Sean Dorney’s Speech for the Excellence in Anti-Corruption Reporting Media Awards 2012

6th June, 2012, Port Moresby, National Library:  a speech read by ABC colleague Liam Fox on behalf of Sean Dorney at the Anti-corruption media awards launch.

Excellence in Anti-Corruption Reporting Media Award
A few words from Sean Dorney

Sean Dorney (far left) in the ABC PNG Office 1974

Firstly, let me congratulate the United Nations, the Business Against Corruption Alliance, Transparency International PNG, the Media Development Initiative and the British Embassy for conducting these awards to acknowledge the work of Papua New  Guinea’s journalists and others in the PNG media in exposing corruption. Corruption is  dreadfully corrosive as it eats away at the structure of any society.

I understand that there are going to be a number of categories for this award:  print, television, radio and online – and the online award won’t be just limited to the online outlets of the mainstream media but include citizen and social media. Let me urge as many PNG journalists and online contributors as possible to submit your work for judging because I am certain these Excellence in Anti-Corruption Reporting awards will become hugely important in helping Papua New Guinea achieve the sort of prosperous future its people deserve.

One of Australia’s greatest investigative journalists is Chris Masters who has won many awards in Australia for uncovering corruption. One of his earliest stories for the ABC’s Four Corners was into corruption in Rugby League in New South Wales. Perhaps his most famous program was The Moonlight State revealing dreadful corruption in my home State of Queensland. Chris is actually a great friend of mine – we first met in the late 1970s when he was a journalist with the ABC in Rockhampton and I was the ABC Journalist In Charge in Mackay. That is something that journalists out in PNG’s provinces can take heart from – it is not only in the capital city that you can hone your investigative skills. Chris says that in places like Rockhampton he did not have any major, dramatic stories like plane crashes or terrorist attacks to report on and says: “So I had the lesson forced on me that news is not something that always happens in front of you – sometimes it has to be discovered.”

In the foreword to a book Chris wrote a few years ago called Inside Story, Jonathan Holmes, who now fronts the ABC’s Media Watch program, praises Masters for having these qualities that helped make him such a terrific investigative journalist: “… The ability to see the simple essentials through a fog of circumstance; the awesome capacity for hard work; the meticulous attention to detail; the determination to expose the system and not just the immediate villain; the ability to persuade frightened people to trust him. They trust him,” Homes wrote, “because they sense his honesty.”

Honesty is a major plus. Honesty, of course, is the opposite of what leads to corruption. Those other qualities mentioned by Homes closely match another set that I once collected and kept from an online course I came across on investigative journalism.

These distinctive traits were: Resourcefulness; Persistence; Patience; Curiosity; Imagination and Skepticism. An introductory sentence from one of the elements of that course ran: “An investigative reporter writes articles which expose facts previously kept away from the public’s eye. These facts will have an impact on the public in some way, so the reporter is doing a public service by bringing them to light.”

Let me add another attribute that is essential for anybody exposing corruption in Papua New Guinea – bravery. You all know the dangers involved in revealing the activities of those who want to conceal criminal behaviour. So let us acknowledge the courageous nature of those who are willing to investigate when they hear or discover that things have not been done the right way. In Chris Masters’ view “investigation … should be an integral part of all journalism. The alternative,” he says, “is simply the recycling of press releases.” On the subject of exposing public corruption, Chris says he never has found it a particularly appealing topic. “Corruption is a tawdry and uninspiring business,” he says, “and I would love to think it trivial enough to be left to one side. But I have never been able to take such a comfortable view. If dirty secrets are not revealed,” Masters goes on, “corruption is bonded into the social framework like a corpse folded into the concrete foundations of a high-rise building. In time we don’t even realize it is there.”

I also would like to quote from the words of another journalist, Mark Day, who these days writes a column for The Australian. “Be persistent to the point of being prepared to make a nuisance of yourself,” he advises young journalists. “To break news, reporters have to get out of the office,” he says, into places “where real people …. drink, talk and play; they have to make contacts and look after sources … Be prepared to make life uneasy for those in a position of power over the public and never be afraid to remind them they are public servants.” His emphasis there was on the word “servants”.

The media in Papua New Guinea has a huge role to play in keeping those in positions of power honest. I remember that it was a series of reports in the old Times of Papua New Guinea that led to the first major inquiry into corruption in the logging industry. There are numerous other examples and none better than the inaugural winner of this award last year. The Post Courier reporter, Haiveta Kivia, I believe, uncovered payments of more than a quarter of a million Kina to an unqualified consultant by the Bugandi Secondary School. The effects of that scandal went beyond the loss of money – students who should have graduated did not.

One of the big obstacles to uncovering corruption is the lack of time and resources available to journalists. Deadlines are relentless and here in PNG budgets are always going to be a limiting factor. However, let me give you one last quote from Chris Masters. He said that he found that making the Moonlight State program about corruption in Queensland was exhausting and demoralising. He even considered giving away journalism because he thought no work should be that tough. But, he said, after it was all over, he could clearly identify the first moment when he began to feel all the work might have been worthwhile. Some many months after the program went to air he said he was on a bushwalk with his family in the Binna-Burra National Park in southern Queensland when a woman saw him and walked towards him. He says that: “As she passed on that remote bush track, she said, in a matter of fact way: ‘Thank you for what you did for Queensland.’” I hope that the winners of these Excellence of Anti-Corruption Reporting Media awards might experience the same emotion and that people can say to them as they pass by, “Thank you for what you did for Papua New Guinea.”

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