Exchanging ideas about media and corruption.

Workshop in Romania Outlines Role of Media in Combating Corruption

The mass media can help a society combat corruption by "shining a light" on it, by suggesting ways to deal with corruption and by "informing the citizenry of its negative consequences," approximately 130 journalists, government leaders and representatives of non-governmental agencies were told at the beginning of four days of discussions in two Romanian cities in May.

The Romanian and American participants in the discussions also were told that the consequences of corruption are social, political and economic and they are extensive. The corruption can involve government, but it also can involve corporations, including the media themselves.

These introductory comments were offered by Dr. Lee B. Becker, director of the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research at the University of Georgia as a way of focusing the discussions in the Romanian capital of Bucharest and in the Black Sea city of Constanza.

The workshop was organized by the Cox Center at the invitation of the Ministry of Public Information of the Government of Romania. The Cox Center is unit of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.

"No matter how long we have transparency, it would not be enough to make investigative journalism no longer necessary," Vasile Dincu, the Romanian Minister of Public Information said in opening the Bucharest session. "It is possible to create a curtain of transparency behind which there are still hidden facts."

Dincu encouraged the journalists and others present to engage in a dialog about "institution building"that would lead to stronger institutions to combat corruption.

The workshop focused on investigative journalism as a way of combating corruption and included discussions of open records and open meeting legislation, the role of government prosecutors, and ethical concerns on the part of the journalists and governmental officials.

Investigative journalism has three defining characteristics, according Rosemary Armao, investigations editor at the South-Florida Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and one of the Americans participating in the discussions. She said investigative journalism must involve "original research" by journalists, "must be of importance and interest to readers and views," and must deal with a "topic that someone wants to keep secret."

Paul Cristian Radu, a journalist working in the Romanian Centre for Investigative Journalism, said many Romanian newspapers have a section they call investigation, but often the editors "just place in the newspapers what they get from others." Radu said he felt investigative journalism has to "start from a project where the sources don't tell you what to do." Investigative journalism results from reporter initiative, he said.

Radu and fellow Romanian journalists from print and broadcast organizations in Bucharest and Constanza shared their stories about investigative journalism with Armao and four other American investigative journalists who made up the journalistic core of the Cox Center team.

The four others were: Maud S. Beelman, director of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists at the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C. ; Suzanne Kelly, an anchor/producer/writer at CNN International, based in Atlanta; Stefan Simons, a freelance producer at CNN International in Atlanta, and Karen Dorn Steele, an investigative reporter specializing in environmental and nuclear reporting at The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington.

Other members of the American team included government communication specialist Jeannie Layson, communication director for U.S. Congresswoman Denise Majette, representing the fourth district of Georgia, and legal experts Terry R. Lord, resident legal advisor in the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest, and Dr. Kent Middleton, professor and chair of the Journalism Department in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.

Lord, who is in Bucharest to help Romanian prosecutors develop their skills in prosecuting corruption, reminded the group that "When we are talking about high level officials, we need to remember that they are very smart people. They are not going to do criminal action in an open or obvious way."

Lord said in addition to anti-corruption statues, countries need laws that assist prosecutors, such as those allowing access to bank records, providing for electronic surveillance, and setting guidelines for undercover work.

Grady College professor Dr. C. Ann Hollifield, a former print and broadcast journalist, served as moderator of the discussions. She was assisted by Cox Center Assistant Director Dr. Tudor Vlad and Dr. Becker.

Among the Romanian participants were representatives of NGOs Transparency International and Media Monitoring Agency, various Romanian government agencies, journalists from Adevarul, Romania Libera, Ziua, Jurnalul National, Independent, Telegraf-TV Neptun, Deutsche Welle, Romanian Television, Romanian Radio, Antena 1,and the Independent Journalism Center, and journalism faculty from the University of Bucharest.

The meetings took place at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Bucharest on May 26 and 27 and at the Rex Hotel in Constanza on May 29 and 30. The American team toured the facilities of Romanian Television on May 28, where they held an open question and answer session with approximately 20 news staff members.

The workshop was organized as an exchange of experiences of Romanian and American experts and was the second such session organized by the Cox Center at the request of the Romanian Ministry of Public Information. In May of 2002, the Cox Center organized a program on Government-Press relationships.