Newly independent organization’s head of investigations compares poor transparency in aid community to the Vatican.
A former United Nations-controlled news service relaunched as an independent organization on Wednesday, vowing tough coverage of the $20-billion global aid industry.
“There are very few industries of this scale who have no specialized media,” said Ben Parker, a former top U.N. official who now heads investigations at the news site, known as IRIN. “It is a very strange and unique and complex system of vested interests and a small concentration of power in a few hands,” added Parker, who in 2012 ran the U.N.’s humanitarian office in Syria.
Speaking at IRIN’s launch in Geneva, Parker compared the humanitarian world to the Vatican in terms of poor transparency and said the aid community had suffered through a lack of media scrutiny. “A handful of donors and a handful of giant aid agencies tend to monopolize this $20 billion dollars, and the level of scrutiny and transparency in their work is extremely low,” he said.
IRIN will push back against powerful humanitarian groups who ask for public money while “claiming to be doing the right thing,” but often get away “with a pretty poor job [and] a pretty low level of honestly about their successes and failures,” Parker continued.
Founded by the U.N. in 1995 in the wake of the Rwandan genocide, IRIN’s coverage had always focused on humanitarian emergencies. But IRIN director Heba Aly said the organization faced constraints under the U.N.’s control and decided it could do more good operating “from an independent vantage point.”
Without U.N. funding, Aly said IRIN was now fully exposed to the brutal economic climate for journalistic organizations. But she said IRIN hoped to benefit from a trend emerging in the United States that has seen philanthropists and foundations increasingly support socially conscious journalism.
“It is a bold endeavor and we understand it may fail,” Aly said.