Journalism is the key to winning Ukraine’s war on corruption

On both of these battlefields, Ukraine finds itself at war with powerful powers. Just how powerful was revealed in early May, when anti-corruption authorities in Kyiv arrested the head of the country’s Supreme Court, Vsevolod Knyaziev, as part of an investigation into a $2.7 million bribe, the largest in Ukraine’s history.

Shortly after his arrest, a 140-2 vote of no confidence by the Supreme Court paved the way for Kniaziev’s formal removal. This extraordinary development highlights not only the determination of the Kyiv authorities to crack down on bribery at all levels (a prerequisite for EU membership), but also how corruption is a part of Ukrainian society.

Last year, almost a quarter of Ukrainians paid a bribe when using public services, and according to Transparency International’s Corruption Index, the leading global barometer of bribery and corruption, Ukraine ranked 118th out of 180 countries last year, only slightly better than Russia, but much lower. world average.

A culture of internal secrecy, weak institutions and poor law enforcement allow corruption to thrive, and uncovering abuses in power centers can be a dangerous and difficult task, but it is not a task that should be left to government fraud squads. Independent investigative journalism also has an important role to play.

The dilemma some Ukrainian journalists face is how to report on corruption without damaging the country’s reputation and jeopardizing international support.

Journalist Yuri Nikolov, for example, leaked evidence that the army’s food contracts were inflated in January of this year, but knowing he didn’t want to damage the war, he did his best not to publish them.

But he changed his mind when he approached defense officials and found their response “wasn’t what it should have been”. He felt that the case would not be formally prosecuted and decided that he should lead the story.

Nikolov told The Guardian: that he and other investigative journalists stopped their activities at the beginning of the war and gradually resumed their work in the fall. “I will say that I rejected many stories during the raid,” he said.

However, her story was published on a news website ZN, UA was a tipping point, as was news the same day that the deputy infrastructure minister had been arrested for siphoning off aid money meant to buy generators. Sources in the presidential office said President Volodymyr Zelensky was furious and the incident led to the dismissal of 15 senior government and regional officials, including two senior defense officials.

Journalist Veronika Melkozerova writes Political He said about this incident this year. “Getting a scoop that shakes your country, forces your government to investigate and reform military procurement, and causes senior officials to resign is usually the envy of other journalists. But I totally understand wanting to hold back when your nation is at war.”

Therefore, the challenges facing Ukrainian journalists are not only to fight and win the military battle, but also to create a space for responsible journalism, which will encourage independent scrutiny of political power and hold those responsible for the country’s money accountable.

This is especially important now that huge sums of money are suddenly being transferred to support urgent reconstruction projects.

Last year, the Washington-based Brookings Institution estimated that the full cost of rebuilding Ukraine after the war would cost up to $750 billion. If anti-corruption organizations are not prioritized and implemented, there could be “widespread corruption and, in turn, wasted money, disenfranchised citizens and fertile ground for continued conflict.”

Lessons from previous conflicts, such as those in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq, show how recovery from devastating war requires not only adequate funding for reconstruction, but also systems to combat corruption in the way money is spent and accounted for.

And it’s not just during wartime. Corruption risks are high when investments are large and rapidly distributed, and no country is immune. During the Covid-19 pandemic, for example, the media revealed how huge sums of public money were wasted in the United States and Great Britain alone, for example due to a lack of official transparency and detailed control over the spending of money.

With that in mind, Brookings suggests using a small portion of the reconstruction funding to support journalists who can mitigate corruption by reporting on financing, procurement, project implementation and other aspects of the massive international aid program being developed for Ukraine.

They suggest that a percentage of the total reconstruction budget should be paid to support investigative journalism and anti-corruption efforts. They suggest that three percent of the total recovery funds could go towards anti-corruption efforts and the expansion of independent investigative journalism in Ukraine.

It may be money well spent, given that they estimate, according to relevant restructuring precedents, that the cost of corruption can be as much as 30 percent of the total investment.

For journalists, exposing corruption means working closely with civil society groups and government anti-corruption investigators and audit agencies. It can be a troubled relationship at the best of times, and even more fraught in the heat of war.

Ukraine’s leaders should not fear the investigative instincts of good journalists. Ethical and professional journalists are critical allies who can contribute to an anti-corruption ecosystem that will promote good governance during Ukraine’s current war and enhance the country’s democratic standing in the subsequent reconstruction process.

People who care about Ukraine want every penny spent on reconstruction as efficiently as possible, so the government, judiciary and public institutions must take the lead by dismantling the structures that allow corruption, introducing new rules, creating more transparency and taking action, even against the country. the richest and most powerful when they break the rules.

Political leaders and policy makers must also realize that quality journalism is a key ally in the fight against corruption.

For this reason, international media support agencies and journalism development groups should make supporting investigative journalism in the country a priority.

They can provide support for media education and training for journalists in forensic accounting, procurement principles and rules, and the skills needed to analyze financial data or use cutting-edge technology to surf the dark web.

News media should also be encouraged to work with civil society and local communities to monitor reconstruction, especially in the most war-affected areas.

But working in Ukraine alone is not the only answer to transnational corruption. Any viable anti-corruption strategy must also ensure cross-border cooperation and joint investigations supported by regional and international media.

This article is republished with permission from The Ethical Journalism Network (EJN), which, with support from the Evens Foundation, has commissioned a series of articles on the ethical challenges of journalists covering this war in Ukraine, Russia and around the world. This series follows the publication of media landscape reports on Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, Building Trust in Journalism in Central Eastern Europe.

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