage the public in the fight against corruption.
In Session One, “Make Media Your Friend, Not Your Foe: Do’s and Don’ts in Media Relations,” we heard from Nicholas Simani, who works as Principal Public Relations and Protocol Officer for the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission , and Alessandro Buttice, Spokesperson for OLAF  (European Anti-Fraud Office). In his engaging presentation, Simani spoke about the importance of developing a cooperative relationship with the media due to the media’s enormous power as the fourth estate to create and shape public opinion as well as shame and destroy an entity. Given that the media decide what gets published and the media are the vehicle through which information is passed to the public, Simani urged anti-corruption commissions to work with the media in a strategic and well-planned manner, sharing a list of do’s and don’ts in media relations (to be included in a report to be posted on CommGAP’s site ). Alessandro Buttice talked about the experience of the OLAF anti-fraud communicators’ network  to engage the media in its efforts to fight fraud and corruption. He stressed the need to reduce the gap between reality and perception regarding corruption issues. Since transparency through information is key to addressing this challenge, Buttice emphasized the critical role that the media can play to educate the public about both the topic of corruption as well as the work of one’s organization. As examples of ways to engage with the media, he shared a number of activities of the communicators’ network, such as training seminars for journalists (including on ethics standards for journalists), cooperation with journalist associations, production of TV series, and use of web 2.0 and social media tools.
Session Two, entitled “Good Practices in Awareness-Raising Campaigns,” featured government officials and civil society representatives who presented on successful public awareness raising campaigns on corruption. Augustin Nzindukiyimana, Deputy Ombudsman, Rwanda, made an informative presentation on the activities of his office, such as conducting extensive outreach activities, producing dramas to sensitize the public about corruption, supporting anti-corruption clubs in schools and universities and creating free cybercafés and toll-free telephone lines to report corruption cases, to name a few. Luiz Navarro, Executive Secretary of Brazil’s Office of the Comptroller General , spoke about the Office’s campaign to prevent corruption through innovative measures, such as the Transparency Portal (an online system through which citizens can monitor public spending), a program called “Eagle Eye on the Public Money” (which has a series of creative initiatives aimed at raising awareness and building capacity of the public to mobilize against corruption), and education programs on ethics and citizenship, among others.
Particularly relevant to CommGAP’s work on transforming norms and generating demand for accountability were riveting presentations by Vijay Anand, President of 5th Pillar , and Shaazka Beyerle, Senior Advisor with the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict . Anand spoke about the efforts of 5th Pillar , an NGO in India which is working to engender public will to fight corruption in that country where engaging in bribery is the norm. To fight this reality where the “no bribe, no service” culture prevails, 5th Pillar began to distribute zero rupee notes to citizens as a means to counter public officials requesting bribes from them. Equipped with zero rupee notes, people could hand them out to officials as a form of protest. Anand explained that the success of this initiative lay in the people’s understanding that they were not alone in this fight and that they had an organization behind them. Anand also spoke about the right to information training conducted by 5th Pillar and that it is the lack of information that leads to corruption in India, where middlemen exploit it to demand and obtain bribes from people. In her captivating presentation, Shaazka Beyerle spoke about good practices in civic anti-corruption campaigns, emphasizing that people matter in the fight against corruption: as corruption is made of a system of people, people are needed to unravel it. Defining civic power, civic action, and nonviolent tactics, she shared nine general good practices in civic anti-corruption campaigns, citing impressive examples from around the world. Especially interesting to me were her suggestions to: move from abstract issues to everyday concerns (to focus on issues that matter to people in life); associate with an honest image (campaigns liked with groups in society perceived as honest and incorruptible have credibility and legitimacy, and give people the courage, will and hope to fight corruption); unity of goals (goals that matter to a lot of people to bring together both the young and old from rural and urban areas and belonging to a wide range of social and ethnic classes); and ownership (to cultivate a sense that everyone is part of the fight against corruption, and that campaigns provide them the opportunity for them to take action).
The richness of the content presented in the two sessions and the interest in the topics were clear: both sessions elicited robust, thoughtful questions from the audience that consisted of members from a wide range of professions including the media, anti-corruption commissions and civil society. We will be posting a more detailed report on the event on CommGAP’s site  and we hope you will check back with us.
Photo Credit: Flickr user Tophee