Graft: Focus on the issues not the fodder

Stories steer us away from the most important issue of these scandals – pilfered and missing funds.

Sunday March 6 2016

The recent corruption scandals have touched on many possible perpetrators with a great deal of focus being on government and politicians implicated in them.

In recent reports, however, some spotlight has been raised on the fourth estate, with journalists’ names also featuring in some of these scandals. While news articles tend to focus on politicians, the mere mention puts journalism squarely in the spotlight too, creating trust issues with the audiences.

It was, therefore, refreshing to watch the movie Spotlight this past weekend. The movie allows viewers a glance behind the story byline that authentically portrays the tediousness of strong and reliable investigative reporting. A rare peek at the fierce determination and bravery of the real-life reporters and top editors of the Boston Globe and how their persistence brought about real change.

Befitting its name, it spotlights a different perspective and frankly a great moment for journalism. Later that Sunday night, Spotlight went on to win the most coveted Oscar award, the Best Picture. Not only had the real journalists portrayed in the movie brought spotlight to a societal scourge, the journalist’s expose of the Catholic Church’s wide cover-up of priest molestation acted as a catalytic step towards justice. Its release encouraged many victims to speak up, bringing light to many more cases.

Spotlight seems to be this century’s and generation’s version of the 1976 movie All The President’s Men. The movie, based on the 1974 non-fiction book by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, is about two journalists investigating the Watergate Scandal for the Washington Post. A similarly remarkable story that depicts the amazing role the media can play towards unravelling scandals.

A narrative of the Post’s two journalists assigned to investigate a 1972 burglary case at the Democratic National Committee headquarters within the Watergate complex, and who relentlessly pursue a case that many thought to be of minor importance.


Their determination to focus on the important issues and the relentless efforts to gather information exposes one of history’s most corrupt election campaign scandals. Both moments quite telling; offer great hope and paradigm to an otherwise idealist concept that media can indeed lend significant help where other institutions have failed. After all, many who have lost hope in these institutions rely on media to raise often unheard voices and, yes, seek reliable information that can lead to justice.

What is of crucial importance to Kenya’s corruption story comes during a meeting of the reporters with an anonymous source, who happens to be a senior government official. During these secret late night meetings, he advises the journalists to “follow the money”.

This key advice underscores a mantra followed by my team when advising clients during critical decision-making moments – understand all the variables but, for impact, patiently prioritise information and focus on the key issue.

While advising clients, we often quickly trace key problem areas and, for impact, the emphasis isn’t on getting information out to stakeholders but on deliberate and reliable communications to all.

I’d offer the same advice to all who are keen to fight the corruption that afflicts the nation. To the sceptics who have given up on the government solutions to address corruption, some hope still resides with the fourth estate; we hope they, too, are listening.

You see the recent media stories, while great narratives, often lead to questions of defamation. It is, therefore, important to focus on the issues not the person. A phrase commonly used in dispute resolution, it illustrates how in conflict, the person instead of the actual problem often becomes the target. Similarly, in our corruption cases, in the back and forth of “he said, she said”, we lose focus of the pertinent issues of monies lost.

While these stories often lend themselves to dramatic press briefings and may be more captivating, they steer us away from the most important issue of these scandals – pilfered and missing funds. It is, therefore, no surprise that recent stories about traced Jersey Island or whereabouts of Eurobond money are less captivating than, say, personality antics around the NYS scandal and its affidavits.

I think it’s time our fourth estate heeded the same demands we place on our private and public sectors and measure their corruption stories in terms of both economic and social impact.

Jeff Aludo is the Managing Director for Africa Practice East Africa