Journalist Forum on Media Coverage of Corruption Held on the Occasion of the International Anti-Corruption Day

    The United Nations Information Office (UNIS), Vienna, hosted its 4th Annual Journalist Forum on Media Coverage of Corruption on 9 December 2004 at the Vienna International Centre. The one-day event marked the first anniversary of the signing conference for the United Nations Convention against Corruption, which took place in December 2003 in Mérida, Mexico, and coincided with the first observance of the International Anti-Corruption Day.

    The objective of the Forum was to provide Austrian journalists and Vienna-based international correspondents with an opportunity to participate in expert presentations on corruption, make contacts for their future work, as well as discuss their own role in bringing corruption to the public's attention. Twenty-two journalists participated in the event, including representatives of The Observer, The Irish Times, IPS, Le Figaro, BBC Arabic Service, Al Hayat, ABC Madrid, Radio Voice of Russia, IRNA (Iranian News Agency), Focus, Sueddeutsche Zeitung (Germany), Austrian Press Agency, Delo (Slovenia) and Der Standard (Austria). The event was moderated by Nasra Hassan, UNIS Director/ United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Spokesperson.

    Experts from the UNODC addressed participants at the Forum. Abdullahi Y. Shehu, Programme Expert, Anti-Corruption Unit, discussed the UN's priorities in the fight against corruption, while Valerie Lebaux, Legal Officer, Crime Conventions Section, looked into the specifics of the UN Convention against Corruption. Timothy Lemay, Chief, Anti-Money Laundering Unit/Officer-in-Charge, Anti-Corruption Unit, then took the floor and provided the participants of the Forum with some background information on recovery of stolen or lost assets, which was one of the most concrete aspects of the fight against corruption.

    After the morning session, a press briefing to launch the UNODC Asset Recovery Initiative was held with Antonio Maria Costa, the Executive Director, UNODC, Ambassador Julius Kiplagat Kandie, Kenya, and Ambassador Biodun Owoseni, Nigeria, both Permanent Representatives to the United Nations Office at Vienna (UNOV). Ms. Hassan chaired the briefing. As part of the Asset Recovery Initiative, UNODC will be offering technical assistance to the Governments of Nigeria and Kenya, to help them recover assets lost to corruption. (Please see a separate summary of the event.)

    In the afternoon session, Tim Carlsgaard, Chief, UNODC Advocacy Section, talked about the importance of awareness raising and screened Public Service Announcements on corruption, produced by his office. The other members of the panel, Johann P. Fritz, Director of the International Press Institute, Andreas Unterberger, political commentator and analyst, former editor-in-chief of a major Austrian daily, and Dardis McNamee, a journalism professor at the Webster University in Vienna, discussed the role of the media in (un)covering corruption and the problems they may face while doing so, especially with regard to access to information and personal safety of journalists. The IPI Director reported on the latest number of journalists being killed while covering sensitive topics, and added that murdering a journalist was the utmost form of censorship. Mr. Unterberger said that journalists should not only point fingers at others but also look at themselves. They should be aware they were neither advocates nor promoters of certain beliefs; instead, they worked in the best interest of the public. A lively discussion developed after the presentations.

    The participants shared some of their personal experiences with reporting on corruption and agreed that access to publicly available information was often a problem; the example of the Nordic countries was cited as the one geographic area where journalists have access to all public data upon request. Journalism ethics and the moral conduct of journalists were also touched upon, with some participants blaming the homogenization of media ownership as well as the media owners themselves as main sources of corruption in the media. Several participants were of the opinion that journalists can only be as ethical as they could afford to be, and accepting gifts was a matter of cultural background. During the discussion it was also pointed out that in countries where freedom of the media existed reporting on corruption raised circulation of the papers and/or rating in broadcast journalism.

    Overall, the Forum was a great success. New contacts with the media have been established both for UNIS and UNODC. The Forum has been well appreciated by participants, and some had asked about the next one. The 2004 Journalist Forum confirmed once more the advantages it brings not only to the participants, but also to UNIS, as part of its strategy to build and expand its constituency in its four client countries and beyond.

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