JUST AS the global media community marked the International Day to End Impunity on Nov. 23, twin terrible assaults on freedom of expression hounded Asia this week

In Vietnam, a freelance journalist had been beaten unconscious on Nov. 25 by eight policemen who had arrested and detained him days earlier. He remains in critical condition.

In Thailand, a Bangkok military court, citing political use of Thailand’s lèse-majesté legislation, sentenced the editor of an online news website to nine years in prison.

According to Reporters Without Borders, freelance journalist Truong Minh Duc is still fighting for his life at the Hoan My Hospital in Ho Chin Minh City, where he was taken after being beaten unconscious by policemen in Thu Dau Mot, a town 20 km to the north, on the morning of 2 November.

Reporters Without Borders lamented “the brutality of the attack” on Truong Minh Duc, “who was ambushed by eight policemen and then beaten after trying unsuccessfully to flee into a nearby cafeteria.”

“Witnesses said the police continued to hit him repeatedly with a helmet after he lost consciousness,” it added. A relative said Duc “narrowly escaped death.”

Duc’s wife told foreign media that Duc “recognized some of his attackers as being members of the Binh Doung district police.” He identified one of them as “Colonel Hoa,” an officer who is said to have harassed him in the past. The motive for Duc’s attack is still not clear.

We are shocked by the brutality with which the police treat their fellow citizens,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk. “Such police violence against bloggers and citizen-journalists is common and is becoming more frequent throughout the country. So these are probably not isolated acts but the result of a terror policy instigated by the Communist Party.

Ismaïl added: “We call on the international community to lose no time in doing whatever is necessary to put pressure on the Vietnamese authorities to end this systematic persecution of those who defend freedom of the media and information.

Acts of violence and intimidation are common not only against journalists and bloggers but also those who support them, Reporters Without Borders said.

France’s consul-general in Ho Chin Minh City was attacked by police on 5 November when he tried to help Pham Minh Hoang, a blogger who was being harassed by thugs and plainclothesmen.

Vietnam is ranked 174th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

Meanwhile, in Thailand, Reporters Without Borders condemned a Bangkok military court’s political use of Thailand’s lèse-majesté legislation to sentence a journalist critical of the military, Thai E-News editor Somsak Pakdeedech, to nine years in prison on 24 November.

“The court halved the nine-year term because Somsak Pakdeedech, detained since his arrest by soldiers three days after the 22 May military coup, pleaded guilty,” it added.

“The pretext for Somsak’s arrest was an article by an academic that he posted on the site in 2011. He was charged under criminal code article 112 on security offences, which says that any defamatory, insulting or threatening comments about the king, queen, crown prince or regent are punishable by three to 15 years in prison,” it said.

The offending article was written by Giles Ji Ungpakorn, a political science professor at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, who was forced to flee Thailand in February 2011 after being charged with lèse-majesté in connection with his book “A coup for the rich.”

Somsak had been in the military’s sights before their coup,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk. “We firmly condemn this sentence, which was a reprisal for his and his website’s anti-military views, and we demand his immediate release.”

Thai E-News, which aggregates political news from various online sources, has often been censored during periods of political tension. In July 2010, it was one of the so-called “pro-Red Shirt” websites that were blocked at the same time as the official Red Shirt party website, uddthailand.com.

It is currently being blocked again by the information and communications technology ministry but can be accessed from abroad.

Since seizing power on 22 May, the military seem to have been trying to bring online media and social networks under ever-closer control. Kathawut Boonpitak, the host of an online radio show, was sentenced to five years in prison on a lèse-majesté charge on 18 November. Reporters Without Borders condemns his sentences as disproportionate as well.

Thailand is ranked 130th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

 

SALAMAT PO. Domo arigato. Terimah Kasih. Thank you.

More than 300 delegates from 33 countries, 30 learning sessions, countless ideas, and stronger solidarity among journalists – all these in only two days.

Even good things must come to end. Or better still, spark new beginnings.

For starters, we are now taking small, steady steps to give birth to an Investigative Journalism Network for Southeast Asia, while our colleagues in South Asia, and in China and Hong Kong press on with parallel efforts at collaboration.

The editors and staff of the PCIJ would like to thank all those who have been part of Uncovering Asia: The First Asian Investigative Journalism Conference.

THank you, too, for the trust and friendship that the Global Investigative Journalism Network and all of you have reposed in PCIJ.

We hope to see you all again, online or in the next conference.

To know more about the PCIJ, we invite you to view this video short.

By Sheila S. Coronel

Founding Executive Director, PCIJ, and Dean of Academic Affairs, Columbia Journalism School

(Adapted from keynote address at Uncovering Asia: The First Asian Investigative Journalism Conference, November 24, 2014, Manila)

TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO, the term “investigative reporting” was little known in Asia. The media landscape was dominated by pliant newspapers, insipid TV news programs and journalists who saw themselves as mouthpieces of government.

Today journalists throughout Asia are using freedom-of-information laws, data analysis, social media, collaborative tools and the latest in digital technology. They are writing about corruption, human slavery, dirty money and environmental problems.

We’ve come a long way. In 1989, when my colleagues and I formed the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) in a borrowed office with second-hand furniture, we didn’t even have a telephone. It’s hard to imagine this now when mobile phones are so ubiquitous in Asia, but at that time, there was only one telecoms company and it was so inept, it couldn’t provide us with a phone. All we had were second-hand electric typewriters, one DOS-based computer and a few boxes of floppy disks.

Since the 1980s and ’90s, new freedoms, new technologies, new markets and new laws have empowered journalists like never before. Twenty-five years ago, Asia had one investigative reporting center. Today there are centers in Nepal, Korea Pakistan, India and two in Thailand, TCIJ and Thai Publica. Investigative units in newspapers and broadcast networks are no longer a novelty. There are investigative magazines – notably Tempo in Indonesia and Caixin in China. In many countries, even in China, there are TV news programs that label themselves investigative.

Throughout this time, we’ve been told that Asians value consensus over exposure. They’re wrong: Speaking truth to power is an Asian value.

In many of our countries, journalists have played an important role in bringing about the democratic transition – there was the “mosquito press” in the Philippines, which reported on the excesses of Ferdinand & Imelda Marcos; underground newspapers in Suharto-era Indonesia; exile media in the bad old days of the badly named SLORC, the acronym of the Burma’s military junta.

In Southeast Asia, Taiwan and Korea, the fall of dictatorships was followed by the promulgation of new constitutions that guaranteed a wide range of freedoms. The controls on the media were loosened, information ministries abolished, and the public demand for real news created a media boom. This was the era in which the PCIJ was born. The fall of Asian strongmen was followed by the explosion of new news organizations that queried officials, investigated malfeasance and reported events with unprecedented vigor to a public thirsty for news and information.

I still remember the early broadcasts on the first independent TV in Thailand in the 1990s: They showed grainy undercover video of truck drivers bribing policemen at checkpoints. You cannot imagine how astonishing that was – before then, Thai TV news looked like ads for Thai Airways: It was all about the monarchy, Buddhist temples and monks and all the charming news in the land of smiles.

In Indonesia, the independent magazine Tempo was banned in 1994,for writing about the purchase by the government of overpriced East German warships. Suharto was enraged that the controversy was made public and so the information ministry revoked the licenses of Tempo and two other magazines.

Tempo was revived after Suharto’s fall. Over the years, it has taken on corrupt politicians, fat-cat businessmen and also the military and the police, which are among the most entrenched and powerful institutions in Indonesia. They have reported on the military’s complicity in murders and human rights abuses.

Through documents and whistleblower testimony, Tempo journalist Metta Dharmasaputra exposed how Sukanto Tanoto, Indonesia’s richest man, had evaded payment of $115 million in taxes. In the course of his investigation, Metta’s phone was tapped, he himself was accused of corruption and Tempo was taken to court. He recounts all this in a recently published book, Key Witness, which is the story of how dogged digging resulted in the Supreme Court imposing a fine of $227 million, the largest ever in Indonesian history, on a corporate empire that had until then operated with impunity.

In China, market reforms opened up the media

In other places, China being the notable example, the changes were brought about not by the fall of regimes but the opening of markets. The removal of state subsidies on the media, part of the Deng Xiaoping-era reforms, meant that news organizations had to fund themselves. In order to do so, they had to take on advertisers and build audiences. Exposure was an audience-building and revenue-generating strategy.

Before 1980, there was hardly any negative news in Chinese media. Even news about traffic accidents was censored. But in the past 20 years, newspapers and magazines have been waging a guerrilla war against government censors.

For Chinese muckrakers, and indeed for investigative reporters around the world, the excesses of corrupt officials – houses, cars, watches and jewelry –– are staple fare.

In 2011, Southern Weekend, a newspaper in Guandong, exposed a secret farm producing organic vegetables for officials of the customs department. Each Monday, Wednesday and Friday, it reported, a customs truck came to the high-walled farm to pick up several thousand kilos of carefully cultivated produce. While most Chinese have to eat unsafe and contaminated food, special farms throughout the country, produce high-quality food for high officials.

Such brazen abuse of power is not uncommon. In 2012, the Center for Investigative Reporting in Pakistan revealed that the President, half the Cabinet and two-thirds of all MPs did not pay their taxes. The report caused such outrage that last year, Pakistan became the fourth country in the world – the other three are in Scandinavia – that make tax records public.

My hobby is collecting photos of the houses of kleptocrats. I’ve collected them in a Pinterest board and they include:

A mansion owned by Chinese general Gu Junshang, who was alleged to have profited from the development of army-owned property. Authorities searched his home and seized a gold boat, a gold wash basin and a gold statue of Mao Zedong.

A 16th-century chateau in Normandy owned by former Pakistani Prime Minister Asi Alif Zardari. He flew there in 2011 during a trip to France and raised a storm of criticism because the visit took place while Pakistan was suffering from a devastating flood. He also purchased an estate worth £4 million in Surrey, the UK, in the 1990s. He is alleged to have spent £300,000 on renovations, including a private polo field and a replica of a local pub.

A fabulous estate in Sydney purchased for $32.4 million in 2008 by Zeng Wei, son of a former vice-president of China.

This is more than just corruption porn. The pictures – like corruption scandals?—?are titillating. But by exposing such excesses, journalists are signaling to citizens that these are wrong and unacceptable. By forcing thieving officials into the glare of public scrutiny, we are saying that their crimes cannot be kept secret. Journalistic exposure subjects wrongdoers to public disapproval and ridicule. Naming and shaming is what we do.

Asia is a muckraker’s paradise

In terms of topics, Asia is a muckraker’s paradise. The range of stories is infinite. Let me list some themes of contemporary investigative reporting in Asia:

Food and product safety: whether it’s melamine-tainted powdered milk in China, caustic soda in sweets, fruits and vegetables sprayed with cancer-causing pesticides, carcinogenic artificial ripeners in fruits.

In India, rat poison has been found in antibiotics. All around Asia, mercury in seafood, is a problem. Some years ago, in China and elsewhere, scandal over fever and cough medicine adulterated with diethylene glycol, a toxic industrial solvent that is a cheaper sweetener than other syrups.

Conditions of workers in the global economy: workers committing suicide in factories that produce electronic devices; garment workers laboring long hours in unsafe factories; bonded workers, sold and traded like slaves, like in the Thai shrimp industry, where they work 20-hour shifts, are beaten regularly and offered methamphetamines to keep them going.

Human trafficking is a big, global story. It rivals the drug trade as the fastest growing transnational criminal enterprise, with revenues estimated at over $30 billion a year.

The sorry state of public services: everything from the shortage of desks and textbooks in schools, public hospitals where premature babies die because there are no incubators, roads and bridges so shoddily done that they are dangerous. In India and Indochina, orphanages being used as fronts for child trafficking. In China, officials selling HIV-contaminated blood or local family planning officials seizing children from couples who could not pay the fine for having more than one child and then selling them for adoption overseas

The devastation of the environment: forests being cut to make way for palm oil plantations, rivers made toxic by polluting factories, the poor quality of the air we breathe.

Disaster has been a major area for accountability reporting. But that has not been easy. When blindsided by the magnitude of disaster, the first reflex of governments is to gag journalists.

During and after a disaster, reporters are crucial to exposing the real magnitude of human suffering and the inadequacy of government response; they show who is responsible for the devastation, and inevitably, the corruption and incompetence in the rebuilding and rehabilitation of disaster zones

Disasters are when inquisitive journalists are most needed, but it’s also when the muzzle is put on the press.

In the coverage of Sichuan earthquake in 2008 and its aftermath, Chinese censors banned stories on citizen protests, the numbers of schoolchildren who died, the fragility of schoolbuildings constructed in violation of building codes, local officials bribing parents so they would not protest and miscarriages by women in temporary housing camps. Some quake survivors said that the miscarriages may have been caused by high levels of formaldehyde in the prefabricated housing.

In Japan in the immediate aftermath of the nuclear plant disaster in Fukushima, officials evaded journalistic inquiries and cracked down on Internet sites accused of spreading false rumors. Last year, the Japanese government approved a secrecy law that would impose up to 10-year jail terms for journalists and whistleblowers who reveal “secrets,” including information on nuclear power plants.

In the last 40 years, according to an Asahi Shimbun investigation, Japan’s top utility companies spent 2.4 trillion yen ($27.6 billion) to purchase media advertising to promote nuclear power.

Japanese freelancers have more leeway to report. But in 2012, Minoru Tanaka, a freelance investigative journalist was sued for nearly $900,000 in damages by one of the leading figures of Japan’s nuclear industry. Tanaka had been writing about Japan’s “nuclear industrial complex,” and the links between industry, politics advertising and the bureaucracy.

There’s not enough digging into financial dealmaking

Such collusion happens everywhere and the truth is that the booming business press in Asia (like in the US and elsewhere) has been good at celebrating the entrepreneurial triumphs of Asian businessmen, especially in the region’s fastest growing economies. But it has been remiss in exposing the dealmaking taking place in the corridors of finance.

This is a space that independent and investigative journalists should own. It’s not easy, but journalists have been able to do this through international collaborations or through independent publishing.

Journalists in Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Indonesia and the Philippines took part in a global investigation on offshore companies. Working with the US-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, they examined how companies and politicians used offshore entities to evade taxes and hide illicit wealth.

Indian and global media have covered the epic rivalry between the billionaire Ambani brothers. Mukesh Ambhani, the richest man India with a net worth of $21billion, famously built a 27-story home in a posh neighborhood in Mumbai while his brother Anil, the 11th richest in India, bought his wife a luxury yacht and spent $84 million to refurbish the interiors.

What journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta found was that the squabble between the brothers was linked to the ricing of natural gas and the distribution of the profits from this public resource. His book, Oil Wars, is a story of collusion among businessmen, politicians and bureaucrats.

We need more of these.

There is, for example, a noticeable lack of reporting on Chinese companies and how they operate overseas. In almost every country in the region, Chinese companies have been controversial, either in their dealings with politicians or because of their labor, safety and environmental standards.

Investigating wealth and poverty in a growing Asia

All over Asia, there is growing inequity. The Wealth Report, which tracks so-called high net worth individuals, projects a 66% increase in number of Asian billionaires and a 52% increase in centa-millionaires in the next 10 years. While Asia has made great strides in poverty reduction in the past decades, the pendulum is swinging the other way.

We see this in the rise of gated communities in Asia’s big cities – the ghettoes that shield the wealthy from the poverty outside. Real estate and property development is one of the fastest growing businesses in Asia, and it has not been investigated enough. There is not enough reporting on the business and its involvement in the displacement of local communities, in deals with politicians, or in government funds being siphoned off to build roads and other infrastructure for these developments, to the detriment of services for the poor.

We cannot do this alone. We have to work together. We also need to muster the energy of our citizens. There are 4.5 billion people in Asia – that’s 9 billion eyes that can potentially be monitoring wealth and power.

In many of the scandals in the region – the coverups in Sichuan and Fukushima, the exposure of corruption in high places – citizens have provided information, used Geiger counters to measure their exposure to radiation and employed sensors to monitor air pollution. They have also provided leads and taken photos, they have put material online that is censored elsewhere. We have not yet begun to see the power of the 9 billion.

Worldwide, and certainly in Asia, there has been a rollback in many areas of freedom of expression we enjoyed 20 years ago. The great battle of the 21st Century will be one between secrecy and openness. Journalists cannot fight this alone. We need the billions on our side.

We also have not fully utilized the power of technology. Watchdog reporters throughout Asia have been able to do groundbreaking exposés using not just the traditional muckraking tools but also data and drones, sensors and satellite images. The repertoire that is available to investigative journalists is expanding everyday. We have never been so empowered. Even in North Korea, dedicated watchers have used satellite images to show construction in the country’s plutonium production reactor and activists have used Google earth to show where North Korean prison camps are located.

Our power comes not so much from technology as from tradition

But our real power comes not from technology but from something older and deeper. It draws from history, and in explaining ourselves and legitimizing what it is we do, we have not drawn enough from the well of tradition. It’s been said that notions of accountability and the Fourth Estate are uniquely Western and not woven into fabric of our cultures. And yet, throughout all our nations’ histories, there have always been men and women, who exposed the abuse of power and the hypocrisy of those who wielded it. They were the conscience of their societies.

In January 1897, Mohandas Gandhi, then 27 years old, was on a ship sailing back from Bombay in British India to his home in the South African port of Durban. At that time, Gandhi was a lawyer for wealthy Indian merchants but he had by then also earned a reputation as a passionate and effective campaigner for Indian rights in South Africa.

He landed in Durban on a steamship filled with Indian laborers, and there, waiting for him at the port, was a mob of white workers. They claimed Gandhi was organizing an “Asiatic Invasion” and that he had brought with him, not guns or ammunition, but a printing press and 30 typesetters.

None of these charges was true, but the white mob at the port was so spooked by the idea of an invasion equipped with a phantom press that they attacked Gandhi – they kicked him, whipped him with a lash, and threw stale fish and mud at him. They hurt his eye and cut his ear, his clothes were bloodied and his hat was taken off his head. The crowd swelled during the attack, yelling as they followed Gandhi to an Indian’s house where he had sought shelter. Gandhi had to be smuggled out of there, dressed in a police constable’s clothes, and brought to safety to the police station.

The following year, Gandhi did set up a printing press and published a newspaper, Indian Opinion, that was written in four languages and contained news summaries and extracts of essays and literary texts from across the world. In any given issue or almost any given page, wrote Isabel Hofmeyr, one encountered in Indian Opinion an “intersection of empires, races and religions.” Gandhi’s paper was the late 19th-early 20th Century version of Huffington Post, Slate, Quartz and Wikipedia.

I am telling this story because before all those devices you now hold in your hand or keep in your bags, there were printing presses. And there was a time when the mere idea of one made people tremble.

Emilio Aguinaldo, leader of the Philippine Revolution against Spain. Aguinaldo was declared president of an independent Philippine republic in 1898. After ousting the Spaniards, Aguinaldo had to face the Americans, who had taken over the Philippines from Spain . Aguinaldo’s troops fought valiantly but could not match American firepower.

When fleeing with what remained of his ragtag army, Aguinaldo carried with him a small press, from which was printed the newsletter of the revolution. At one point, he wrote a directive to his troops, instructing them to transport copies of the revolutionary papers on horseback and to make sure the bundles of newspapers were wrapped in banana leaves so they would not get wet.

In 1904, Liang Qichao founded the newspaper Shibao in Shanghai. Throughout Chinese history there have always educated men, members of the literati who spoke for those who were excluded from the upper echelons of the imperial hierarchy. You might call them imperially sanctioned critics, they were the enlightened elite. Qichao himself was a mandarin, a forward-thinking Confucian scholar who used Shibao to propagate the notion that public participation in the political process energized society and propelled social progress.

We are walking on paths that have been well-trod. Speaking truth to power IS an Asian value. In some societies, the watchdog role of the press is appreciated and entrenched in tradition. In others, as a Chinese journalist told me, journalists see themselves not so much as watchdogs but woodpeckers, chipping on the tree of power, but not cutting it down.

To use a metaphor Marcos used for critical journalists, we are mosquitoes – irritants on the skin of power. Or, as the former Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas said of East Timor, we are the pebble in the shoe of the powerful. Our task is to make power uncomfortable.

We do so armed with facts and evidence, not with polemic and argument. We are the conscience of our societies. We hold up a mirror to power. The work we do is important. It is also dangerous. The astonishing thing is we have been able to do so much despite the constraints. In China, journalists are censored, fired and imprisoned. In the Philippines and Pakistan, they are killed. In many countries, watchdog journalism has to fight for space in competitive media markets ruled by the sensational and superficial.

Whatever metaphor we choose to describe ourselves, our task is to show exactly where the wrongdoing lies and why it needs to be corrected. Ours is a role imbued with symbolic significance. We are the bearers of a proud tradition. Like priests, we perform the culturally sanctioned rituals of exposure and shaming. The gods are on our side. Let no one tell us otherwise.

By Julius D. Mariveles

IT IS as certain as the sun rising in the East: investigative journalism is still needed in Asia.

Not only that Asia is home to more than 4.3 billion people or 60 percent of the global population, it is also here where democracies are emerging, some teetering on the brink of reverting to dictatorships, amid a changing global order.

More than 300 journalists pondered over this issue on the second day of Uncovering Asia: The First Asian Investigative Journalism Conference in the capital city of Manila, the Philippines.

“There’s a niche for investigative journalism, there’s still a need for it,” Kunda Dixit, founder and editor of the Nepali Times, said in opening the discussion, The Future of Investigative Journalism in Asia.

Investigative journalism still has a niche, Kunda Dixit says | Photo by Julius D. Mariveles

Investigative journalism still has a niche, Kunda Dixit says | Photo by Julius D. Mariveles

Dixit, one of the leading senior journalists in Asia, also said that while investigative journalism is still needed, there are lot of problems “stacked up against us,” including the over-commercialisation of media and publishers and owners who have “skeletons in their closets who don’t want to cast the first stone” against government wrongdoing.

“If mainstream media are too squeamish to do investigative journalism, we have other options,” he added.

Leading investigative journalists in the regions who were part of the panel led in weighing in on the issue.

Sashi Kumar of India | Photo by Julius D. Mariveles

Sasha Kumar of India | Photo by Julius D. Mariveles

Sashi Kumar, chairperson of the Asian College of Journalism in Asia, said there is a growing “scam fatigue” among people in India who are being treated to reports about officials being involved in issues of corruption but these reports are short-lived and not pursued.

Kumar pointed out that while 60 to 70 percent of the population of India live in rural areas, mainstream media hardly cover people in these places. He cited as an example the high rate of suicide among farmers in rural India that has been hitting the headlines yet there is no “real and sustained investigation of the causes.”

“The news media is part of the problem, not the solution by virtue of its ownership,” he added.

Ying Chin: Doing IJ still very risky in Hongkong and China | Photo by Julius D. Mariveles

Ying Chin: Doing IJ still very risky in Hongkong and China | Photo by Julius D. Mariveles

Hongkong University journalism professor Ying Chan, on the other hand, said doing investigative journalism in Hongkong and China remains “very risky” since journalists could lose their freedom.

She also noted that while Hongkong has many tycoons and billionaires, there is “no real support for good journalism” as she added that there is still a need for more training and the building of local data bases.

But while independent media is mostly doing investigative journalism in most parts of Asia, Tomohisa Yamaguchi of Asahi Shimbun in Japan said mainstream news outlets like their paper are doing IJ work.

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Tomohisa Yamaguchi of Asahi Shimbun | Photo by Julius D. Mariveles

In fact, investigative journalism has already overthrown three prime ministers in Japan, a substantial number compared to only one in the United States.

Yamaguchi is deputy editor of Asahi’s investigative reports section that was, ironically, nearly shuttered several years ago.

Another problem facing journalists in Asia is the lack of freedom of information or access to information laws that could hamper the work of investigative journalists.

IMG_2393

Filipino journalist John Nery asks: what would be the form of investigative reports in the future? | Photo by Julius D. Mariveles

Chavarong Limpattamapanee, editor of Thai Rath, said while Thailand has an FOI law, it still needs to be reformed. In Japan, on the other hand, Yamaguchi said that FOIs started as local laws before it became a national one. Interestingly, the push for local information laws was initiated not only by journalists but by lawyers and housewives.

The form of investigative reporting could also change, a discussion triggered by the question of Filipino editor John Nery of the Philippine Daily Inquirer who said that investigative reporting could change from the usual written long form to a different one, including, interestingly, a video game.

A forum participant stresses a point during the discussion on the future of investigative journalism in Asia | Photo by Julius D. Mariveles

A forum participant stresses a point during the discussion on the future of investigative journalism in Asia | Photo by Julius D. Mariveles

Ying Chan said all media must be used to engage people of any age. She said this requires journalists who can talk to coders or programmers who can translate story-telling to other forms.

Dixit added that investigative journalism can also contribute to the commercial success of a paper.

“It can improve the credibility of a news outlet and improved credibility means more readership.”

 

By Julius D. Mariveles

KEVLAR helmets and bullet-proof vests may not be the ultimate guarantees to keep a journalist alive.

And safety is not only the responsibility of the individual reporter, it should also be the concern of editors and the news organisations they are working for.

“Our job is really risky; we should deal with safety on a daily basis,” Drew Sullivan, editor of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project told journalists during a discussion on physical threats, one of the breakout sessions of Uncovering Asia: The First Asian Investigative Journalism Conference.

OCCRP does reporting on organised crime, terrorism, and official corruption in Eastern Europe.

Sullivan said there have been studies showing that 70 percent or seven out of 10 reporters were killed because of the stories they are working on. Seventy percent of those killed, however, were never warned.

“They did not get any warning that something was about to happen,” he pointed out.

While journalists are “soft targets” or more vulnerable to attacks, preparations can be made to reduce the risks. He also said most of the fatalities told friends they were being followed before their murders.

Among the tips that Sullivan gave were:

  • No one knows more about crime than the criminals. Talk to those who are in jail so you can know what you’re dealing with, especially those who belong to organised crime groups.
  • Most journalists were killed either at home or the office. Be aware of it.
  • Know the modus operandi of people who might be out to get you.
  • Be aware of what is happening in your neighbourhood. Do you know who lives across your place? Have you seen motorcycles in your area?
  • Watch out for the so-called “social engineering.” Has anyone been calling your office looking for you?
  • Switch up reporters doing a story.
  • Change your routine.
  • Do counter-surveillance on yourself.
There is safety in organizing, NUJP's Rowena Paraan says | Photo by Cong. B. Corrales

There is safety in organizing, NUJP’s Rowena Paraan says | Photo by Cong. B. Corrales

Rowena Paraan, national chairperson of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, on the other hand, said newsrooms should provide enough resources for journalists to keep them safe. There should also be safety protocols that must be followed in every news organisation.

She added that organising is also one way for journalists to protect themselves and for them to respond faster in case of threats.

Sullivan, however, reminded journalists that “no story is worth your life” as he added that if journalists want to protect themselves, they must not forget to do “good journalism.”

“Get every single fact accurate,” he said.

In a powerful keynote speech, one of Asia’s most prominent investigative reporters told journalists that “speaking truth to power is an Asian value.”

Click on the photo for more details on the GIJN website.

SHEILA CORONEL

This is a repost from the website of the Global Investigative Journalism Network. GIJN and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism are organisers of Uncovering Asia: The First Asian Investigative Journalism Conference that starts tomorrow, November 23, 2014, in Manila, Philippines.

Here are interviews with leading investigative journalists, free expression advocates, and one Nobel laureate — from 20 countries in all — talking about the importance of investigative journalism. Many of these people work on the front lines of battles against corruption and for public accountability, in places like Mexico, Myanmar, Pakistan, South Africa, Turkey, and Ukraine.

They offer compelling testimony for the critical role that investigative journalism plays in helping ensure just, open and free societies. Most of these interviews were recorded in October 2014, at the 8th Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Joseph E. Stiglitz, Nobel laureate in economics, speaks about why the accountability function of investigative journalism is essential and explains why it needs private support.

Sheila Coronel, academic affairs dean at the Columbia School of Journalism and Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism co-founder, talks about the importance of a watchdog press.

Giannina Segnini, investigative reporter from Costa Rica, describes how her team investigations put two former president under the magnifying glass and why democracy should not be taken for granted.

To know more from the experts, please click here.