A TV series called In the Name of the People, featuring China’s current fight against high-level government corruption, has gone viral in China. Dubbed the Chinese House of Cards, the show reached an 8% TV viewing rate (the highest in 12 years) and by the end of April 2017, had been watched over 20 billion times across major Chinese online video platforms. The show is widely acclaimed for its quality production, intriguing storylines, and, more importantly, for its bold, vivid depiction of the ugly side of China’s political and social reality. Shows like this are not merely entertainment: popular culture, including TV shows, can be an important tool in the fight against corruption.
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.
TRACE is working with anti-corruption networks around the world–including Anti-Corruption International (ACI), the Economic and Financial Crimes commission (EFCC) / Creative Youth Initiative against Corruption, the Global Youth Anti-Corruption Network (GYAC), and ZERO Tolerance-Wise Youth Trust –to distribute the videos. If you are interested in distributing the Bribe Busters series in your anticorruption network, please contact us here. We hope that this series can not only help teach children about the harms of corruption (as if they didn’t already know), but also help them develop a sense that they can do something about it. We believe that’s also the basic message of the United Against Corruption campaign, and it’s one we are happy to endorse.
Low-cost video, and easier video distribution, simple though it sounds, is emerging as one of the premier corruption-fighting tools. This is especially true for small countries with poor track records in public integrity. Consider Cambodia. Although Prime Minister Hun Sen’s 30-year rule has been rife with graft, cronyism, land grabbing, and political violence, the government has been able to keep the extent of this hidden from most of the Cambodian public. Yet video and video-sharing services have proved one form of protest that the reigning government cannot seem to quash.
The most recent video to provoke the ire of the ruling party has low production values and little action. Three men sit at a table, one talking for the majority of the eight-minute run time about a Global Witness report’s allegations of extreme nepotism and cronyism within the ruling family. The man speaking, Kem Ley, was an opposition politician who was assassinated in broad daylight at a gas station convenience store just two days after his remarks. Many commentators immediately suspected the killing was political; these statements themselves spurred lawsuits from the ruling party. Multiple YouTube versions of the video now have several hundred thousand views each, with video news stories covering the killing tallying hundreds of thousands more. Kem’s funeral procession brought out droves of Cambodians, some reports numbering the crowd at two million (in a country of around 15 million people).
Another recent video about an anticorruption campaigner has become extremely popular despite—or perhaps because of—the government’s best efforts to stop it. The video’s subject, Chut Wutty, worked to expose illegal logging in Cambodian forests, logging that often happened with police complicity or direct participation. While accompanying journalists to show them the extent of the illegal deforestation, Wutty was shot and killed by a police officer. The low-budget documentary about his life and death was released this spring. Banned by the government, the film also quickly racked up hundreds of thousands of views and gathered plenty of attention.
In a country with state-controlled media, sparse internet connectivity, and extreme poverty, the exposure to corruption-exposing video is ad hoc but growing. Videos like these hold promise for the future of the long-struggling country for several reasons: