Investigative Journalism in the Sahel: a critical role in tackling corruption and organized crime
The destabilizing effect of drug and weapon trafficking flows in the Sahel and bordering West African countries and its impact on development and security are extremely serious. These transnational crimes hinder economic growth, reduce investment and efforts for peace, notably in the Sahel region. Underlying these problems, corruption is often seen as a facilitating factor which has evolved into a very sophisticated phenomenon. In this context, journalists can play a critical role in preventing and reducing corruption and, in particular, showing how it affects the daily lives of ordinary citizens.
Given the devastating effects of corruption and organized crime on human development and security in the Sahel, UNODC organized a four-day workshop for journalists from the region, in partnership with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Panos Institute West Africa (PIWA), the African Network of Centers for Investigative Reporting (ANCIR) and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).
The workshop, held from 24 to 27 November 2014 in Saly, Senegal, allowed for well-known investigative journalists and less experienced journalists from 14 countries in West Africa to share knowledge and expertise in investigative techniques to expose corruption and organized crime. "By putting our knowledge together and communicating regularly among each other, we will be better informed and more efficient in our day-to-day work" said Mr. Samuel De Jaegere, UNODC's Anti-Corruption Advisor for West and Central Africa. Several journalists from Latin America and Europe, all from countries on the "cocaine route" also took part in the meeting and shared their experience.
Participants included journalists, government officials and experts from across the world
Participants in the workshop, organized in the contextof the UNODC Sahel Programme, with support from Austria and Denmark, concluded that sound and ethical investigative journalism is of key importance in denouncing criminal acts and bringing those responsible to justice. They discussed about the persistent challenges in undertaking investigative journalism, such as the lack of resources and technical capacity, the difficulties in accessing information, as well as physical threats and malicious lawsuits against them. In that context and given the transnational nature of corruption and organized crime, the journalists emphasized the importance of regional and inter-regional networking. The journalists were also trained on investigative technics and on how to better ensure the security of their person and their informants. They shared tips on how to make their communications more secure and how to access valuable information for their investigations.
At the end of the workshop, the participants adopted the Saly Declaration calling, among other things, for the establishment of a Centre for Investigative Journalism for West Africa with the aim of continuously strengthening the capacity of investigative journalists in the region. The Declaration also encourages investigative journalists to strengthen their collaboration with anti-corruption authorities and anti-organized crime institutions in the region. Ms. Veronic Wright, UNODC's Regional Justice Advisor for West and Central Africa, noted that « UNODC considers investigative journalism as an important component in the fight against corruption, and through its Sahel Programme, supports both the implementation of the UNCAC and non-state actors such as journalists ».
UNODC supports investigative journalism as an effective preventive measure through Article 13 of the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) which calls for governments to take appropriate measures to promote the active participation of individuals and private entities in the prevention of and the fight against corruption and to raise public awareness regarding the existence, causes and gravity of and the threat posed by corruption. Along this line, UNODC has a Resource Tool for Governments and Journalists, entitled Reporting on Corruption, which covers a wide range of subjects including the protection of the anonymity of sources, the right of access to information, and self-regulatory measures.
UNODC also published in 2013 a Transnational Organized Crime Threat Assessment for West Africa, looking at the threats posed by illicit trafficking of cocaine, cannabis, firearms, counterfeit medicines, methamphetamines and human smuggling. The report documented, amongst others, the cocaine flow from Latin America, through West Africa, to Europe.