Salone News

The role of investigative reporting in combating public corruption

14 July 2019 at 20:54 | 1383 views

Commentary

The role of investigative reporting in combating public corruption: The New SLAJ Executive requires a paradigm shift to investigative journalism.

By Kortor Kamara, USA

As members of the Sierra Leone Fourth Estate, congregated for their triennial conference at the luxurious Golden Tulip Hotel this past weekend, - highlighted with the election of a new SLAJ executive - I am left pondering as to whether any discussion of the fundamental functions and role of the press in the ongoing commissions of inquiry (COI), had been engaged in by members of this august association.

Story-Based Inquiry, an investigative journalism handbook published by UNESCO, defines it thus: “Investigative journalism involves exposing to the public matters that are concealed–either deliberately by someone in a position of power, or accidentally, behind a chaotic mass of facts and circumstances that obscure understanding. It requires using both secret and open sources and documents.”

Investigative journalism is moreover designed to fight corruption, betrayal of public trust and standing up to power to be accountable.

Despite passage of the Right to Access Information Act, 2013, several years ago at the behest of the SLAJ, data based journalism as exemplified by analytics of quantitative information and the art of professional investigative journalism, seems to have been relegated to near inertia by members of the SLAJ and remains largely a fleeting illusion in the practice of mass media in today’s Sierra Leone.

The exposure of barren fields and forest areas during a conducted field visit by the sole Commissioner, Justice Biobele Georgewill of the Commission of Inquiry, as a youth village that Billions of Leones had been misappropriated, not only showcased the magnitude of corruption of public funds but of greater concern revealed the role and lack thereof of the independent media, in failing to unearth and bring to public attention such gross corruption. How such gross corruption was allowed under the gaze of journalists without any investigative reporting says a lot about how the press was not only compromised, but more especially how it failed the nation in its role as a watchdog.

It is envisaged that a paradigm shift by members of the SLAJ to the use of such data journalism, would unchain the mass media to go beyond the usual anecdotes and superficial reporting, to provide data based evidence that may otherwise not be unlocked solely at the commissions of inquiry.

The creation of datasets made possible by the enormous records and information being produced at the commissions of inquiry, should make possible the analysis and connectivity of dots, into a coherent and structured story by investigative journalists, that the nation requires to fully unreveal the magnitude of such public corruption.

The scope, nature, extent and participants of corruption schemes being investigated can more logically be pursued and investigated by the independent news media.

It must be noted that the continued actual, perceived or coerced inability of the press to perform its watchdog role and functions, inevitably will adversely affect democratic governance in Sierra Leone.

Thus, its logical to conclude that such failure by the Sierra Leone press to embark on investigative reporting, especially in the wake of such horrendous public corruption exposure, robs the country of knowledge of how their political leaders have performed while in office.

The launching of the nation’s largest and most expansive public corruption investigations, in over several decades by the new administration, has had a very negligible input from the media.

The current ongoing commissions of inquiry, with its attendant data based evidentiary disclosures of official corruption, should provide the press, the requisite platform for the type of investigative journalism required to unearth further corrupt practices in the country.

A cursory review of news reporting since the start of the 3 commissions of inquiry reveals a total absence of investigative journalism, either through follow-ups on evidences adduced at the commissions or by the press pursuing their own independent investigative leads to buttress the commissions investigations. Investigative reporters should have been asking questions of both named and unnamed persons of interest and witnesses and making in-depth reporting on the corruption schemes.

In conclusion, as the new executive of SLAJ, headed by its president takes office, it is hoped that greater emphasis can be placed on promotion of investigative reporting by members of the association and follow up on investigative leads from the commissions of inquiry.

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