Investigative journalism is crucial to holding those in power to account and enabling media to fulfil their watchdog role in society. Under challenging circumstances, IMS-supported investigative journalism networks worked to boost the practice of investigative journalism through workshops and mentoring programmes, providing grants for investigations and institutionalising investigative journalism through the development of university curricula and investigative journalism units in media houses.
In many ways, 2013 marked the beginning of a new golden age for investigative journalism. The Edward Snowden mass surveillance disclosures, past years’ mass information leaks from WikiLeaks, and the ensuing need to find new methods to process and safeguard the information led to new examples of digital cooperation between media outlets globally.
This was one of the conclusions drawn at the eighth Global Conference for Investigative Journalism in Rio in October 2013. Here, more than 45 journalists from IMS-supported investigative journalism programmes in the Arab world, Russia, Ukraine and China took part alongside other investigative journalists from 90 countries.
“It is important to know that you are not alone out there, that we stand together as a team,” said Russian journalist Alisa Kustikova, a coordinator for the SCOOP Russia programme, about taking part in the Global Conference for Investigative Journalism.
In a challenging climate for critical media there is indeed strength in knowing that you are not alone. The SCOOP Russia network provides investigative journalists with the possibility of strengthening their professional skills and connecting with peers inside and outside the country. Seventeen journalistic investigations were carried out in 2013 under the auspices of SCOOP Russia which is established in cooperation with Fojo Media Institute, IMS and the Danish Association of Investigative Journalists (FUJ).
One investigation into the failure of local authorities to provide adequate supplies of state-subsidised medicine to fight serious diseases such as cancer, contributed to the resignation of the Minister of Health in Kaliningrad.
In Ukraine, the events that began with former President Yanukovich’s failure to sign the EU Association Agreement in November 2013, prompted what is likely to become one of the most famous investigative journalism projects in Ukraine’s history. Supported by SCOOP, Yanukovych Leaks got underway in February 2014 when divers found nearly 200 folders with incriminating documents about the former President in a lake at his residence. Oleg Khomenok, SCOOP Coordinator in Ukraine and one of the driving forces behind the team of journalists working on Yanukovych Leaks said:
“This is the result of 10 years of SCOOP in Ukraine. SCOOP has supported journalists that have gone on to create a network of journalists with skills and knowledge who can cooperate on this task.”
The SCOOP Ukraine programme supported 12 journalistic investigations in 2013. One investigation revealed that the Minister for Social Affairs, Natalia Karolevska, had lied about her academic merits and faked her diplomas. The investigation will be followed by an official investigation into her academic merits.
Investigative journalism is slowly taking root in Kyrgyzstan and Tajkistan where SCOOP Central Asia works with journalists despite a very restrictive environment for media. Fifteen investigations on issues such as child trafficking, drugs, virginity bride practices and black market education were carried out under the auspices of SCOOP Central Asia, bringing to light sensitive issues and fostering public debate.
One major achievement of the programme has been enabling transnational cooperation on investigations. Journalists from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Russia worked together to shed light on the trafficking of children across borders in the region. The investigation found that school girls and boys from Kyrgyzstan were being taken to Kazakhstan as farm labour, nurses, or prostitutes. Children from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan suffered the same destiny, being taken to work in southern Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan or Russia.
In a year where press freedom levels declined across the Arab region, ARIJ’s efforts to build the skills of individual journalists, coaches and media institutions in investigative journalism were heavily in demand, working in six out of nine Arab countries. The flagship network for investigative journalism in the Middle East and North Africa co-founded by IMS, helped to set up five in-house investigative units in newsrooms in Yemen, Lebanon and Palestine to institutionalise investigative journalism in media houses. ARIJ also supported 20 investigations by journalists from Palestine, Jordan, Tunisia, Bahrain, Syria and Egypt on issues such as labour conditions, environmental hazards, education and corruption.
In one of these investigations, Hanan Zbeis, a female Tunisian journalist, went undercover with a hidden camera for three weeks to reveal the way in which unregulated Quranic preschools are advocating a very conservative form of religious education for children as young as three. In these preschools, children were not allowed to draw faces with eyes and were forced to sit still for up to four hours reciting the Quran. Zbeis’ story prompted a public debate in Tunisia about the abuse of the educational system by religious groups to promote Islam.
With the help of IMS and ARIJ, Yemen’s first network for investigative journalists was established in 2013. ARIJ also worked with individual media outlets in Yemen to set up in-house investigative units, organised specialised training for Yemeni media workers, and enabled University of Sana’a’s College of Mass Communication to introduce investigative journalism into its curriculum.
In a bid to include investigative journalism in university education, 48 media professors from across the Middle East and North Africa region were trained in the ARIJ Manual for Investigative Journalism as a basis for a new investigative journalism curriculum which can be used in universities across the region. In addition to this, more than 50 Arab journalists received multimedia training by ARIJ, enabling them to publish their material in both broadcast, online, and print media.
For the third year in a row, the talented journalists from NIRIJ won the regional award for the best investigative report in the Arab world at the annual ARIJ conference in December. This was a major achievement by journalists working in one of the world’s most dangerous environments for journalists. The investigation found that Iraqi MPs were each being awarded half a billion US dollars in privileges annually for each four year parliamentary cycle. The story was published in more than 30 Iraqi newspapers and prompted a public outcry. Eleven NIRIJ investigations were published in 2013.
In September, NIRIJ also published the second edition of the first and only magazine in Iraq that deals with investigative journalism.