THE BLOG

Who, What, When - Now It's Time to Ask Why

19/05/2013 18:58 BST | Updated 16/07/2013 10:12 BST

Russia is a country that's never short of jaw-dropping stories.

Be it Moscow traffic police calling on drivers to form a human road block to stop a fleeing suspect, or perhaps more harrowing, a woman confessing to killing and freezing her newborn children for five years in a local food store.

The above border on the fictitious, seemingly stretching the depths of depravity and incompetence, but having spent significant time amongst colleagues in Moscow and the public at large, you understand why such stories are just the more gory and headline grabbing tip of the iceberg.

By and large the question of why seems to be lost, from the way journalists report, to the reception such incidents receive from Russians themselves.

Reports on the above mentioned woman, who's said to have recently confessed to police that she killed her newborns, detail as fact what happened. They list that she froze those children for five years, hiding them in the freezer of a convenience store. What they fail to do is stress or show much outrage that for five years these children went unnoticed by store visitors and local officials carrying out routine checks of the place- In many places this would become the story!

Such horrific, but isolated cases do occur everywhere and can hardly be used to smear a nation, but it is a prominent example of a problem at large.

The traffic cops using people's cars- some with the people still in them- to stop a fleeing suspect, reportedly told those in the human roadblock that they'd receive no state compensation, as the person still evaded capture. It's a response that stinks of a self-assured institution believing itself to be beyond accountability.

Institutionally Russia is a country with over 20 years of reforms under its belt, but one that remains one of the most corrupt democracies in the world. Almost annually I've reported on the hit that state coffers take from bribes and backhanders. When top military officials announce that nearly a quarter of their budget has been lost to corruption it's seems to barely register, more to the point it's anticipated.

A story that's long stuck with me is that of Russian air force whistleblower, Igor Sulim. Coming forward with reports of wide-spread corruption at an elite training base, he accused the outfits commander and deputy of gleaning a so called ransom from personnel, averaging around 20 percent of their monthly pay. An official investigation followed, his claims were upheld and charges were pressed. Commenting on the case, Viktor Bondarev, then deputy head of Russia's military, remarked to radio station Ekho Moskvy, that all those pressured into paying the "ransom" were cowards, stressing that Sulim had a finger in the pie and insinuating that his colleagues will now blame him for losing their bonuses. Such a statement in many countries would leave a high-ranking official fighting to keep their job- since, Bondarev has been promoted to the post of Commander of Russia's air force.

This isn't to suggest people back corruption as a way of life, valuable campaigns against it exist, in principle people stand opposed, indeed opposition to perceived abuses of power has been a calling card of Russia's recent protest movement. But what remains absent in public discourse seems to be the why, why is this happening? Or more accurately, why are WE letting this continue?

Of course scandals in office or public are by no means a Russian phenomenon, whether it's media institutions hacking phones or MP's fiddling expenses, the UK has seen its' fair share recently. But what always follows such incident's are relatively thorough reviews that can force through genuine reform, through fear of the public eye, if nothing else.

When a group of men were recently found guilty of the rape and torture of underage girls in Oxford, the local council immediately became the target of probing questions. When News International was belatedly hauled over hot coals for its abuses there came Leveson.

All this is no accident, the press and the public have had to demand answers- and do so regularly, historically, culturally - for politicians to expose power to regulation and reproach.

The fight on graft has been ongoing for years in Russia, but legislation can only go so far, its success hinges on an attitude change, something far harder to enforce. Without it a relatively passive status quo allows for public figures to often escape without penance, often appearing fragrantly above the law to outside observers.

For many years I've worked for a company that carries the slogan 'Question More'- a very worthy tagline for any broadcaster- the problem is more need to be asking questions.