Media Coverage, Transparency and Reform

It is no secret that media coverage is the primary motivator of probity in politics. Without the threat of being publicly exposed, public officials are more likely to engage in malfeasance; whether it be weakening key legislation, hiding incompetence, embezzlement, accepting bribes, or deviating from due-process. In Brazil as in other parts of the world, government transparency serves little purpose if the content of transparency is not scrutinized and publicized. “Just because it’s public doesn’t mean it’s publicized.*”

And just because it’s public doesn’t mean it’s intelligible or useful, either. This frequently the case with the Brazilian Government’s much vaunted transparency portal . This “proactive” transparency mechanism in effect provides incomplete information and is often impossible to understand without greater context (not provided). Take this example of credit card use by a member of the marina, in the ministry of defense for 2010 up-to-date. There are withdrawals of $1000R for about six days straight. What did this buy? Good question. No information is provided, only who and how much was spent. This is work for watchdogs–NGOs, and especially, the media.

I have written several pieces (1, 2, 3,) on the importance of media coverage of freedom of information reform. But the issue applies to transparency and critical good governance reform more generally.

At this critical juncture (see yesterday’s post) the Brazilian press ought to be scrutinizing the reform agenda of the coming government. Key good government reforms will fail or emerge weak without media coverage. This is why a strong media is a key ingredient of a strong democracy. Media not only serves to dig up corruption and malfeasance, but provides space for key reforms and advocates thereof, both of which re-vitalize the political process.

*The quote was from Milton Jung, a Brazilian journalist concerned with corruption began a blog called, “adopt a city councilor.”

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