When journalists are under attack, truth is under attack
“Are you also at the Global Investigative Journalism Conference? I would love to set aside some time to talk.” This message came to my Whova inbox, sent by Mamatjan Jhuma, deputy director of Radio Free Asia UYGHUR service, on September 23, the day before I reached Hamburg, Germany.
We had some conversations until we met. After that, I contacted other journalists and speakers through the Whova App (an app to communicate with teammates for upcoming events) such as Sandra Bartlett (GIJN board member), Scilla Alecci (reporter of Asia partnership coordinator-ICIJ), Crina Boros (investigative reporter from the UK), and others.
I was excited to meet new journalists from different countries. On September 26, I met with Mamatjan at the event at Hafencity University.
We sat with a cup of coffee and had a great time, after which he took me to attend an event entitled “Cross Border Journalism Education.” Mamatjan also presented himself on “How to Broadcast and Publish from Exile.”
He shared regarding human rights abuses in China and the obstacles he faced. While covering China, he was unable to get official comments and original information.
The next day I met with Crina Boros, an investigative reporter from the UK. We sat at the corridor of the ground floor in the university and talked about the abuse and sexual harassment of women and children in the UK, and the obstacles she faced during her investigation.
“When it comes to publishing hard-hitting investigations in the UK, I have sometimes experienced political censorship, particularly when my work touched on the interests of the world’s most powerful defense forces. But there is commercial pressure inside newsrooms too.”
The networking session was extremely enjoyable. Speaker Mark Schapiro, lecturer of journalism from UC Berkeley made five groups of journalists discuss investigative reports on environment and agriculture issues. I joined with a group and discussed agro business. My group also expressed their anxiety on the price hike of onions and syndicates in Bangladesh.
Journalism around the world
“Journalism is now in a hostile environment in the world.” This is said by most of the speakers in GIJC. Attacks, threats, and irregular salaries in the media are not just an example of a country, it is now a global trend which pressurizes journalism.
I am a great fan of Maria Ressa. She says “Journalists need to collaborate.”
Maria Ressa, Rappler’s CEO and executive editor from the Philippines, has been under the wrath of an authoritarian president for publishing investigative reports on the Philippine government’s anti-drug campaign. She had joined this conference while she was out on bail.
“We are now going through an existential crisis. This is part of a continuous process, whose last step is to intimidate and harass us. Because our profession is journalism, an attack on one is an attack on all. When journalists are under attack, truth is under attack, democracy is under attack.”
Most of the participants showed interest in journalism and its challenges in Bangladesh. They expressed their anxiety about the Digital Security Act. As a result, in the session of The Daily Star Editor Mahfuz Anam, a hundred journalists were sitting on the floor, listening to his lecture.
Mahfuz Anam said: “Our future is in the digital space. But Bangladesh’s press freedom is currently being threatened due to a new digital security law. With the excuse that they need to protect people from violent content shared across sites and social networks, this law gives the police unprecedented power to clamp down on free and independent media.”
Another thing is that in Bangladesh, media houses don’t provide financial support to journalists for investigative reports. In this regard, Miraj Chowdhury, Bangla Editor of GIJN and Head of Program and Communications of Management and Resources Development Initiatives (MRDI), urged support for journalists financially.
He said if any journalist wants to do investigative reports, MRDI gives financial and logistic support. He also emphasized on training to further strengthen investigation.
An emphasis on technology
GIJC showed us how important the use of technology is in journalism. In the conference, almost 25.2% of the sessions were based on technology. Crowds were also in the session of MOJO tools, including gimbels teaching, the leading figure in mobile journalism, using artificial intelligence, information-checking, and techniques to avoid errors.
When I tried to attend a session on “Understanding Company Accounts for Journalists,” I found that the room was full. The volunteer said no more journalists would be allowed to enter due to no seating being available.
After requesting them, they allowed me to enter late. I sat down on the floor and listened to the lecture of Nick Mathiason, founder and coordinator of Finance Uncover, UK.
He emphasized on new techniques, tools, and links to find information from a company’s profit, annual salaries, tax, audit, and accounts. He provided some important tools and links to find financial details of companies based in tax havens.
Those sessions provided the techniques for data journalism on spreadsheet-python, online search, verification of fake information, investigation using satellite images. They also emphasized data visualization and creating easy graphics, because 80% of viewers remember the news where the information is depicted graphically.
One of the pioneers of the idea of independent investigative journalism is David E Kaplan, director of GIJN, who has won more than 25 awards. David Kaplan said after looking at the huge crowd: “The fight will go forward. A new generation is being created, who are using all the advanced technology.”
Drew Sullivan, editor of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, said: “These new tools, technologies, and techniques will change the way journalists look for the next day. We will see some changes in the next three to five years that will change global journalism in the next 20 years.”
This was the largest international gathering of investigative journalists. Around 1,800 journalists from 130 countries gathered in Hamburg, Germany to share experiences and learn from expert speakers.
As a fellow of Fojo Media Institute, Linnaeus University, Sweden, GIJC19 was one of the best experiences I’ve had. From this conference, a voice has been raised. The message is that journalism is not a crime.
Bilkis Irani is Staff Reporter at the Dhaka Tribune.