INTERVIEW WITH MARGO SMIT
Investigative Journalist and Director, Association of Investigative Journalists (VVOJ) and keynote speaker at the 2014 ACFE European Fraud Conference in Amsterdam, 23-25 March
What would you like to share with the group you will address in Amsterdam?
I would like to share with them the important role investigative journalism may play in combatting fraud and corruption, and that there are commonalities between journalists and anti-fraud professionals in the way we do our jobs and the tools we use. Both professions should explore where they can help each other and benefit from each other’s knowledge and skills.
What role do you think the media currently plays in combatting future frauds?
Media can play a very important role in combatting fraud and corruption. It has been recognized on several occasions and in several studies, for instances by the World Bank and Transparency International (TI), that investigative reporting is the single most effective technique to combat corruption. In 2012, TI asked 3,000 businesspeople how best to fight corruption, and when being able to choose between a number of approaches ranging from international conventions on bribery and corruption to national anti-bribery laws and due diligence by business partners, governments and banks, a majority picked investigative reporting. Journalism and its possible effect of naming and shaming, is apparently seen as a very effective deterrent.
Nice as this may sound to reporters, this is also a large responsibility that we may not always take for what it is: a strong warning that we have to do our work scrupulously. In too many parts of the world, media stories on fraud are used for political and personal gain. Investigative reporting has to be carried out with strong independence, and if not, its possible role will be diminished.
Apart from all this, media can play a much larger role in combatting fraud. The report I published for the European Parliament Budgetary Control Committee showed a stunning indifference by European media to cover – let alone investigate – the large amounts of money being dispersed through many European Union programs. Europe is a hard nut to crack, apparently. Reporters give up too easily when the reporting gets complicated or too data-oriented. There still is a lack of skills amongst reporters to deal with issues of fraud and corruption. However, I hold high hopes of future generations of journalists. My students are much more comfortable with crunching the numbers, and they know how to build a database. There is much room for improvement.
What do you most hope attendees will take away from your address?
We may not be exactly 'one-of-a-kind' but at least 'one-and-a-half of a kind.' We have a lot in common, fraud-fighters and investigative reporters. We look behind the obvious, we look for context and background to occurrences, we like digging for answers, searching for patterns in what doesn’t (seem to) connect. And we may be able to help each other. Though I realize that often fraud fighters cannot easily talk with reporters while investigating fraud cases, perhaps we can teach each other methodology and give insight into what works best for each of us. Investigations, be they journalistic or aimed at combatting fraud, are not done in a vacuum, but are often the result of cooperation between people in different professions: researchers, programmers, and more and more often, the crowd. If we increasingly use the knowledge of the crowd for our investigations, perhaps we can learn to see each other’s professions as part of that crowd of knowledge.
Read more information about the upcoming 2014 ACFE European Fraud Conference in Amsterdam and register today.