It’s long been recognized that public relations (PR) is a crucial tool in the fight against corruption. (For a recent exposition of that argument on this blog, see here.) This recognition is codified in the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), Article 13 of which requires state parties to “[u]ndertak[e] public information activities that contribute to non-tolerance of corruption, as well as public education programs,” and Article 6 of which calls on state parties to “increase[e] and disseminat[e] knowledge about the prevention of corruption.” Governments fulfill their UNCAC obligations in a variety of ways, and examples of anticorruption public awareness campaigns are as diverse as they are numerous. A famous example of how PR can be used effectively comes from Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption, which spends millions of dollars annually on thousands of workshops to educate public employees and private citizens about the effects of corruption and how to combat it. New York City has likewise deployed large-scale educational programming with similar success. In addition to government-run campaigns such as these, multilateral organizations such as the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and NGOs like Transparency International also regularly engage in efforts to raise public awareness around corruption issues (see here, here, here, and here). These campaigns deploy tools as varied as video, music, and drawing to convey their anticorruption messages.
Critics sometimes contend that these PR campaigns consume scarce anticorruption resources that would be better devoted to investigation or enforcement efforts. This criticism is misguided and shortsighted. Of course a badly-designed PR effort can waste resources. Yet effective anticorruption PR helps accomplish several goals that other, “harder” anticorruption measures are incapable or ineffective at achieving on their own:
Although corruption is a broadly entrenched social ill, each corrupt act is a decision made in its own specific place and time. To address the global problem of corruption, we need to focus our attention locally and join together in our individual acts of resistance. That dynamic is concisely expressed in the phrase “United Against Corruption”—the official slogan of 2016’s International Anti-Corruption Day (officially observed this past December 9th). The associated “United Against Corruption” campaign focuses on corruption as an impediment to development, and offers a wide range of suggestions for what governments, media, businesses, and individuals can do to participate in the ongoing struggle. The campaign’s website includes a series of powerful videos illustrating the dire effects of corruption.
Children are often the ones that suffer the effects of corruption, but they can also play a key role in changing a society’s tolerance of it. The United Against Corruption campaign encourages individuals to “[e]ngage the youth of your country about what ethical behavior is, what corruption is and how to fight it.” In that spirit, TRACE International has created a series of short animated stories featuring the “Bribe Busters”—an elite young team of corruption fighters who fight corruption around the world with the help of a time travel teleportation super-computer. Their mission: to ensure that children everywhere have a fair future. Each episode focuses on a different aspect of corruption, and shows the viewer that although the world is full of unfairness, things don’t have to be that way. (For example, in episode two, the team is able to convince a government safety inspector not to look the other way at building code violations by showing him—with the help of their time-traveling computer friend—the devastation of a consequent building collapse. In another episode, the team helps an underserved remote village organize to get rid of a kleptocrat whose greed has prevented an important road project from being completed.) These videos, which have already been viewed in 44 different countries, are available on YouTube in English, French, and Spanish, with Arabic coming soon. Additionally, comic versions of the episodes (in PDF form) can be downloaded here.
Last week, I got an email alert from Transparency International asking me to sign (and publicize) TI’s new “Declaration Against Corruption.” The declaration is short and sweet:
I will not pay bribes
I will not seek bribes
I will work with others to campaign against corruption
I will speak out against corruption and report on abuse
I will only support candidates for public office who say no to corruption and demonstrate transparency, integrity and accountability
On reading the declaration, I had two thoughts. The first thought was, “Yes, of course I agree with all that, I’m happy to add my name to the list” (which I did). I’m also happy to use this blog post in part to help publicize the declaration in case some of you out there haven’t already heard about this and would like to sign on as well.
My second thought, though, was along the lines of “What’s the point?”
I ask that question with all due respect to TI. I want to pose this as a substantive, serious question about anticorruption campaign strategy: What is a “Declaration Against Corruption” like this supposed to accomplish? It certainly doesn’t do any harm, but what good do TI and other anticorruption campaigners think will come of this?
I have a few hypotheses about why one might think that calling on as many people as possible to sign onto a Declaration Against Corruption might be a useful and meaningful (as opposed to symbolic but ultimately trivial) element of an anticorruption campaign: Continue reading →
As some readers of this blog already know, today (December 9th) is International Anti-Corruption Day. Other readers may be wondering, “Huh? International Anti-Corruption Day? What’s that?”
I’m glad you asked. When the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) was opened for signature in 2003, the General Assembly’s resolution included a specific plank “decid[ing] that, in order to raise awareness of corruption and of the role of [UNCAC] in combating and preventing it, 9 December should be designated International Anti-Corruption Day.” (And you thought the UN General Assembly never decided anything important. Shame on you.)
So what should you do to celebrate International Anti-Corruption Day? It’s easy to make fun of things like this — and as should be clear, that’s a temptation I can’t entirely resist. But at the same time, I do think that raising awareness of the issue is important. And though I can’t find much about attention-raising activities in conjunction with this year’s International Anti-Corruption Day, apparently last year the UN tried to take the opportunity to launch a campaign — with slogans, Tweets, etc. — to get more attention to the issue. You can check out their website on how to “celebrate” International Anti-Corruption Day here.
One last Anti-Corruption Day thought: As I said, I’m all for raising more awareness. But at the risk of sounding like a Grinch, I think it’s fair to raise the question whether publicity gambits like this are starting to outlive their usefulness. Many in the anticorruption community–particularly those who started working on these topics in the 1990s or earlier, when it was definitely treated as marginal in many quarters–have spent a lot of time and energy trying to raise awareness about the issue. And the thing is, they’ve succeeded. The international community is aware of the problem, and takes it seriously (at least in the sense of acknowledging corruption as a legitimate concern). As I see it, the anticorruption movement is now in a tricky transitional phase: The first generation won an important battle, by getting corruption on the international agenda. The new generation needs to make more progress on figuring out what exactly to do about it. So by all means, use the International Anti-Corruption Day gimmick as a way to raise awareness. But at the same time, let’s recognize that we’re reaching the point where raising awareness isn’t really a central issue anymore.