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ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROBINSON:  Good afternoon, everyone.  Welcome to this fireside chat where we are honored to be joined by the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and three recently announced Anti-Corruption Champion awardees:  Rozina Islam, Janet Zhou, and Stevan Dojcinovic.  We are thrilled to have you all here with us, as we begin to wrap up a very successful week of events here at the ICC.

Over the last few days, we discussed the threat that corruption poses to the rule of law and good governance as well as anti-corruption’s role in building a fair and sustainable future for all.  We’ve also discussed best tools in combatting criminal networks and kleptocrats, and what the fight against corruption may look like in the future.  During this session, we will discuss what that fight looks like on the ground with the three brave anti-corruption defenders, who just this morning, were conferred with the U.S. Department of State Anti-Corruption Champions Award.

This award recognizes individuals who have demonstrated leadership, courage, and impact in preventing, exposing, and combatting corruption.  Before I introduce the Secretary and our three champions on stage, I would like to take a moment to recognize all of the 2022 Anti-Corruption Champions who are with us today in the audience.  The 2022 ACCA awardees, would you please stand up?  (Applause.)  Thank you for the tireless work that you do every day to further the fight against corruption.

I will now introduce our fireside chat participants, beginning with the Secretary of State Antony Blinken.  Antony J. Blinken is the 71st U.S. secretary of state.  He previously served as deputy secretary of state for President Barack Obama from 2015 to 2017; and before that as President Obama’s principal deputy national security advisor.  Thank you, Mr. Secretary, for joining us today.  (Applause.)


ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROBINSON:  I now introduce our Anti-Corruption Champions, beginning with today’s awardee from Bangladesh, Rozina Islam.  Rozina is a fearless special correspondent for the daily Prothom Alo newspaper and has broken major news stories exposing corruption and abuse of power by Bangladesh’s ruling party.  (Applause.)

Her investigative reports exposed how corrupt government officials looted public money, during COVID-19, by using loopholes in the health system, and how health officials offer bribes to recruit doctors, and how lifesaving equipment worth millions of dollars piled up at the airport waiting for customs clearance while the health officials stood by.

In a country where democratic space is shrinking, press freedom is under serious pressure from state agencies, and where few women choose and practice journalism as a profession,  Islam is an inspiring exception.

Next, we are pleased to welcome Stevan Dojcinovic, who along with his anti-corruption investigative outlet KRIK has exposed significant corruption in Serbia and shone a light into the murky networks of organized crime in Serbia and the Western Balkans – and their corrupt connections with government.  He and his team have uncovered massive drug smuggling operations and provided the basis for police actions in the Western Balkans, with substantial downstream impacts on the drug trade in Europe and beyond.  KRIK was the only outlet in Serbia that exhaustively researched allegations stemming from the 2021 Pandora Papers, which ensnared numerous high-level Serbian officials in allegations of money laundering and other financial crimes.  Welcome, Stevan.  (Applause.)

Finally, I am pleased to introduce Janet Zhou, the executive director of the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development.  Janet has led successful efforts to increase citizen agency to demand – to increase citizen agency to demand accountability and transparency in Zimbabwe.  Through the #HowFar campaign, Janet has raised awareness of the government’s constitutional and legal responsibilities, encouraged the government to prosecute corrupt officials, and advocated for government engagement in public discussions on transparency, and the use of public funds.

Among her achievements, Zhou’s advocacy resulted in a public audit of the government’s COVID-19 and Cyclone Idai expenditures, which exposed the abuse of resources by state entities.

Thank you all for joining us.  Kudos for your intrepid – (applause).  Kudos for your intrepid efforts, and we look forward to hearing more about your work.  And with that, I will hand it over to you, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Todd, thank you.  Good evening, everyone.  Good to be with you.  I can’t see you, but it’s very good to be with you.  (Laughter.)  So, this is supposed to be a fireside chat; I’m not sure where the fireside is, but we’ll do our best.  (Laughter.)

In all seriousness, it is an honor and a privilege for us to be co-hosting with Transparency International this year’s conference.  And I’m particularly glad that we have so many people with us this evening from government, from civil society and NGOs, from the private sector – all of whom are engaged in the fight against corruption – the fight for transparency and for accountability.

I think you’ve heard over the course of the day from many of my colleagues, including the National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and the Administrator for the Agency for International Development Samantha Power both about the Biden administration’s first-ever anti-corruption strategy and the progress that we’re making in actually implementing it.  And I know what you’ve heard from them as well as other colleagues is the centrality of this mission for us and for this administration.  Simply put, we see it as a national security challenge as well as a challenge in many other domains.

We know that corruption makes even more difficult and exacerbates virtually every global challenge that we have to work on – from war and conflict to figuring out how to end pandemics to disaster response.  We also know and see that in our efforts to strengthen democracy around the world, nothing is more corrosive, nothing does more to undermine citizens’ trust in their democracy, than corruption.  That’s one of the reasons why corruption was one of the pillars of the Summit for Democracy that we had last year and will continue to be at the heart of that effort going forward.

Now, this morning, as you heard from Todd, I had an opportunity to hand out some of our own awards, including to the three remarkable colleagues who are sitting with us onstage; and also some of their colleagues who are with us in the audience tonight.  And one of the things that struck me in doing that. and as we were talking about what they had achieved, is that there are a number of common denominators that each of them brings to the table.  And I just wanted to cite them quickly and then I’d love to get into a conversation, because mostly what we want to do this evening is to hear from you.  And, actually, it’s great for me because I usually have to answers the questions; now I get to ask them.  It’s going to be a lot better.  (Laughter.)

But one of the – a few things really stood out as we looked at their stories, the stories of the other awardees, in terms of common denominators.  One is the innovative use of technology to uncover graft, uncover corruption.  And I think you’ll hear a little bit about that this evening.

The second is the efforts that they’ve made to raise awareness about impunity and its impact on peoples’ daily lives.  This is a crucial step to really raising consciousness among the public, and in turn the demand for change.  That’s a common denominator.

We’ve seen each of them in different ways mentor rising generations of anti-corruption activists.  That’s vitally important because it can’t be just about one person, one leader.  And, of course, this is an enduring combat, and so doing that has been a powerful thing.

I think each has demonstrated, in different ways, that pockets of transparency and accountability can actually be nurtured, and we may hear a little bit about that this evening.

The fifth common denominator that we found is that defending the rights of underserved and marginalized communities, disproportionately impacted by corruption, has been a hallmark of much of this work, and that’s something that really stands out; and also, shining a bright light on how graft undermines the ability of governments to actually meet peoples’ needs.  There, too, in terms of raising awareness, raising understanding about how corruption actually saps at the ability of governments to deliver for their citizens, that’s a powerful common denominator.

And two other things I wanted to mention.  We’ve seen that the efforts have really brought long- overdue justice to victims and to their families.  That’s very powerful.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, I think if you asked each of our awardees to talk about their work, they’d probably tell you that at some point they were overcome with doubt, with the feeling that the hill was just too high to climb, that they couldn’t get there.  And yet somehow, some way, they found the energy, the determination, the will to carry on.  Maybe it was a supportive note, voice – something.  And I think that’s hugely important because I suspect each and every one of you, who’s involved in this in one way or another, has moments of doubt about the ability to actually succeed in carrying this fight forward.  And the fact that the people that we recognize today each had their own moments, overcame them, and carried on – to me, is very, very powerful.

With that said, we’re really here to hear from you.  And if it’s all right, what I’d love to do is just ask a few questions maybe to get the conversation started to really hear from your own experiences and what you can tell us from that.  And Janet, maybe let me start with you, and we can just go down the line.

I mentioned that one of the hallmarks that we’ve found across much of the work that’s done is some innovative way of looking at the problem, approaching it with a different tool, technique, from a different perspective.  If you can, tell us about how you’ve looked at something, how you did something differently, used innovation in some way to carry on this – the combat against corruption.

MS ZHOU:  Yes, thank you.  Thank you very much, and good evening, Secretary Blinken; and good evening to the participants, to this conference, and all the guests and everyone who is in here.  And that is a very good question, because many times when we talk about innovation, we think about some complex designing of some sort when you are engaging with citizens, when you are addressing a problem.  But the innovation that I learned and what we had to apply in the campaign that is being referred to here, the How Far Campaign, was actually that simplicity is the best sophistication when it comes to engaging with the citizens.

I’ve spent years in the civil society in Zimbabwe speaking technical language when it comes to public accountability, speaking technical language when it comes to corruption.  I would use words like embezzlement, I would use graft, illicit financial flows, in trying to build the movement and the urgency, but it never came.  But one day we decided the best innovation was to use the language that the citizens themselves use, their street language.  It was about going to the places and the spaces where they dwell, where they spend their time.

So, we did a lingo hack, as we would call it, of the How Far Campaign, of the “how far” as a statement that in my country every citizen, old and young, uses when they want accountability over an issue.  They will ask you – if you owe them some money and you meet with them or they give you a Coke, they will say “How far?”  And you know you have to tell them when you are paying back their money, and they expect it that way.

So, we did that.  We started using that language, the very simple language, daily language that the citizens use, and we realized that it had so much traction.  It could filter, because the citizens could relate with it.  We started making use of it, and connecting corruption now to lack of service.  So, it goes to the social soccer platforms, it would go to church choirs, it would go to schools, it would go to different places – cooperative gardens where women are watering their vegetables and they are asking the question to their leaders.

So, for me, the best innovation really is in messaging.  You have to message it in a way that the citizens understand.  You have to make it be relatable, break it into chewable bites, and just desist from using words that discriminate, that exclude, that will make the citizens not know how it relates to them.  It’s the same as if I talk about in debt in Zimbabwe and link it, debt and corruption, people will not understand how the national debt, public debt in Zimbabwe affects them.  But if I start engaging with them with the language that they understand in terms of you do not have water and this is the situation, this is where the money is going, it really starts to relate.  So, I would say the best innovation is in simply sitting and engaging with the citizens at that level.  (Applause.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  That’s a great insight.  Great insight.

Rozina, what struck you?  Any different ways or any insights that you had that are – that have helped you tackle the challenge?

MS ISLAM:  Okay, good evening.  I’m little bit nervous because we are used to ask question.  (Laughter.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  It’s so much better the other way.

MS ISLAM:  Not giving the answer.  So. first time, like, the big audience is there.  Assalamu alaikum.  Actually, you were a journalist.  As a hard – you know our struggle, so when we do struggle and we do our job, our family also struggle the same way.  So, what can we do, actually?  We journalists, we can write only.  Writing is our, like – we can write, and we can expose the corruption.  We can do only that one.  If we write against the corrupted people, they never liked me.  Like last year, I was – like I was arrested for my COVID reporting and mismanagement.

So, they confined me eight hours in health ministry.  So, they sent me to the jail.  And then how I came out from there and how I got (inaudible), like international community.  So international community, like CPJ, RSF, and others on the radio, they have supported me.  And then, again, I started my journalism.  That (inaudible) I got, that’s the way we can help others.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, it’s also a great story to hear for everyone in this audience, to know that their support, their voices also – makes a huge difference in the work that you’re doing to make sure that when those who are shining a light through whatever means on corruption are getting into difficulty, the fact that there is a strong community there to support them makes a big difference.

MS ISLAM:  Yes, I need the support.  You already encouraged us today, so now – when we are in danger, we need support from worldwide.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Stevan, tell us, is there anything that strikes you in the work that you’ve done and any kind of different approach that you’ve taken to exposing corruption?

MR DOJCINOVIC:  Well, in KRIK, my media KRIK, but also in OCCRP network where – which KRIK is part of, we tend to use lot of new tools of technology basically to do our own investigation.  Like for instance, OCCRP created Aleph database, which is database that consists of many other databases, who we managed to get it online on one place.  And it’s perfect tool for reporters to actually search and find leads for their stories.  But we also use artificial intelligence that help us, like face recognition.  So, we tend to use as much as we can technology to do our investigation, and we have actually big tech team in our newsroom.

But when it comes to tell the stories to reader, I agree with my colleague that basically, in the end, it comes to story be well written and strong story, and like we come to the old school journalism telling really compelling story.  Only our angle is that we never try to look from local perspective, because we understood that organized crime and corruption is actually not local matter.  It’s like international matter.  And like we always try to understand and tell to readers who these people really are, because they start understanding that all of these crime networks are connected in some way.  They cooperate between each other but also corrupted leaders, autocratic leaders, they are also connected.  So, we try to see it from like wider perspective and what effects it has on human lives, and actually to present to our – in our story.

And, of course, we add some stuff which kind of attracts readers, like in Serbia in KRIK we do a lot of cartoons, so we’re also presenting our story through cartoons.  And that’s pretty popular, so our readers really love this.  Also, what we do we understood that nowadays kind of like a reader doesn’t really like just to – things be told to them.  They want to have some kind of experience, to research among themselves, you know?  So, what we do, we allow them not just to read our story, but we usually publish documents.  We publish sometimes not the story but like databases – we have database of politicians in Serbia and judges – so readers can do their own research through our database.  And that is the way how they get more involved, and they more trust to the story when they have their experience of like basically doing journalism work.  So, we present everything to them.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Have you found anyone who’s done that, and sort of followed you up and said, I want to do this, I want to work with you, I want to —

MR DOJCINOVIC:  Yeah, of course.  I mean, we created lot of new things.  But even when we create something new, we basically rely on somebody else who did it.  We just do updated version of it.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  And was the database you created open to —

MR DOJCINOVIC:  Yes, it’s open to public so everybody can visit it.  There’s other newsroom who did it.  We just did like little bit maybe some newer version of it with some new features for it.  Because for us is like most important, like I said, is that reader can do something there, do their own research and get more involved, because for us that’s most important – to have really big interaction with readers.  That’s what we do.  We really like communicate with our readers, also on other side supporting us by crowdfunding, by small donations.  So – and we want to allow them as much as they can that they can really also communicate with us, and research – same like we do ourselves.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  One of the reasons it’s just interesting to hear these stories is that for just about anything that we’re trying to do around the world, any problem – corruption or anything else – that we’re trying to solve, usually I’ve found in my experience – over 30 years traveling around the world is that somewhere someone has actually found a way to tackle the problem.  But if that information isn’t shared, then everyone else has to reinvent the wheel.  And so, one of the powers of these kind of gatherings, sharing these stories, is that maybe it will spark thoughts and ideas for others who are facing similar challenges to learn how you’ve gone about it.  So, thank you for sharing that.

Now, you’ve got a room full – all of you – of government officials, leaders of NGOs and civil society, private sector, philanthropies.  Given this incredible audience that you’ve got, what is – from your perspective, the most significant corruption challenge that we face, and how can the people in this room help tackle it?

Would you like to start?

MS ZHOU:  Thank you.  Yes, I will.  For me when I look at it at the global level and also at the national level from where I’m coming from, I think the issue around impunity against the perpetrators of corruption and the rampant grand corruption that really links almost all sectors, that permeates from the global level, national levels, to the local levels – in terms of national government structures in our different countries, is well shared from the experiences that we have shared; as well as a cohort here for the past two and a half or so weeks that we have been together.  I think we still remain with a major challenge in terms of addressing corruption.  I take it this is the 40th or so conference, and we’re still talking about corruption.  And in many of our countries it remains a major challenge, and for me it’s such a complex human design, man-made challenge that we have, and it continues.

So, we need to deal with it.  I think there has been institutions.  There are legal frameworks that have been put in place.  But in many situations I don’t think we have made use of those legal instruments, of the institutions that we have put in place to combat corruption.  We still have a long way to go in terms of ensuring that the mandate we give to the institutions, they are executed.  We still have to make sure that the legal frameworks and tools that we have put in place, they are also being implemented.  It could be constitutions.  It could be acts and statutes that have been put in place at the national level, at the international level to combat corruption.  I think we still have that major challenge.

And for me, it requires – since the room is full, it requires all bodies.  It requires all sectors.  It requires all governments to come together and address the issue of impunity against corruption.  And while I say that, we may see some people arrested, so it doesn’t go to the end game.  .Advocating against corruption, for me, the end game is to return the proceeds to the victims of corruption.  And if that hasn’t happened, I think for me – yes, we celebrate arrests, we celebrate the awareness that we raised the urgency, but the end game should be to get the proceeds from those that are benefitting from corruption.

So, it’s work that continues to sometimes be very – you get weary.  You sometimes feel defeated in one way or the other when there is impunity.  So, it’s the end game.  But it’s also even just arresting and prosecuting some of these corruption cases that we have.  We’ve shared – I’ve shared my own experiences from my own country with colleagues.  They have also shared theirs, where there is a lot of cases that remain unresolved.  Some of them are acquitted, because the charges are not that strong to actually prosecute.

So, I think that is a major challenge that I think all of us – who are in this room, need to deal with the impunity and say where are we going to go and where are – what are those solutions that will ensure that we have mobilized the citizens, we have worked with the allies in different places – at the international level, at the national level, at the local level – the allies that we have in the private sector, in the public sector, in the civil society, and the common and ordinary citizens that are the victims of corruption?  I think we still need to find that.

And for me, that’s the challenge that we still have, that we have remained in our silos in the different spaces that we are in.  The private sector, when I am in the civil society working where I am, we’re still struggling with, for example, tax havens in different places where corrupt officials, where corrupt individuals, are stashing their loot that they are getting.  So, the biggest beneficiaries as well, they’re not sitting in our local context as well, so it’s a whole chain and syndicate that we need to deal with.  And I think that is a major challenge that we still need to address.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yes.  (Applause.)  And I think Stevan was making that point as well.  Thank you, Janet.

Rozina, the biggest corruption challenge you see and how can people help?

MS ISLAM:  Yeah.  (inaudible) so many things.  Actually, we need security.  What we want – we need security.  Like when I go home or my daughter went to school, I always scared if I am late.  So, we need security everywhere.  We need press freedom in our country – we can write everything, whatever we see.

Two of my anti-corruptions campaign friends, they are judge.  So, one is from Madagascar and one is from Colombia.  So, I ask several time, why are you selected?  I heard judges are least corrupted.  Because how, how you come here like this?  My case is come one and a half year.  Every month I have to appear and (inaudible) in the court four times, five times.  They keep my passport whenever I go somewhere.  I applied for this, and they gave me the passport.  I have to show all papers and I have to stay like this.  And on July, they have submitted – the police submitted the report.  They didn’t find anything about me.  But it still – the judges didn’t still anything (inaudible) to go every day the court.  When I back to Bangladesh in next January 15, also my debt.  So how – where I go?  Where I’ll go?  From home, I’m out of the help.  So, I need that type of help in my country, and I need support from you and through our U.S. embassy in our country.


MS ISLAM:  So, I’m lucky, like I’m here – (applause) – but all the humanity from like this week of (inaudible), so many journalists in the jail still now.  Like I’m working with the big newspapers, high circulated daily in Bangladesh.  It’s called Prothom Alo.  So, my editor also got 70 cases.  We are not allowed to go to the party of the prime minister office, Awani League office and (inaudible).  They stopped our advertisement.  So, this way someone actually want to stopped us, but we continue – we are continuing our journalism.  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you for sharing that.  (Applause.)  And Rozina, I want to come back to that in a minute, because I think it’s a very important question.  One small thing I’ll share that some people are aware of – one of the – one of the tools that we’ve seen used, in particular against journalists, are quote/unquote “legal” tools in different societies to exert such pressure on independent media outlets that they have to go out of business, including using the law with lawsuits of one kind or another.  One of the things that we did last year was to establish a fund that allows independent media organizations to get support, in order to be able to withstand some of that kind of pressure.  So, there are very practical things that can be done, some of which we’re doing.

But Stevan, coming back to this question of biggest corruption challenge that you see right now, and given the people we have in the audience, is there anything you would ask them to do to help address that challenge?

MR DOJCINOVIC:  Well, this may be dark thing to say, but I think, like, organized crime groups and corruption is more powerful than ever nowadays.  It’s like we talk about state captures – organized crime groups are capturing whole state, and even happening, like, in Europe.  And it’s like corrupted authoritarian leaders, they becoming more and more popular.  They work between themselves, change like experience.

So, it’s big problem, and it’s extremely unfriendly environment for investigative reporters to work.  But still, investigative reporting produces so many good stories in last years like never before in history, literally.  It’s like big success.  There’s like so many law enforcement actions that removed after stories that journalists published, and some money that is actually recovered from crime.  There’s like billions that basically states managed to seize after the journalists exposed some real estate – some property that were basically owned by different criminal groups.

So, what I think – it’s important that part of this money get back to the journalism.  And actually, what’s most important, I think that investigative reporting should be seen as public good, like public service.  It should not be measured from standpoint of view as like how much sustainable is, how much is good in the market, because nowadays it’s really hard.  It’s almost impossible to have investigative team to be like sustainable.  It must be donated.  Even here in United States it’s hard to do it, and in other part of world it’s impossible.  Like in my country, there’s no advertiser that will pay commercial to independent media because if they do so, the government will send immediately financial inspections to this company, shut it down.

So, it cannot make commercially money, but it must be donated.  And I think that’s really important to do, to accept this and actually to, of course, financially support investigative reporters and to support them for what they do – that’s also important – for their core activities.  Because there’s like – there is actually a lot of donors’ money there, but many times donors tend to support investigative reporters for not their core activity but to do something else, like to deliver trainings, to work on their sustainability program and other projects.  And I think it’s not a problem like there is the money but it’s more kind of should be really more focused to actually provide money for journalists to do their own stories.  I think that’s very important.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

So, I want to come back to something that Rozina started us on, and that is the fact that you’ve all in different ways – and our colleagues who received awards today also – have been on the receiving end of threats, harassment, sometimes even violence.  What is it that this community can do, do more effectively, to help protect and make sure that those who are engaged – who are champions of combating corruption – can do their jobs –  do their work in safety and security, and have the confidence that they can do that?  Any ideas that you have about that?  Because we know the pressure that so many are under and we know that the higher the stakes get, the more people will resort to any means to make sure that their interests are not threatened.

But tell us a little bit, first of all, if you’ve had any experience that you want to share about that, but also any thoughts you have about whether there are ways, tools, means to create an environment in which you can actually do your work in safety.  Janet?

MS ZHOU:  Thank you very much, Secretary.  I think activists, both at the global level – international levels where we are – but in the communities where we are actually building anti-corruption champions, there is a huge risk and threats to life, to human rights, to families, like Rozina has indicated.  So even if you look at reports, human rights defenders’ reports, those in accountability, anti-corruption, environment, climate, are facing huge threats than before from the national governments.  The characterization of the problem and the responses of our governments has really changed, to the point of militarizing and securitizing – kind of the use of the security in terms of responding to activists and human rights defenders that are in the space of anti-corruption.

So, the call for security support in terms of safety of the human rights defenders in the anti-corruption space, I think it remains very important, and it is one that makes the activists and the advocates for anti-corruption to feel safe that we have all-weather allies – in the international community but also at the national level and in other different spaces.  So, I think continuing to focus on ensuring that there is that safety mechanisms that are put in place, legal support as well.

These threats are not only coming from our governments per se but the private sector.  There is an increase around strategic litigation against participation by communities that are calling out on anti-corruption.  But we are simply activists.  We have communities that we are building the voice to challenge the anti-corruption that they are seeing in their communities.  And they are then – they then face these SLAPPs and they cannot stand for themselves, and there is still need for that as well.  I think our justice system, building of institutions to ensure that we have allies even at the local levels in terms of institutions that work and support and engage with anti-corruption advocates at the local level is very key and important, yeah.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good.  Thanks for sharing that.  Rozina, is there anything you want to add on this – you started to talk about it a little bit before – just in terms of how we can do a better job creating a safe environment and dealing with the threats and harassment and violence that’s sometimes directed at those champions of anti-corruption?

MS ISLAM:  Yes.  So, like, they kept my accreditation card that time.  After that court says it’s not good to keep the accreditation cards, because he is right.  But again, the information ministry didn’t give me the card.  So, when you’re asking like the tools, how are you – how are you work if I can’t go to the ministry or secretariat?  So, newspaper published this news.  After that, civil society or some organization should come, write.  But like I have to tell them come, come, but they have some duty to write it.

But on the other hand, when I was arrested – like there was so demonstration in my country.  All community were with me.  But you know every day in Bangladesh, like India, every country, every day there is an incident.  Everybody forgets.  (Inaudible) forgets.  So, every day that’s changing the space, so we need to follow up with this.  I want this support for journalists.  Whenever you take a case, you just continue and you just follow up.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Stevan.

MR DOJCINOVIC:  Well, as we see, everything goes in the direction that a corrupted leader tends to less go with extreme violence toward journalists, and more to take some kind of sophisticated ways of pressuring newsrooms till they completely drain them – drain them from money and time and get them burned out and out of the business.  And this is what’s happening in many parts of the world.  It’s happening also in my country.

And like you mentioned, SLAPP lawsuits are one of the main tools that are used.  We have now 11 cases ongoing.  And especially dangerous is a mixture of SLAPP lawsuits, with a country which doesn’t have an independent judiciary like Serbia.  So, we just lost one case.  One really clean fact-checked story basically we lost now in trial.

So, I must thank to USAID for supporting the project Reporters Shield, which I think you mentioned –


MR DOJCINOVIC:  which will help journalists basically to provide financial supports and lawyers to fight SLAPP lawsuits, but many of those do another step.  So even with financial support, the SLAPP lawsuits take you so much time and energy like to defend yourself, to prepare with lawyer strategy.  And then usually they are followed by smear campaigns against journalists and other ways of pressure and like spying on journalists – like actually defending yourself becomes one big part of working hours for journalists.  Literally, I lose like five working days a month to deal with these security issues.

And I think journalists should be also lot of help there, not just financially.  They also need to develop some kind of new strategies like newsroom lawyer strategy who help journalists to really realize they can keep their work, their workflow, during these attacks.  And one of the ways to help it’s also to kind of relax journalists from other things they need to do besides basically doing their work.  So just coming back to what I say, journalists should be like also financially support to do their work, also like kind of I think donors should be a little bit lighter with their bureaucracy because also like part of working hours is like writing project proposals and this stuff, so it’s kind of – I think investigative reporters should be put in some kind of special treatment that they can – without pressure they have like – use as much of the time they can actually to produce good stories which really matter which can eventually save lives of people and inform.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, thanks to each of you for sharing some of your experience, sharing some of our insights with each of us.  I’ve got to say, as I told you this morning and told our other awardees this morning, it really is an honor to be with you.  The work that you’ve done, the way you’ve done it, is inspiring.  And I’d ask everyone here to just join me in applauding our guests, our panelists.  (Applause.)  Thank you.

And let me conclude also just by applauding each and every one of you.  Everyone in this audience tonight is in one way or another taking part in this effort.  This is a community and it takes a community, in this case, to – in a sustained way deal with a challenge that is global and that we see manifested around the world in so many different ways.  So, we’re grateful that this community exists.  We’re grateful to be a part of this year’s conference.  And I can tell you that we will sustain, for our part, this fight going forward.  Thank you for being here this evening.  Thanks, everyone.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future