USIS Washington 

25 November 1998


(World Bank consultant trains Third World journalists) (2190)

Washington -- An aggressive and skilled core of investigative
journalists is a sharp weapon in the fight against corruption, says a
consultant for the Economic Development Institute of the World Bank.

The international community has a role to play in training journalists
and creating an environment for them to operate in, says David

Pezzullo has worked as an investigative journalist for Nicaragua's La
Prensa daily and now designs training programs for journalists in
Africa and Latin America.

Pezzullo's article appears in the current issue of USIA's Economic
Perspectives, which can be found on the Internet at

(Following is the text of the Pezzullo article:)

(begin text)

Journalist Training to Curb Corruption

By David Pezzullo, Consultant, Economic Development Institute, The
World Bank

Increasingly, evidence gathered by the World Bank and Transparency
International suggests that cronyism, nepotism, bribery -- corruption
petty and grand -- sands rather than greases even the strictly
economic machinery of society. The costs of corruption for the
underlying social and political culture are harder to measure. Yet
judging by political stability, social cohesion, and citizen support
for the state, the costs are immense, particularly in the developing

But where can needed changes in underlying attitude, behavior, and
institutions to curb corruption best come from? And what can the world
community do to effectively encourage peaceful change?

As corruption moves into the development spotlight, the role of the
press in curbing it is coming to the fore. Usually the first line in
exposing corrupt acts, the press is often also asked to do more
because more is needed. The media are called on to press for reform
and lead the effort to prevent corruption. Some argue that this is
inherently dangerous, that the media should not be taking on
responsibilities reserved for government and the wider society. The
press, it is said, does not have the wherewithal to effectively step
beyond its traditional role of exposing malfeasance. And it is not
sufficiently accountable to lead reform.

In what follows, I briefly address the shifting role of the press with
regard to corruption in Nicaragua and East Africa. In Nicaragua, I
witnessed firsthand the power of investigative media to expose
corruption, as well as the impotence of the media to actually stop it.
One solution to this dilemma may lie in the journalist training
programs sponsored by the World Bank's Economic Development Institute.
These programs have begun to show positive results in challenging
corruption in East Africa, and the institute plans to apply lessons
learned there to similar programs in Nicaragua and other Latin
American countries.


The Nicaraguan press, particularly during the Somoza dictatorship, was
a sancturary of democratic hopes in a sea of repression and
corruption. Since the 1950s, Pedro Chamorro had made the daily La
Prensa the voice of opposition to the abuses of the Somoza regime and
had become the leader of civil society opposition to the dictatorship.
The opposition it fostered was broad based, addressing political,
economic, and social issues.

Chamorro's assassination in 1978 sparked a popular insurrection that
brought the Sandinista regime to power. The Sandinistas adopted the
language of reform, but ruled by force and used their power to become
rich, much as Somoza had. Pedro Chamorro's widow, Violeta, became the
leader of the peaceful opposition to the Sandinistas, and La Prensa,
of which she was one-third owner, again took up the fight against
corruption and repression despite severe censorship.

In 1990, Violeta Chamorro became president of Nicaragua in a free
election, but democracy did not sweep away the web of old habits of
using power for personal gain that had existed for centuries. Efforts
funded by international donors to reform institutions and the economy
to serve all citizens and curb corruption were dragged down or
distorted by patronage, nepotism, and abuse of power.

The government still reflected the underlying colonial arrangement in
which the incoming governor would distribute lands and tribute to
supporters by taking from non-supporters. In economic terms, this
meant that most government contracts were rigged, bidding was
typically a farce, and even reform efforts like privatization were
distorted to enrich insiders. People of influence enjoyed tax and
tariff exemptions, rich contracts, and sweetheart loans, pricing out
the small and middle entrepreneurs and passing on the high costs to
the mostly impoverished public. The judiciary was too weak to impose
the few laws forbidding conflicts of interest and cozy deals. And the
parliament was too partial to effectively update legislation. In
essence, Nicaragua's chance to build a stable society was being
undermined by pervasive corruption.


We at La Prensa began producing investigative reports based on solid
documentary evidence detailing how, for example, only $20 million
worth of hospitals were built on a $40 million loan from Spain. Having
built a number of strong cases, we assisted in presenting evidence to
the country's auditor general for further scrutiny. Most of these
cases were picked up by the international media, multiplying pressure
for a full accounting by the government. In the process, we, along
with journalists at other media and a number of reformers in and out
of government, were able to describe the prevailing mechanism by which
generous foreign assistance was either misued or siphoned off.

La Prensa's reporting generated public outrage but little far-reaching
reform. We could only insinuate how key political decisions were
twisted for personal monetary gain and how the electoral process was
undermined by dirty campaign money.

There have been a number of other cases in Latin America where
journalists like Roberto Eisenmann in Panama and Jacobo Timmerman in
Argentina have resisted arbitrary rule. However, none of these efforts
have been able to generate systematic reform efforts.

Several foreign donors -- the U.S. Agency for International
Development and the U.S. Information Agency among them -- finance
journalist training programs principally for the print media. These
efforts acquaint hundreds of local journalists with the latest
reporting techniques and ethical standards, but interference by owners
and editors with political agendas attached to financial backing
remains an impediment to faithful reporting. In essence, the conflicts
of interest at the top compromise the objectivity of the press.
Attempts to modernize the media mirror efforts to modernize the state,
a process that is uneven and slow.

But change is on the way. A number of corruption surveys have been
published in Nicaragua showing that bribery is perceived to be high in
the police, schools, hospitals and clinics, the judiciary, and
parliament. The first National Integrity Workshop in Nicaragua is
planned for December 1998 to bring together a broad cross-section of
stakeholders to design plans of action to curb theft of relief and
reconstruction aid following Hurricane Mitch. The training plans for
journalists involve teaching the possibilities for gathering
information from the Internet and the need to double-check sources;
they will be cautioned not to publish unfounded rumors or press
releases without context. Journalists will be encouraged to raise
their sense of professionalism above political loyalties and share
information with counterparts from competing media. The workshop will
organize discussions on outdated press laws that allow authorities
extensive powers to silence reporters.

Nicaraguan journalists will be brought together with government and
private sector leaders to enhance comfort and access. The process
holds the promise of building consensus around a few measures that can
make a difference. Upon this base, reforms proposed by a variety of
stakeholders are much more likely to take root. And just the
experience of government and civil society working as equals to plan
policy creates the opportunity for more open government and more
active and constructive civil society participation -- making insider
deals higher risk and lower benefit during the process of longer-term
structural reform toward a more accountable state.

Enhanced confidence and professionalism among journalists is likely to
change the newsroom dynamic over time, much as institutional reform
and civil service training are likely to gradually modernize
government. The Economic Development Institute recently has staged
journalist training workshops in Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Benin,
Mauritius and Cameroon. In addition to Nicaragua, the institute is
planning similar workshops in other Latin American countries with the
hope of providing ideas to build a responsible and independent media
to buttress the transition to fuller democracy.


In Uganda, beginning in the late 1980s, an unelected regime dominated
by the military launched an ambitious program to reform the corrupt
and dictatorial state after a protracted civil war. In the mid-1990s,
the government, helped by the Economic Development Institute, began
experimenting with a participatory process called an "Integrity
System" to build public and civil society into the process of
combating corruption. In Tanzania around the same time, the elected
president became a champion of using training and broad-based
participatory workshops to build accountability into government.

The Integrity Systems in both countries used surveys to measure public
perceptions of corruption, track the prevalence of bribery, and
identify problem areas. Focusing on solid survey data, working groups
meeting at National Integrity Workshops designed action plans for the
various key stakeholder groups -- or "pillars of integrity" -- such as
the executive branch, the parliament, the private sector, the police,
and the media. The plans of action emerging from the workshops
represented blueprints for anti-corruption policy, wherein longer-term
institutional reforms were mixed with shorter-term measures such as
pledges, communications campaigns, and opening access to government

An ambitious journalist training program was launched as part of the
Integrity System in the belief that the media were in need of capacity
building if they were to effectively, responsibly, and credibly demand
accountability of government.

In both Uganda and Tanzania, more than half the print journalists went
through training in basic journalism ethics, as well as investigative
and reporting techniques. The journalists were trained in legal
concepts such as libel and ethical standards that can enhance their
credibility and sources. Reporters were taught about the importance of
networking with each other so they could pass information across
political lines and get key stories published despite opposition from
their editors, who often were wedded to political parties and leaders.
In the process, case studies were developed, and the effectiveness of
local journalist groups such as the Commonwealth Broadcasters
Association was enhanced. In Uganda a new newspaper was founded by
newly trained journalists.

As political will from the top to seek greater accountability from
insiders has waned, the modernizing media have become the central
civil society stakeholder demanding better performance from
government. In several instances, government officials have been
sanctioned by parliament or forced to resign because of media reports
of unaccountable wealth accumulated while in office. And the media
have become a check on lapses from the ongoing institutional reform
programs designed to substantively redesign the state. In Uganda, the
implementation of an ambitious decentralization program is being
linked to radio journalist training at the district level to encourage
the process.

Corruption in both countries remains high according to the
Transparency International Index and other measures, yet the debate on
corruption is much more concrete and broadly based, and the rules have
changed. The press is more aggressive, the citizenry more vigilant,
and officials more careful. And while factors such as regional tension
are likely to determine where the Integrity Systems will lead in the
midterm, the training and action planning to date have built
substantial impediments to abuses. At the very least, there is far
more capacity in civil society and at the local level to demand
probity in government.


Various stakeholders in Nicaragua, particularly those outside the
government, have pressed for the adaptation of an integrity-building
effort like those adopted in East Africa, precisely because civil
society and the press are afforded a central role. Complementing the
more strictly technocratic reform measures that much of the public
neither understands nor trusts, the Integrity System is attractive
because it brings reform programs into the growing public domain. Yet
the notion of working together as equals to devise action plans in
public view is still foreign to many in government, civil society, and
the donor community.

As various stakeholders take on new responsibilities to evaluate and
even reform government, they need support in reaching new standards of
professionalism themselves. In this regard, media training is likely
to be more effective within a broader national process to enhance
accountability, such as those being undertaken in East Africa,
Nicaragua, and more than a dozen other countries in the developing
world. And it can accomplish more by tapping into larger international
efforts -- such as those of the Organization of American States and
the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development -- to curb
corruption. But it is still valid on its own. Whether part of a more
holistic effort or free standing, media training in the broadest sense
is arguably one of the most effective and justifiable means of curbing
corruption in societies in need of fundamental institutional reform.

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