By: DAVID E. KAPLAN, Global Investigative Journalism Network*
FIRST, the big news: In just over two weeks we’ll convene Uncovering Asia, the region’s first investigative journalism conference. Excitement is building, and we’ve got an extraordinary array of the best journalists from Japan to Pakistan coming our way – heading to Manila for a World’s Fair of muckraking from Nov. 22-24.
GIJN has teamed up with two great partners to help give Asian investigative journalism a boost: the Asian Media Programme of Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, the German foundation; and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. We’ll have journalists from 25 countries talking about setting up networks, collaborating on stories, and sharing tips and data.
Why Asia? Why Now?
So why are we heading to Asia? That’s easy. It’s where most of humanity lives, and the demand for quality investigative reporting is enormous. More than 4.3 billion people call Asia home – that’s 60% of the global population. It has the world’s second and third largest economies, and its share of global GDP is expected to double. But the region is also among the weakest links in an emerging global community of investigative journalists.
Asia is home to 4.3 billion people, 60% of humanity.
GIJN is a network of networks. We have more than 100 member organizations from nearly 50 countries, and many of them have their own memberships across nations and regions. Over the past 20 years these groups – which today form the backbone of global investigative journalism – have spread to every continent. In North America we have Investigative Reporters and Editors, the Investigative News Network, and dozens of other nonprofits. In Europe we have Journalismfund.eu, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, Scoop, and also many more independent groups. In Africa there’s the Forum for African Investigative Reporters and, more recently, the African Network of Centers for Investigative Reporting. In the Middle East and North Africa there’s Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism. In Latin America we have the annual COLPIN conferences, growing networks like Connectas, and strong national associations like Brazil’s Abraji.
And in Asia? Not so much. No investigative networks. No annual conferences. No fund for investigative journalism. Of GIJN’s 107 members, only 5 are in Asia. All that needs to change.
Well, here’s the good news – it is in fact changing, and quickly. Our colleagues around the region tell us that Uncovering Asia is the right event at the right time. Fueled by the same forces that have made investigative reporting a force to be reckoned with elsewhere – globalization, computing power, mobile phones, and determined journalists — there are signs from Seoul to Islamabad that a new era of muckraking is at hand.
Sure, we’ve got huge challenges. Criminal libel laws are still on the books in many countries. China and Vietnam are among the world’s leading jailers of journalists. Traditional media are driven toward poorly reported scandals and sensation, not careful watchdog reporting. Journalists lack training and resources for in-depth reporting. Owners are too often in cahoots with the very people the media should be investigating. And it’s bloody dangerous out there. Too many of our colleagues from the Philippines to Pakistan have lost their lives simply for reporting the truth.
But history is on our side. A global marketplace means countries need to open up in order to compete. Smart leaders know that if they really want to fight corruption and promote public accountability, they need an investigative news media. Meanwhile, the Internet is bringing tools and techniques to our colleagues everywhere, and connecting journalists in unprecedented ways. Secrets are much harder to keep, while public records are more accessible than ever.
Asian investigative journalism nonprofits: A growth industry?
Major media plays a critical role in spreading investigative journalism around the world. But it is the nonprofits that have served as training centers, incubators, and models of excellence in the rapid growth of muckraking. And for years there was only one IJ nonprofit in Asia – the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, founded in 1989.
This is another reason we are heading to Manila – to mark and celebrate PCIJ’s 25 extraordinary years. In that quarter century, the Philippine Center has published more than 1,000 investigative reports, produced scores of documentaries, and launched some two dozen books. Its staff have run more than 120 seminars for journalists across Asia, and won 150 awards for their dogged work. PCIJ’s investigation in 2000 of then-President Joseph Estrada, which led to his impeachment, is taught in journalism schools as a case study in modern muckraking. Equally impressive, the PCIJ staff showed that an independent nonprofit could not only survive but thrive in a developing country, and its work over the years has served as a model for scores of nonprofit journalism centers around the world. That is worth heralding.
PCIJ helped inspire the Nepal Centre for Investigative Journalism, launched in 1996, which has been rejuvenated and is back doing first-rate work. And now look what has followed:
A Promising Start
These nonprofits and networks are, of course, in addition to the extraordinary work being done by mainstream media, both local and international. To name but a few: the New York Times work on the corrupt wealth of China’s leadership; Reuters’ projects on mistreatment of Myanmar’s Rohingya minority, and its Connected China data project; the Japanese media’s digging into the Fukushima nuclear disaster; the gutsy reporting by Chinese journalists from Caixin, Southern Weekend, and CCTV, among others; and a growing force of world-class reporters across South Asia, who refuse to accept government press releases and corporate payoffs as real journalism. And don’t forget the Philippine Daily Inquirer‘s exposés of pork barrel politics, determined digging by Indonesia’s Tempo magazine and Taiwan’s CommonWealth, and watchdog reporting by Malaysia’s Malaysiakini and Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post – these are but a few of the noteworthy efforts in recent years.
Journalism professors are playing a critical role, as well, training a new generation of journalists in how to dig, analyze data, and find documents. We’ve had tremendous response from top “J schools” in the region to Uncovering Asia. Among the schools which will be represented at the conference: the Ateneo de Manila University’s Asian Center for Journalism (Philippines), Asian College of Journalism (India), Chung-Ang University’s School of Journalism & Mass Communication (Korea), Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism (U.S.), Hong Kong University’s Journalism and Media Studies Centre (Hong Kong), and Waseda University’s Journalism School (Japan).
So, come join us in Manila if you can, and hear first-hand the reporters involved in charting the future of in-depth journalism. We’ll have more than 30 sessions ranging from tracking assets and dirty money to the latest data tools and how to set up your own investigative team. If you can’t join us, you can follow it all on Twitter at #IJAsia14. And don’t’ worry if you miss much. This isn’t the end of something big – it’s the beginning.
*Story originally titled “Why Asia? Why now?”