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Shining examples of cross-border journalism recognized at international conference

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More than 1,300 watchdog reporters and editors from 87 countries met in Rio de Janeiro this past week as part of the Global Investigative Journalism Conference (GIJC). This get-together is believed to have been the largest-ever international gathering of investigative journalists, providing further proof that transparency and accountability efforts are indeed going global.

David Leigh called this a new "golden age of journalism." Leigh is the retiring investigations editor of The Guardian newspaper in London. He was honored at the end of the conference with its first ever Lifetime Achievement Award. It is a golden age, Leigh said, because investigative journalists are coming together in new forms of collaborations using fresh technology, and this dynamic is producing unprecedented levels of transparency and impact. "We are in the age of collaboration," Leigh said.

The Guardian has been involved in three of the biggest such investigative projects in just the last three years. In remarks during the conference, David Leigh cited the 2010 Wikileaks collaboration that released hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables; the most recent Edward Snowden disclosures of secret data collection worldwide including phone records and emails by the National Security Agency; and this year`s Offshore Leaks project unveiling 120,000 secret tax haven accounts.

The Offshore Leaks project, based on 2.5 million leaked files, has been led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which is a project of the Center for Public Integrity. ICIJ Director Gerard Ryle and his team of editors and data experts were the buzz at this year`s conference because they created what is believed to be the largest journalistic collaboration in history — a cooperative effort involving more than 112 journalists in 58 countries working together for more than two years. The Offshore Leaks project is ongoing and continues to make headlines around the world. The ICIJ work has been cited by more than 25,000 other media organizations. ICIJ has also released a searchable database of names, companies and connections involving tax haven registrations. Stay tuned for more!

The conference was filled with shining examples of other major cross-border investigative collaborations as well. For example, six finalist  organizations were honored with ICIJ`s Daniel Pearl Awards for Outstanding International Investigative Reporting, which are named in honor of The Wall Street Journal reporter kidnapped and killed in Pakistan in 2002.The Wall Street Journal’s prize-winning probe examined the spread of drug-resistant forms of tuberculosis that have swept across India and beyond. Journal reporters found that the spread of the disease was exacerbated by a World Health Organization policy that encouraged countries to prioritize regular TB at the expense of drug-resistant strains, and that Indian health authorities had sought to suppress evidence of what was happening. The journalists risked contracting TB by choosing not to wear masks when interacting with patients.

Swedish Television´s Uppdrag granskning was honored for its investigation of the Swedish telecom giant TeliaSonera’s collaboration with dictatorships in Central Asia. The reporting revealed that TeliaSonera had helped oppressive regimes track dissidents and human rights activists, and paid extensive bribes to gain access to the market in Uzbekistan.

“At a time when surveillance by governments and security services is one of the hottest topics in global human rights, the Swedish Television series raised timely and discomforting questions about the corporate telecommunications company’s ‘look-the-other-way’ relationships with repressive and evil regimes,” wrote the judges.

A special citation was awarded to the Chicago Tribune for its report on of how fugitives charged with rape, murder and other violent felonies easily evaded justice simply by crossing America’s borders.

Clearly, we live in a shrinking world where problems are more and more trans-national. Giant corporations operate their businesses on a global basis, as do international governmental organizations and non-governmental organizations. Environmental crises are global, as are financial flows and financial crises. Journalism has been late to tackle investigations on a global level. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists was one of the first to recognize the need to organize cross-border investigations that match the way the world works, and in ways that a national media organization cannot match. ICIJ`s success is now being replicated by other groups, as the GIJC made clear this week.

The financial underpinnings of this new global journalism are still weak. But we can only hope that through collaboration and international support, a new golden age for journalism on a global level can be built. The results this can produce in terms of transparency, accountability and impact can be extraordinary.

Until next week,
Bill