MARGARET CHISANGA, Lusaka
WORDS such as accountability, transparency, integrity and equity are enshrined in the goals and objectives of many government, non-governmental and international organisations’ strategic plans.
They are spoken by leaders at international, regional and local fora, often to express the steps required to achieve the set aspirations for achievement of set goals.
But are they always upheld?
This question gave rise to the role of investigative journalism, which seeks to take a deeper look at what is transpiring as opposed to what should be, especially in the role of those holding office and are accountable to the public.
Investigative journalism is a form of journalism in which reporters deeply investigate a single topic of interest, such as serious crimes, political corruption, or corporate wrongdoing.
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, investigative journalism means the unveiling of matters that are concealed either deliberately by someone in a position of power, or accidentally, behind a chaotic mass of facts and circumstances – and the analysis and exposure of all relevant facts to the public.
The fact that this watchdog role of the media is indispensable to democracy inspired the African Union Southern Africa Regional Office (AU SARO) to create the Southern Media Coalition Against Corruption to provide capacity building for journalists in the region to equip them with skills for successful investigative journalism practice.
Speaking during the first media capacity building workshop titled ‘Reporting Corruption through Investigative Journalism’ held in Johannesburg, South Africa, AU SARO Regional Delegate to Southern Africa, SADC and COMESA Secretariat, Leopold-Auguste Ngomo, said winning the fight against corruption is one of the key sustainable paths to Africa’s economic restoration.
The training initiative was one of the outcomes of the regional organisations conference on fighting corruption that was held in Gaborone, Botswana, in June 2018.
“With the core functions of AU SARO summed up in the function of alignment, domestication, monitoring and reporting, communication and promotion, representation and capacity building, we need all institutions and partners to work together in the same direction – the Africa we want,” he said.
Dr Ngomo urged that a corruption-free and prosperous Africa can best be achieved when transparency and accountability are held in high esteem.
“Our work here is to advocate for more translation, more domestication of the legal instruments, as well as the monitoring of the political, economic, security, social and environmental development of the region,” he said.
Interim chairperson of the Southern Media Coalition against corruption Touria Prayag, said this kind of journalism is vital even in the face of set investigative wings in most member states.
Mrs Prayag, who is also editor in chief of the Weekly Magazine in Mauritius, summed up the importance of the role of investigative journalism as being the link between the formal institutions set up to fight corruption and the people who observe the deeds of the organisation.
“In many countries in Africa, the institutions set up to make sure the checks and balances occur have not been empowered enough to do what they have been set up to do,” she said.
Over a five-day training facilitated by Paula Fray, the team of journalists from 12 African countries explored the notion of investigative journalism in Africa and how factors such as fact checking, ethical considerations and collaborations are key for successful implementation.
One thing clear to all at the table was that fighting corruption through good and ethical investigative journalism is never an easy task, and never has been.
“Stories requiring investigative journalism into corruption are arguably the most time-consuming, risky, dangerous and not immediately rewarding stories a journalist can work on. However, they are very important because they usually result in the saving of thousands of funds which would otherwise be misappropriated by the wrong-doers,” Ms Fray said.
Africa has some remarkable investigative journalists, notable among them Anas Aremeyaw Anas, from Ghana, who is behind the revelations of bribes in that county’s national football association after its president was filmed apparently accepting a “cash gift”.
Journalist Anas was recently hailed by former United States President Barack Obama, for his investigative reporting, which resulted in the discovery of sex-trafficking rings in Ghana.
Mr Anas is best known as the investigative journalist whose face is hidden behind a mask, from which he operates to unmask the works of those who prefer their action to be kept in the dark.
Works of this journalist, and many other organisations such as Africa United, BBC Investigates and AmaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism, were reviewed over the course to get a view of some tactics used by different media to navigate through various information in the process of searching for the truth.
With journalists from 12 southern African countries represented, the importance of networking and collaboration was highly emphasised.
“We are here today, not only to refresh or to receive more skills and competences but also to network. Because the fight against corruption, cannot be won or reduced in isolation,” Dr Ngomo said.
Regional Director of United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) Southern Africa Regional Office Professor Said Adejumobi urged the team to value the importance of journalism as a watchdog in the enhancement of transparency and accountability and holding the leaders in account.
Case studies shared by investigative journalists from Malawi, Mauritius and Zimbabwe helped give perspective into the different approaches undertaken to successfully carry out the assignments.
The cases resulted into respective investigative wings and the law taking over in each case.
“This points to how investigative journalism often creates a trigger that kick-starts the process of the law taking its course, especially where wrong-doing has been exposed,” Mrs Fray said.
The training tackled issues of media accountability while compelling journalists to adhere to professional and ethical standards, which provide journalists with guiding principles on how to best exercise their profession.
In the words of Mr Anas, successful investigative journalism in Africa can best be applied by the African journalist, who lives the situation every day.
“We on the continent are able to tell to the stories better because we face the conditions and we see the conditions,” he said during a recent Tedtalk session.
The journalists resolved to work together and create a platform for all African journalists to learn additional investigative skills to fight corruption and promote the growth of common prosperity.
AU SARO and the UNECA committed to support initiatives to strengthen the capacity building of investigative journalism throughout the region.
MARGARET CHISANGA, Lusaka