Panama Papers fallout, free speech

Note from the Center - our CEO writes

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Fallout from the Panama Papers reverberates around the world from Brazilian politicians found to have used New Zealand trusts, to the U.S offices of the law firm at the center of the world’s largest leak being cut back

Stories are still emerging from the epic database managed and networked with 400 journalists by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). More can be expected as new major media organizations join the those who have been probing the 11.5m document trove for the past year.

The intelligence, technology and effort that went into the project from the small team of the ICIJ was clear in a sparkling presentation to a London conference by Mar Cabra, the Madrid-based ICIJ team member who heads the data journalism operation of the consortium. If you really want to know what it took — apart from trust and leaving your ego at the door — the explanation from Mar gives a sense of the skill that went into the operation. It’s highly recommended.

ICIJ Director Gerard Ryle spoke to an intimate gathering in Los Angeles last week put together by LA-based board members of the Center for Public Integrity at private home in Beverly Hills. Interviewed by former CNN White House correspondent Jessica Yellin, Ryle spoke eloquently of the challenge of tying together the network of 370 journalists who kept the secret but also the visceral excitement he felt when friends at Suddeutsche Zeitung told him of the approach from the leader identified only as John Doe who confirmed his long-held suspicions about Mossack Fonseca. Here’s an earlier interview Gerard did with Christiane Amanpour (incidentally a member of Public Integrity’s advisory board) on the leak.

Herograms

I am a little behind in recognizing strong reporting from staff at the Center for Public Integrity over the past couple of weeks.

Ashley Balcerzak, a fellow from American University,  gets a a shout-out for her hustle on the recent piece on our site and The Washington Post, after Maryland’s governor signed a bill into law limiting civil asset forfeiture. Her story on legislative battles over the ability of police to seize and keep people’s belongings around the country had been slated for early June. But when this important news peg developed in Maryland, Ashley quickly pivoted with her story and pushed it out to coincide with the news. That allowed The Post to give its readers a localized story with strong context from other states around the country, one of the key goals of our state politics project.

Federal politics maven and finder-of-amusing-detail Michael Beckel excavated official data to find the three dozen people who have contributed to both Donald Trump and Hillary Clintonreprinted by Daily Beast.

What we’re reading and thinking about

As a newcomer to the United States I find myself an advocate for the First Amendment and full of the passion of an immigrant or zealot about it. I don’t believe the work of the Center or the ICIJ could be conducted anywhere else because of the public interest shield for free speech provided by the First Amendment. So it’s interesting to read a new book by British historian Timothy Garton-Ash “Free Speech 10-principles for a connected world”.

Garton-Ash made his reputation with studies on the former East Germany and particularly of the Stasi secret police. His book tries to deal with something I have long felt, that the Internet is almost inherently a First Amendment space because of its creation by the United States and the dominance of U.S-domiciled platforms like Facebook and Google. I’m only a third of the way through the book  but it is an intriguing and challenging read about when the First Amendment comes up against European or other “local” laws and mores. He’s built an accompanying site at http://freespeechdebate.com/en/

Executive Editor Gordon Witkin notes a piece on the Poynter site about the future of The New York Times, again.

I welcome feedback on this note, thank you.

Peter Bale
CEO, The Center for Public Integrity

pbale@publicintegrity.org@peterbale

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