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The real value of investigative journalism is its ability to involve us all
05 Dec. 2018

Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism network (ARIJ) was part of the global network of journalists going through the so-called Panama Papers. Photo: Courtesy of ICIJ

The Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ) forum is the place to be if you want to know what’s happening  in investigative journalism in the MENA region. The changes that journalism in the Arab world has undergone in the last decade have been unprecedented

by Jesper Højberg, Executive Director, IMS

Since I last attended the annual conference hosted by the ARIJ network in 2014, the Arab World has undergone significant changes. Turbulent developments and setbacks across the region with a resurgence of authoritarianism, increased conflict and overall insecurity, there has been a stark deterioration of the region’s already challenged environment for investigative journalists. Hostility towards opposing points of view by state and non-state actors alike is omnipresent almost without exception everywhere in the region and globally, posing significant challenges to this critical genre of journalism. Holding political actors to account remains one of the key aims of investigative journalism.

But perhaps its real value at the moment lies in its ability to mobilise and involve all of us, citizens and communities in critical societal issues.

We know that investigative journalism is an extremely dangerous undertaking. It often involves legal and physical threats, as well as harassment. Still many journalists in the MENA region are keen to continue to investigate wrongdoing and take on the role as society’s watch dog while they continue to grow their professional capacities. This is why I take great solace in the eager younger generation who are carrying the torch forward and who are attending the ARIJ Forum in Jordan, taking place from 30 November to 2 December. The annual Forum contributes to training and equipping journalists to serve as society’s “watchdogs” in favour of democracy, transparency and the rule of law.

The theme of this year’s ARIJ forum is “The Future of Investigative Reporting”, focusing on trends, tools and technologies. Investigative journalism in the MENA region has come a long way since the birth of the Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism Network and IMS’ initial involvement with ARIJ some 12 years ago.

I clearly recall my first meetings with journalists, editors and publishers, driven by their commitment to professional in-depth reporting, and who to this day, make up the backbone of ARIJ. They presented an idea already conceived in the region. And so, a combination of taking advantage of a window of opportunity and combining this with expressed needs for support and knowledge development by the Arab region’s journalist communities led to the formation of ARIJ. IMS has stood by ARIJ since then, enabled by the generous support of the Danish Arab Partnership Programme funded by the Danish government. New methodologies have been developed that allow Arab journalists from across the region to access professional support in order to produce investigative stories. It has been a thorough “learning by doing” approach which in the past 12 years has seen many of those stories making it into national, regional and also international media news cycles. These are stories that have created debate, change and improvements such as exposing corruption in customs in Beirut Port, torture in Tunisian jails, and slavery in Yemen.

Not only participating journalists have improved their professional skillset. ARIJ’s core team of trainers has also become more experienced and qualified in how best to coach the production of quality investigations, set standards and give citizens an opportunity to raise their voice in times of change.

The ARIJ network is a beacon for investigative journalism in a region at a time when there is a dire need to strengthen the checks and balances in societies across the MENA region. Most importantly, the ARIJ network ensures that Arab investigative journalists do not have to go it alone, but can unite in their response to the challenges that continue to hamper independent and investigative journalism in the MENA region.