Revealing the Rot: How Internews Empowers Media to Expose Corruption in Ukraine

Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, has a grand opera house, great churches and cathedrals, designers’ and chain stores, swanky restaurants and sweeping central avenues, everything required to make a place look European. But beneath this glitzy façade is a city that relies on a deep corruption that pervades Ukrainian life. The traffic police, doctors, university professors demand bribes at random and newspapers carry advertisements for companies that will forge exam papers for you.

Transparency International’s (TI) Corruption Perceptions Index (2016) – the most widely used indicator of corruption worldwide – rates Ukraine 131st out of 176 countries in the world, alongside Russia, Nepal and Iran. Impunity and an inefficient justice system keep Ukraine at the bottom of corruption rankings, TI experts say, despite strongly-worded statements and loud actions by the authorities which called fighting against corruption their ‘main priority’.

Since 1991, officials, members of parliament and businessmen have created complex and highly lucrative schemes to plunder the state budget. As a result, the theft has crippled Ukraine. The general prosecutor’s office, according to Reuters, claimed that between 2010 and 2014, officials were stealing a fifth of the country’s national output every year. And ordinary Ukrainians who lived through two revolutions have seen their living standards stagnate, while a handful of oligarchs have become billionaires. Ex-president Yanukovych lived in a lavish palace on the edge of Kyiv. After he fled, protesters found millions of dollars worth of paintings, icons, books and ceramics stacked in his garage. He had nowhere to display all of them.

I could have dwelled on other negative aspects, but after attending the 9th All-Ukrainian Conference for Investigative Reporters on December 8 – 9, the key event for Ukrainian investigative journalism, I came to an inspiring conclusion that it is not all doom and gloom revealing the rot.

Most of the 170 participants in this two-day conference that coincided with the International Anti-Corruption Day [marked on the 9th of December], will also agree with me that the keys to exposing corruption are knowledge, support and resources. All of which are available at Internews.

In Ukraine, thanks to our partners and donors like the Government of Canada, the US Government and USAID, over the past five years we have been supporting all the major investigative journalism projects that exist in the country.

We offer education, networking, capacity development opportunities, and content production support. Together with the Regional Press Development Institute, one of our core partners, we provide legal vetting of the programs to reduce legal risks and support reporters in access to public information to investigate and write safely.

In return, over the past 3.5 years Slidstvo.Info, a TV project jointly produced by four regional centers for investigative journalism, has grown into a genuine nationwide project – 3 national television channels and 17 regional ones broadcast this popular weekly program to an estimated audience of over 14 million viewers.

Nashi Groshi, another award-winning project Internews supports, produced over 40 TV stories investigating corruption, mismanagement and abuse of power.

As a result, the TV reports aired as part of these Internews-supported programs led to at least nine corrupt officials being fired and eight trials and criminal cases launched. Over US$ 1.3 million of taxpayers’ money was saved, which is a rather tangible result for a country that has been suffering from a chronic economic crisis and is in acute need of a better investment climate.

Certainly, fighting corruption is a global concern because no country, region or community is immune. But it is absolutely possible for Ukraine, after two decades of thievery and mismanagement, to restore economic growth and minimize corruption to the level of developed countries.

The reporters that Internews has been working with are renowned for their determination and professionalism in this field both in Ukraine and beyond. The real impact their programs and reports have on the progress of anti-corruption reform is immense. In my view, their works will largely contribute to Ukraine’s success in making a huge leap forward on the TI rankings and, finally, leaving the list of the world’s most corrupt states.

This opinion piece is by Sergiy Grytsenko, Internews Communications and Program Manager. The information and views set out in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of Internews or USAID.