When being a reporter leads to jail

Note from Center: what we're working on and thinking about

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This photo taken Sunday, March 2, 2014, shows Azerbaijani Khadija Ismayilova, a reporter for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, in Baku, Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan detained Khadija Ismayilova, a prominent investigative journalist, on Friday whose reporting has often featured the business dealings of top politicians in the country.

Aziz Karimov/AP

When doing your job as a reporter means jail

Khadija Ismayilova, a member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, was jailed this week for seven and a half years in a trumped up trial clearly orchestrated in revenge for her work exposing the excesses of the Azeri ruling family under Ilham Aliyev. Ismayilova, who’s already been in custody for eight months while on trial for tax evasion and abuse of power, apparently laughed as the judge delivered the verdict. The judge then walked out while she was delivering her own statement.

ICIJ Director Gerard Ryle joined a chorus of international condemnation for the conviction and jailing of Ismayilova:

“Rather than prove any of the charges against Khadija, this trial has only served to further prove the systemic corruption Khadija herself has spent years investigating,” Ryle said.  “Azerbaijan’s crackdown on journalists and rights activists should be a red flag to the international community.

“We commend Khadija’s continued courage in the face of these baseless accusations, and know that her bravery will motivate her colleagues and peers to continue her essential work, exposing corruption at the highest levels within Azerbaijan.”

The ICIJ blog has full details and Ismayilova’s mother also wrote a courageous piece in The Guardian explaining her daughter’s commitment.

“Mama, brace yourself, you have to be strong,” Ismayilova told her mother.

To understand quite the risks she took and why she was such an irritant to Aliyev I urge you to read her work. This piece for the ICIJ, bylined by Stefan Candea and with a lovely picture of Aliyev and his wife, sums up a great deal of it. Her colleagues at the OCCRP, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project,  produced this collection of her work and their own additions on what’s really going on with Azerbaijan.

"Khadija Ismayilova is a hero and we feather-bedded journalists here in the west should salute her,” wrote Roy Greenslade in The Guardian.

Swords into problematic plowshares

Relative newcomer to the Center, Patrick Malone has made a strong impact since joining the National Security desk under Jeff Smith in May. Patrick came from the Santa Fe New Mexican and already had a long history of tracking the work of the Sandia labs and Los Alamos. His latest piece for us is on the apparent failures of vital security systems at the Y-12 repository in Knoxville, Tennessee. You can see the body of Patrick’s work — as you can with any of our reporters — by clicking on their byline or looking here in his case

The National Security team keeps tabs on not only problems the US nuclear stockpile and weapons industry but the attempts to prevent fissile material overseas getting into the wrong hands.

Center uncovers White House unease at Medicare fraud

Fred Schulte, who has been dogged in his pursuit of Freedom of Information Act requests on Medicare and Medicare Advantage fraud, turned up a memo from the White House budget director demanding tougher action on improper payments to doctors, hospitals and insurance companies. It’s clear from the letter than having achieved the Affordable Care Act the Presidency worries it too is at risk from fraud and excessive claims by the health industry. Fred has been relentless in his coverage of this area and will shortly move his focus the influence of business in politics more generally. More on that shift soon.

What we’re reading

Bloomberg News fired something like 80 journalists during the week – a dozen of them in Washington — in a change of tack they think will lead to sharper reporting and a tighter focus as the “Chronicle of Capitalism”. It was widely reported in our industry which of course looks in on itself like no other but there’s also food for thought in the epic memo by new Bloomberg editor-in-chief John Micklethwait, formerly editor of The Economist. We’re a minnow by comparison but some of those same challenges face us.

What was directly relevant to us and others in the non-profit sector was this analysis in the Stanford Social Innovation Review about the “NonProfit Starvation Cycle” in which organizations struggle to justify and meet overhead demands and by doing so are restricted in what they can achieve, creating a self-fulfilling cycle of disappointment. It is a big issue among non-profits and philanthropy groups.

Fortune picked up an interesting report on the symbiotic relationship between anyone publishing breaking news — or any news in my view – and Twitter. It’s no surprise Twitter is working on a new project called Lightning aimed at curating the best news available. Please remember you can track our work on the Twitter account @publici and @icijorg for the ICIJ. Mine is @peterbale and all our reporters and editors are there if you click on their bylines to follow them.

I welcome any feedback on this note.

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