The Story That Lies Beneath: Journalists at the Forefront of Corporate Governance Reporting

Good journalists can spot a good story even in the most innocuous press release. While the phrase “corporate governance” doesn’t set off any alarm bells, what about: fraud, theft, waste, incompetence, nepotism, abuse of power, conflict of interest, or corruption? These terms light a fire under journalists, because they may lead to exclusive, groundbreaking stories that are the essence of good journalism.

As a new guide by the International Finance Corporation and the International Center for Journalists notes, not all corporate governance stories are about scandals, however. They can be about heroes and visionaries, about brilliant ideas and charismatic leaders, about men and women who build great fortunes by giving the world new products and services that improve lives.

Governance, at its heart, provides the direction for a company, family-owned business, or state-owned enterprise. Guidelines, standards, and best practices established worldwide define what constitutes good governance, and a savvy business journalist quickly learns the difference between good governance and bad. Both can lead to great stories. Both are essential to promoting transparency and accountability in emerging democracies. In this discussion, panelists will examine the media’s role as a watchdog, what constitutes good practice, and how reporting on corporate governance fits into overall development, democracy, and governance efforts.

The Center for International Media Assistance at the National Endowment for Democracy,

IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, and the International Center for Journalists

invite you to a panel discussion on

Journalists at the Forefront of Corporate Governance Reporting:
The Story That Lies Beneath

Featuring:

Bethany McLean

Vanity Fair

Andras Petho

@andraspe

Origo

John D. Sullivan

@CIPEglobal

Center for International Private Enterprise

Moderated by:

Philip Armstrong

@IFC_org

International Finance Corporation

Tuesday, March 5, 2013. 12-2:00 p.m. (Lunch served from 12-12:30 p.m.)

1025 F Street, N.W., Suite 800, Washington, DC 20004

If you are unable to join, watch the event live here Follow the event @CIMA_Media on Twitter: #cimaevents

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South Korea dilemma over North Korea atrocities?

“The United Nations’ human rights chief declared recently that the time had come for a ‘long overdue’ investigation into what she called unparalleled rights abuses in North Korea. The probe, unprecedented in scope, could help establish whether the North’s leaders are committing crimes against humanity,” the Washington Post reports:

Navi Pillay’s January proposal has already drawn support from the United States. But the decision has proved sensitive in South Korea, where leaders remain divided over whether to confront the North or try to somehow reduce tensions with it, even after Pyongyang last week detonated an underground nuclear device…. Washington’s decision to support the effort could prove just as important, prompting other nations, “especially those on the fence, to come forward in support of the initiative,” said Roberta Cohen, co-chair of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.

It remains a crime in the North to criticize the government, watch a South Korean television show or leave dust on founder Kim Il Sung’s portrait. Those found guilty of crimes that Pyongyang considers grave are sent, often along with their parents and children, to prison camps in isolated mountain areas where they almost always stay for life.

For example, the Daily NK news website reported that North Koreans who failed to mourn the regime’s former dictator with sufficient emotional intensity were severely punished.

Citing a North Korean source, Daily NK reported that “the authorities are handing down at least six months in a labor-training camp to anybody who didn’t participate in the organized gatherings during the mourning period, or who did participate but didn’t cry and didn’t seem genuine.”

Human rights groups have been lobbying the government in Seoul to take a stronger stance on human rights in North Korea, the Post’s Chico Harlan reports:

One advocate, An Myeong-chul, secretary general of the Free the NK Gulag group, said he is compiling documents about a few individuals in the North’s prison camps, based on information from relatives who have escaped to the South. The documents detail the names of those in the camps, when they were taken and by whom.

An filled out one document of his own, giving information about his mother and two siblings, who were sent to a gulag in 1994, he said, paying for the crimes of his father, who had been stealing rice and then committed suicide. An believes that his family members are still in a camp, but he isn’t sure. He calls the commission of inquiry a “necessity.”

“If Park Geun-hye wants to open dialogue with North Korea, accepting the COI might give the North an excuse to get upset,” he said. “But South Korea should be aware: There are prisoners in there, and there are survivors here.”

The new generation of defectors has been described as a “small miracle” for raising hopes for human rights in North Korea. The defectors act as a “bridge population” between the two Koreas, said Carl Gershman, president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Endowment for Democracy.

Daily NK is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

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Islamist leaders in Egypt and Tunisia deploy unreformed security forces

“The governments that rose to power in Egypt and Tunisia in the wake of the Arab Spring are increasingly relying on the oppressive security apparatuses crafted by their predecessors,” notes a regional analyst.

“Whole-scale reform of the security services in both countries, where police were viewed as predatory foot soldiers for the regime, was a central catalyst for the uprisings two years ago,” writes the Global Post’s Erin Cunningham:

But as the two North African nations now grapple with heightened and sometimes violent unrest — the result of stalled political and economic progress — the government of Mohamed Morsi in Egypt and Tunisia’s Ennahda leadership are embracing the unreformed police forces as necessary tools to quell opposition to their rule, activists say.

Morsi attracted criticism from rights activists and appeared to confirm his authoritarian instincts last month when he replaced the minister of interior not with an outsider but a former occupant of the post and veteran Mubarak apparatchik accused of rights violations.

“Tunisians say the Ennahda-led Interior Ministry, meanwhile, continues to torture and turns a blind eye to attacks by extreme Islamists on liberal opposition groups — including the assassination of vocal government critic and human rights advocate, Chokri Belaid, earlier this month,” Cunningham observes.

That’s one reason why Ennahda Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalem insisted on the Islamist group retaining control of the Interior Ministry rather than accept a government of neutral technocrats, one analyst notes.

Similar tensions are arising in Egypt where the Muslim Brotherhood appears content to utilize rather than reform the repressive apparatus inherited from the Mubarak regime.

“The police are returning to their ways in the time of [former Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak,” said Hafez Abu Seada, the president of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights. “They are a tool of oppression in the same way that they were. They are working for the Muslim Brotherhood now, and it should not be this way.”

Civil society groups had high hopes for reform in the country, where, according to the United States Institute for Peace — a nonpartisan group — educational standards are high for entrance into the police force, security infrastructure is solid and rules of engagement are clearly established…..But divisive political climates and ailing economies frustrated aspirations for reform.

“As political and social protests continue on the one hand, and on the other hand, the government is less able to provide — the only thing they can do as a government is repress,” said Karim Medhat Ennarah, security sector researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).

Pro-democracy activists and rights groups in Tunisia say police abuses like protester beatings and sporadic torture continue, including against government opponents. The police force under the Ennahda government has failed to investigate or prosecute perpetrators of mostly religious-based attacks against liberal establishments like bars, art galleries and cinemas.

“Before the revolution, the ministry was very much an opponent of Ennahda,” said Ali Zeddini, vice president of the Tunisian League for the Defense of Human Rights. “Now the tables have turned, and the ministry is working in Ennahda’s interests.”

But even Egypt’s prosecutor-general, appointed by Morsi, is now spearheading an effort to protect security forces under the new government, Ennarah of the EIPR said.

The public prosecutor is renewing the detention of prisoners without evidence — sometimes without even a basic police report — EIPR said. Ennarah, who has worked with the president’s advisory team on proposals for security sector reform, said, “the role of the prosecution” in aiding police impunity is new.

According to rights groups, they proposed the immediate implementation of simple reforms to the presidential office like the creation of an independent commission to investigate the illegal use of firearms by security forces, or small monitoring teams to make visits to detainees in prison. …They were rebuffed. 

“They want a compliant police force, rather than a reformed one,” Ennarah said of the Morsi administration.

“In the absence of any will or interest of any kind in reforming the security services, the government is going to constantly be at loggerheads with the population,” he said.

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Tunisia’s ‘emerging political stalemate’

The ruling Ennahda party may hold the most seats in the body convened to oversee the writing of a new Tunisian constitution, writes the Stratfor analysis group, but the Islamist group remains severely constrained and lacks the authority to govern meaningfully.

For nearly 60 years before the fall of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, Tunisia was ruled by a strong central government that placed a premium on loyalty to the state. While Tunisians largely still identify with the state, tribal divisions, socioeconomic gaps and ideological differences have become increasingly evident, preventing the central government from exerting its historical levels of control. The resignation of Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali on Feb. 19 is just the latest manifestation of the ongoing scramble for power among Tunisian political factions, which appear to have fought their way to a stalemate.

Analysis

Jebali’s resignation is the latest setback in Ennahda’s attempt to capitalize on the electoral success that brought it to power in 2011. These tensions boiled over after the Feb. 6 assassination of Chokri Belaid (above), a prominent secular opposition leader, which triggered mass protests and riots.

Disagreements over political strategies will not fracture Ennahda in the short term, but the party’s internal discord is a primary contributor to the larger political deadlock.

Ennahda’s rejection of Jebali’s plan [for a government of technocrats] also demonstrates that opposition parties, even those within the ruling coalition, have an interest in destabilizing the government. Secular opposition parties have been focused on what they believe to be a looming threat of Salafist activity in Tunisia. Indeed, the country’s Salafists have become more active since political controls were relaxed after the revolution, and militants have been crossing Tunisia’s porous borders with Algeria and Libya.

Beyond security concerns, Tunisia is also under economic pressure. Financial stresses arguably sparked the Arab Spring, and the Tunisian economy has continued to suffer since the fall of Ben Ali. The government is currently in late-stage negotiations with the International Monetary Fund over a $1.78 billion loan, which the agency said could be jeopardized by the country’s political drama. Moreover, Tunisia’s influential labor unions have increased their protest activities, and tribal unrest has persisted in southern Tunisia. The more unpredictable Tunisia’s domestic political situation becomes, the more salient these problems will appear — and Ennahda will bear the brunt of popular dissatisfaction if it cannot take steps to solve them.

Lacking the connections and authority of the old single-party regime, Ennahda will need to strengthen its relationships with the Interior Ministry, the military and the labor unions for its electoral success to translate into political authority. This is why Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalem, an Ennahda member who the coalition partners wanted removed, insisted that control of the Interior Ministry would remain with Ennahda after Jebali stepped down. However, the opposition is vying for these relationships as well, and Tunisia’s new political system affords the country’s institutions unprecedented freedom of operation. Because of this, governance in Tunisia has become much less centralized.

While Tunisia has a compact geography and a generally homogenous society (98 percent of Tunisians are ethnically Arab-Berber and Sunni Muslim), its populace has many divisions — secular and Islamist, rural and urban, wealthy and poor. Tunisia’s revolution began in the town of Sidi Bouzid at least in part due to the lack of economic development undertaken by the central government in Tunisia’s interior and southern governorates.

Democracy has given these groups new political voices, and the collapse of the erstwhile single-party system has fostered fierce competition for authority and power among Tunisian political parties. Jebali’s resignation must be understood in that context. And Tunisia’s political, economic and security environments will remain volatile for as long as that competition is about who will rule, as opposed to how.

This extract is taken from a longer analysis published by Stratfor (RTWT – registration required). 

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Russian opposition strategist faces death threat

A leading Russian opposition figure is the subject of death threats, reports suggest.

Internet journalist Sasha Sotnik reports that security services have targeted Andrei Piontkovsky (left), a leading political scientist, essayist and democracy activist, for “assassination” while a minivan with surveillance equipment is reportedly parked in front of Piontkovsky’s apartment building.

A member of the governing body of the opposition Solidarity movement and Coordination Council, Piontkovsky was prosecuted under anti-extremism legislation in 2007 for his book, “Unloved Country,” which was deeply critical of President Vladimir Putin.

Piontkovsky is the “brain center” and master strategist of the opposition, according to Valery Otstavnih, an Ekho Moskvy blogger.

“It’s difficult to put in jail a politician who is known all over the world. There would be a terrible outcry. It’s easier to make him disappear,” he writes.

The opposition’s Expert Council has called on General Prosecutor Yuri Chaika to conduct a thorough investigation of the reported threats.

“The law-enforcement agencies are obligated to question the persons who may know anything about these assassination plans and take all necessary measures to prevent it, up to and including providing security for Andrei Piontkovsky and his family,” said a council press statement.

Piontkovsky was one of first signatories of the online Putin_Must_Go manifesto, published on 10 March 2010, and he has repeatedly stressed its importance and urged citizens to sign.

“They decided to sacrifice Pekhtin,” he said this week, referring to Vladimir Pekhtin, a vehemently anti-American member of the United Russia ruling party, who resigned from the Duma following revelations that he failed to disclose properties he owns in Florida.

“Every day a corrupted official is flung into the field of people’s ire. I have a hypothesis that it is not only Navalny (the inventor of the ‘Party of Swindlers and Thieves’ brand) who participates in the campaign to discredit the State Duma, but also the authorities themselves,” he said.

“It seems re-branding and re-formatting of top leadership are in the works; perhaps there will be early elections to the State Duma. And instead of the discredited Party of ‘Swindlers and Thieves,’ there will emerge an unblemished and radiant ‘People’s Front.’”

A contributor to the Journal of Democracy, Andrei Piontkovsky was a Reagan Fascell Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy in 2006.

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