MARCH 13 — A few years ago, the Panama Papers episode revealed how the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) held the rich and powerful to account.

ICIJ exposed the complex ways used by companies and individuals to conceal beneficial ownership of companies.

The files were made public by 370 investigative journalists in 76 countries working in 25 languages.

They exposed 143 politicians - 12 were national leaders — their families and close associates from around the world (including Malaysian VVIPs) who used offshore tax havens to hide their wealth.

This makes courageous and innovative reporters all the more important, in all societies and countries.

Investigative journalism is a form of journalism which rivets the public’s attention, exposing scandals and conducting investigations into matters of public interest such as fraud and corruption.

The objective is to reveal a major injustice and to make those responsible accountable and to strengthen the work of journalists around the globe.

Some of the investigations are professional and objective and the exposes are done without fear or favour.

Corruption is a cancer. It jeopardises economic development of a nation, and weakens political stability and societal integration.

Under the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention between 1999 and 2017, 2 per cent or six bribery schemes resulted in sanctions after they were reported in the media.

In addition, media reporting may also launch potential investigations. The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) seized and froze more than RM2.5 billion in cash since June last year.

In order to be competent, investigative journalists need to understand the basic rule of corruption investigations, the procurement process and the common modus operandi of corrupt practices.

With regard to corrupt practices, investigative journalism must show how unethical public officials use public funds to meet their personal needs and live beyond their means.

There are many lapses which may occur during the procurement process, such as conflict of interest, misuse of power, embezzlement, fraud in the bid evaluation and bribery of public officials.

Based on complaints received by the MACC between 2013 and 2018, procurement fraud amounted to 42.8 per cent topping the list of sectors prone to corruption.

As an institution of checks and balances, the media plays an important role in fighting corruption.

According to The Guardian, media freedom around the world fell to the lowest level in a decade, whereas another study showed that journalists are threatened by government censorship and organised crime.

Based on the latest World Press Freedom Index, Malaysia is at the top of the rankings among countries in South-east Asia, improving 22 places to 123 out of 180 countries.

There should be a vibrant and free press in a democratic system so that corruption scandals can be shared with the public.

The OECD survey on investigative journalism asked journalists to rate how safe they felt when reporting on corruption cases, with most respondents (35 per cent) indicating they felt moderately safe.

Journalists were most concerned about being sued for defamation or prosecuted for publishing classified information.

Quite a few baseless legal actions were launched to intimidate journalists, which took time to resolve and involved significant legal and psychological costs.

Journalism is facing its biggest threat ever in the fake news era.

In the 21st century, journalism’s role as an indispensable critical institution for democracy is continually and everywhere being put to the test.

One of the most important roles of journalists is to deal with spin and propaganda, especially in social media.

An investigative journalist must possess high integrity, ample knowledge, good investigative techniques, good public relations and write objectively.

One of the important criteria is to have good sources and to know how to get good information on corruption.

The investigative journalists rely on sources and whistle-blowers and protection of whistle-blowers based on the right to freedom of expression.

Good investigative reports clearly show the evidence and ensure the sources corroborate the allegations, thus assisting law enforcement agencies to complete investigations at a faster rate.

In order to improve the journalists’ skill in conducting investigative reporting of corruption and fraud, they should undergo specific training.

Today the investigative journalists of some countries are taking journalism to a new level by working together with data scientists to target high-profile fraudsters.

Gen Z (born in 1996 onwards) investigative journalists should take advantage of technology, data analytical frameworks and dig information from the dark web.

Interestingly, the surface web contains only four per cent of the Internet; the remaining 96 per cent is hidden in the deep dark web which can be accessed only with special software, such as the Onion Router browser.

We need to produce good investigative journalists who are brave, sincere and can unveil the truth about a particular subject, person or event based on the underlying principles of journalism.

One of the important roles of investigative journalists is to identify and stop the spread of corruption by the ‘untouchables’.

The journalists have an inherent right to protect the well-being of all citizens and society.

It is a good start when our young Malaysian investigative journalism team from R.AGE has won an international award in the “World” category of the inaugural True Story Award, based in Switzerland.

We need more extraordinary investigative journalists to expose corruption to advance accountability and transparency.

*The writer holds the professorial chair at Institute of Crime and Criminology, HELP University

**This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.