Journalists covering corruption need stronger protections, lawmakers hear at OSCE PA webinar

Corruption webinar ICIrene CharalambidesCOPENHAGEN, 14 October 2020 – An online discussion today featuring a distinguished panel of journalists, parliamentarians and experts explored the critical partnership of politicians and the press in the global fight against corruption. The Parliamentary Web Dialogue, initiated by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Special Representative on Fighting Corruption Irene Charalambides (Cyprus), was entitled “Parliamentarians & Journalists: Partners Against Corruption” and included participation by dozens of members of parliament and several leading journalists.

Reiterating the centrality of the principles of accountability, transparency and oversight in protecting democracies from corrupt practices, legislators and journalists discussed policies to reinforce their partnership against corruption. Discussion focused on the importance of policies that would better enable journalists to pursue investigative reporting without fear of reprisals, including through strengthening protections for whistleblowers and journalists’ sources.

Parliamentarians heard expert contributions from Paola Severino, Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office on Combating Corruption; Gianluca Esposito, Executive Secretary of GRECO, Council of Europe; Odysseas Ph. Michaelides, Auditor General of the Republic of Cyprus; Drew Sullivan, Editor, Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project; and Franz Wild, Editor of The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s Enablers Project.

“Both parliamentarians and journalists are key actors in monitoring authorities’ actions and holding them accountable before the public,” Charalambides said in her opening remarks. “In fighting corruption, we work in the interest of citizens. When we join forces, we can more successfully prevent abuses of power and uncover corruption scandals, ultimately reinforcing public trust in state institutions, as well as in the work of free and independent media.”

She stressed her belief that journalists’ and parliamentarians’ roles complement each other, with politicians responsible for creating pertinent anti-corruption legislation and empowering independent institutions, and journalists playing a vital role in fostering transparency and accountability by uncovering malpractices and fighting impunity. “Strong legal frameworks should be developed to protect the identity and safety of citizens, journalists and politicians who have the courage to expose corruption,” Charalambides said.

Corruption webinar PSPaolo SeverinoProf. Severino noted that the growing demand for quick and efficient responses in terms of provision of services and public spending caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is threatening the resilience of public governance in many OSCE participating States. Against this backdrop, she urged a participatory approach between parliaments, governments, civil society, business and the media to foster citizens’ trust and promote a corruption-free environment.

“My experience has shown the majority of offshore companies are used for crime and corruption, not legitimate business,” said Drew Sullivan, co-founder and publisher of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. “If you want to stop corruption, strict ultimate beneficial ownership laws must be passed and any offshore doing business should prove beyond a shadow of a doubt its true ownership or it should not be allowed to operate.”

“In several OSCE countries, journalists writing about corruption are suffering from tightening restrictions imposed by the courts,” said Franz Wild, Editor of The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s Enablers Project. “Powerful people suspected of serious wrongdoing can often not be identified, enabling them to potentially continue their behaviour.”FranzFranz Wild

Dr. Michaelides explained the role of Cyprus’s Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) in the fight against corruption and the importance of their audits in promoting transparency. By reference to the accountability triangle, the three vertices of which encompass the executive, the legislature and the SAI, he explained what parliamentarians can do for establishing good working relationships between SAIs and parliaments and for utilizing SAIs’ reports to hold the government accountable.

“Protecting freedom of expression and promoting a safe work environment for journalists is key to the fight against corruption,” said Gianluca Esposito, Executive Secretary of GRECO. “We should expect nothing less than exemplarity from public-office holders.”

The webinar was moderated by Charalambides and Marco Bonabello from the International Secretariat and also included remarks from OSCE PA President George Tsereteli and Secretary General Roberto Montella.

Albanian parliamentarian Elona Gjebrea Hoxha spoke at the closing session and invited Charalambides to further this policy debate within the OSCE PA’s Committee on Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and Environment, where she serves as Rapporteur. Hoxha noted that the issue of corruption is intertwined with other relevant issues on the committee’s agenda, including digitalization and environmental protection.

Photos of the webinar are available here.

To watch the full video of the event, please click here.

 

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