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#JournalismIsNotACrime #ButCorruptionIs

Written by Alice McCool on Monday, 30 June 2014

Our thoughts are with the Al Jazeera journalists convicted in Egypt yesterday. The media plays an essential role in the global fight against corruption and acts as a public watchdog on abuses of power. But for many journalists around the world, being threatened, intimidated or imprisoned for doing their job is the norm.

Yesterday it was reported that an array of Al Jazeera English journalists detained since last December have been given tough jail sentences in Egypt for ‘aiding terrorists and endangering national security’. What’s missing is any publicly available evidence that the journalists have either supported terrorist acts or published anything inaccurate. Mohamed Lotfy Executive Director of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms stated:

“It’s a warning to all journalists that they could one day face a similar trial and conviction simply for carrying out their official duties…This feeds into a wider picture of a politicised judiciary and the use of trials to crack down on all opposition voices.”

Australian Peter Greste (ex-BBC) Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy (ex-CNN) and Egyptian Baher Mohamed (a local producer) were jailed for a total of 24 years between them. Tried in Absentia, British journalists Sue Turton and Dominic Kane and Dutch journalist Rena Netjes were given 10 year sentences each.

David Cameron has said he is ‘completely appalled’ by today’s verdict. British Foreign Secretary William Hague stated that:

They are right to be appalled on what Amnesty International has called a ‘dark day for media freedom’. But this is not just a human rights issue. At Transparency International we believe that the media plays a crucial role in the fight against corruption by uncovering its devastating effects at home and abroad, and equipping citizens with the information they need to hold their country’s institutions to account.

While this sector must be subject to the same scrutiny as others, an independent and free media is an essential feature of democracy and acts as public watchdog on abuses of power. Here in the UK we saw the benefits of corruption reporting last year when stings by the Sunday Times and BBC Panorama revealed members of the House of Lords has broken rules by offering to carry out parliamentary work for cash. By nature corruption is a hidden crime but in many countries journalists are shining a light on those who use their entrusted power for personal gain.

Such achievements were highlighted at last month’s One World Media Awards from the winner of the Corruption Reporting Award – BBC Panorama’s investigation into misspent Western aid money in Cambodia – to the outlet who took away the Special Award – an independent Nigerian investigative newspaper known for exposing official corruption abuses and government inefficiency and negligence.

Indeed, it shouldn’t take the conviction of foreign correspondents to bring this issue to the attention of the international community. It is terrible news, but in many countries it is rule rather than exception. In states towards the lower end of Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index local journalists risk their lives daily to investigate powerful actors in their society; be it politicians, resources-resources-business people or organised criminals. Many are forced to practice ‘self-censorship’ for fear of the consequences were they to report on political issues in any depth. Only two weeks ago, Transparency International Sri Lanka received threats and intimidation – for the second time – at an Investigative Journalism Workshop they were holding.

Journalism is not a crime. But corruption is. Our thoughts are with the journalists who have been sentenced and their families, and we encourage the international community to continue fighting for their free and fair trial – and for legislative and judiciary reforms to avoid injustices. The time has come for the world to be the voice of those who normally are the voice for millions of under-represented citizens around the world.


Read 4796 times Last modified on Tuesday, 24 November 2015 11:47

Alice McCool

Alice formerly worked for Transparency International UK as our Campaigns Officer. You can tweet her via @McCoolingtons.

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