They are ubiquitous, they are important, their work is essential to functioning societies, shining light on the activities of the powerful, wealthy and criminals. The work of investigative journalists around the world, despite being constitutionally acknowledged in most countries, has come under attack, even as there is evidence of democracy receding in many countries of the world, and autocrats are rising.
From the US, through India, South Africa, the UK, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Ghana, Nigeria, Togo, Tanzania, to Zambia and Malawi, investigative journalists have come under unprecedented attack. They have been shot dead, chased out of their countries, their operations shut and some imprisoned, but they have remained resilient – working under difficult conditions – they have continued to uncover crime, corruption, abuse of power hold the powerful to account, and they are growing. Growing in numbers and developing new investigation skills and reporting.
This week in the harbour city of Hamburg, Germany, they are gathered from all over the world. At the ongoing Global Investigative Journalism Conference, the 11th in the series organized by the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN), some 1500 journalists from 130 countries are meeting, learning, connecting, sharing information and dinning together. When the conference started in 2001 – there were 300 journalists in attendance and the techniques at that time, were mostly rudimentary, but not anymore. Investigative journalists have leveraged on technology, the Internet and innovation to continue to dig for information, do analysis and expose wrongdoing.
At the conference there are workshops on how to dig deeper on the Internet to find information online that is not easily accessible. They are learning about 3D imaging, reverse coding to find hidden stories in metadata, they have developed tools to evaluate films shot by ordinary people on mobile phones to show evidence of crime, and sometimes, they are ahead of the security services.
There are workshops on fundraising, digital security and how to stay alive while covering dangerous situations.
Speaking at the opening of the conference Wednesday September 26, 2019, GIJN Executive Director, David Kaplan said: “If autocrats thought we were going away, they’re in for a surprise.” An apparent response to the growing attacks on investigative journalism around the world.
“Attacks are at near record levels, even in countries where we thought we were safe. In places like the US and Britain, we’re under assault legally; by presidents who want to be autocrats; online by people who want to make us and our families miserable,” he said, adding, “It’s a tough time for investigative journalists on the frontlines. Despite all of this, we’re growing. We’ve got more journalists with better tools going after tougher targets, all over the world.”
In his remarks at the opening, Carsten Brosda, the Minister of Culture and Media for the City of Hamburg, said; “You are the watchdog of democracies. If we don’t have the truth, and people that go the long way to find the truth … [it will] make it almost impossible to have rational discourse. We see lots of instances where societies tend to become irrational, or autocratic leaders that [undermine] democratic institutions.”
He stated that Hamburg believes in the work of journalists. “Not kneeling before any form of authority or power, is what journalism is about. If journalism doesn’t work, democracy doesn’t work,” he said.
In her comments Marina Walker Guevara, director of strategic initiatives at the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, said: “For me, it’s the democratization we’re seeing in investigative journalism, including gender diversity.” She said the power of machine learning tools offered hope: “[Artificial intelligence] is not perfect and not magic, but it can augment our capabilities so we can use our time better.”
By the time the conference ends on Sunday September 29, new alliances would have been formed, new projects refined and firmed and the latest approach in investigative journalism, new collaborations would have been started.
By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi, in Hamburg, Germany
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