At the first venue in Pécs of our project for involving communities in the countryside, we addressed how investigative journalism can become an effective tool for fighting corruption and what role citizens can play in this process. Not only local, well-known journalists and media professionals attended the debate but also the country’s most reputable investigative journalists.
„Don’t be afraid!” – said Dániel Ács (444.hu), the author of the documentary about the abuse of the parking system in Ferencváros for citizens who are aware of a corruption case, but afraid of the possible consequences of reporting it. Beside the author of 444, András Pethő (Direkt36), Attila Babos (Szabad Pécs) and Gábor Polyák (University of Pécs, Mertek Media Monitor) also participated in the conversation about the situation of investigative journalism in Hungary with the moderation of Miklós Stemler (Magyar Narancs, HVG).
Before the panel discussion, Miklós Ligeti, Legal Director of Transparency International Hungary discussed in his presentation what tools TI applied in order to access data of public interest and what kind of success it achieved mostly in requesting data about settlement bonds and sports donations.
As Gábor Polyák recalled in the journalist panel discussion: the changes that took place in the Hungarian media after the 2008 economic crisis would have been inconceivable a few years earlier. The anecdotes of some Bulgarian colleagues about the media owned by government-friendly businessmen which are now commonplace in Hungary too, seemed incredibly far – he added.
At the same time, the concentration of ownership and the transformation of the advertising market are not the only challenges journalists face today: the otherwise highly inspiring and intellectually challenging job’s financial and security conditions are getting worse – the participants agreed. Even though none of them mentioned that they felt physically threatened, but as András Pethő said, ”the content consumption habits have really changed”, thus, it is becoming a less and less realistic option for media products to rely on advertisement exclusively. That is why the representatives of all three newspapers see the future as an extension of community funding.
“Fortunately, it seems sustainable for now. Year after year, we have managed to expand our incomes from this source. Of course, we see that more and more people are trying to solve their financing in a similar way, so competition is increasing, but we are confident that the number of people willing to donate for independent journalism will grow in parallel.” – said András Pethő, the founding editor of the Direkt36 which is funded about 70 percent by its readers.
Attila Babos, editor-in-chief of Szabad Pécs, added that as a local newspaper they have no capacity to write only investigative articles, neither is he certain that the paper which is also mostly crowdfunded will still be able to operate in a year.
After the conversation, the participants had the opportunity to reflect on their own attitude towards corruption in a quiz. The answers to the questions revealed that the majority of the participants were lenient towards informal payments in healthcare and the corrupt practices of driving schools, however they would be less tolerant of the abuse of power at their own workplace – most of them would initiate internal ethical procedures in case of an in-company abuse, but in case of public procurement, the Public Procurement Arbitration Committee was also a popular option. The reactions also revealed that the participants see journalists as potential partners and consider the media as an important tool in detecting corruption cases.