Open Contracting and Journalism
Journalists play a major role in holding the powerful to account. They break major stories ranging from the Panama Papers to Malawi’s Maizegate. With their investigations on global and local tax avoidance, corruption and mismanagement of public finances, journalists expose crimes worldwide.
This data-driven reporting often has a major impact on public awareness. In important areas – such as the use of shell companies to hide illicit wealth – these reports have the potential to shift political incentives for action. They can act as a catalyst for parliamentary inquiries or legislation.
There is no guarantee that journalistic investigations will be a check on power, or that there will be political follow-up. Their stories may not create a public outrage, nor will they automatically bring social change. When abuses are exposed but not punished or prevented from recurring, this may lead to apathy, and a loss of trust in democratic institutions.
At the same time, the digital transformation of governance brings a new level of complexity to the investigations of journalists. While increasing amounts of data are available, the analysis of it requires skills.
Business models for independent, investigative journalism are also severely challenged – from the dominance of social media platforms to the role that government advertising plays in restricting editorial freedom.
Importantly, journalists rely on insiders, experts and activists to find and report the stories that matter. These include law enforcement agencies, parliamentarians or civil society organizations. At the same time, these actors are relying on journalists to ensure a meaningful accountability response. This can be communicating stories to non-specialist audiences in popular formats, mobilizing public pressure, carrying out fair prosecutions, implementing regulatory reforms and enforcing existing rules.
Independent reporting, civil society campaigning and government action all play crucial and complementary roles. At all stages—from reporting to accountability—the ability to access and use data is increasingly critical. Strengthening the link between information, action and response is therefore essential.
To ensure that reporting leads to accountability, Hivos is using an ecosystem approach. Bringing together journalists, oversight institutions and CSOs while safeguarding their distinct mandates enables them to build on each other’s strength.
In Latin America, Hivos has provided initial support to a network of journalists and civic technology experts who focus on telling stories related to public contracts. In Southeast Asia, a similar group is emerging, which has, among others, a common interest in cross-border infrastructure financing. In East and Southern Africa, there is strong potential to build on an existing collaboration with investigative journalist groups and editorial leadership of major media houses.