In the last two decades, more than 200 journalists around the world have been murdered for their work on an assignment that is among the most dangerous in all of journalism:
exposing corruption. Yet despite the risks and threats, despite facing down armies of shell corporations, lawyers, and PR machines, journalists press on. They continue to dig, chase down rumors, reveal inscrutable actions by governments and businesses, and challenge those in power to provide answers.
Their mission is consequential and endless: corruption siphons $3.6 trillion from the global economy every year. According to U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, “it robs societies of schools, hospitals and other vital services, drives away foreign investment and strips nations of their natural resources.” It is also one of the biggest impediments to achieving the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals such as eradicating hunger and securing universal education, clean energy, and gender equality.
So what does it take to hold the corrupt elite to account? In part, what’s required is a rare combination of bravery and rigor, exemplified by the brilliant work of two acclaimed reporters, Clare Rewcastle Brown and Clare Baldwin.
In 2010, Rewcastle Brown was already a seasoned journalist when she launched her blog, Sarawak Report, with a focus on rampant deforestation in the Malaysian state of Sarawak, where she was raised. The desecration of her beloved childhood home fueled her search for the powers responsible, resulting in her discovery of $4.5 billion missing from Malaysia’s sovereign development fund and the eventual toppling of some of that nation’s leading political figures, including its prime minister. She also unearthed a link between graft in Malaysia and major figures in Hollywood as well as one of the most powerful investment banks on Wall Street. Time later hailed Rewcastle Brown for having exposed “the world’s biggest corruption scandal.”
Clare Baldwin, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for Reuters, has covered abuse of power throughout Southeast Asia, including President Duterte’s drug war in the Philippines and the rampant inhumanity toward Rohingya refugees. Most recently, Baldwin and her colleague Andrew R.C. Marshall revealed how the relatives of Cambodia’s long-ruling dictator Hun Sen funnelled enormous sums of money out of Cambodia, and used the funds to buy foreign property and, in some cases, European citizenship. In fact, the reporters found visual clues to the corruption in photos that Hun Sen family members were posting on Instagram.
The work of both Baldwin and Rewcastle Brown includes astonishing details uncovered by their diligent investigation and quiet tenacity and is the best possible demonstration of great journalism as a public service, a profession uniquely effective against the corruption that ensues from unbridled power.
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