The worldwide practice of investigative reporting has grown dramatically since the fall of communism began in 1989, writes David E. Kaplan, director of the Global Investigative Journalism Network. The field’s emphasis on public accountability, targeting of crime and corruption, and demonstrable impact have attracted millions of dollars in media development funding from international donors, who see it as an important force in promoting rule of law and democratization. But funding is largely episodic and makes up but a small fraction of that spent on overall media development.
In 2011, the Chinese magazine Caixin revealed that local officials in a southern county were kidnapping babies and selling them on the black market, prompting an official investigation and international attention. The magazine, known for digging into hidden stories, was founded by journalist Hu Shuli, who pioneered investigative journalism in China after completing a 1998 Knight Fellowship at Stanford University.
In the Brazilian state of Parana, home to 10 million people, the Gazeta do Povo newspaper and RPC TV spent two years building a database to reveal how the legislative assembly systematically pilfered as much as $400 million in public funds. The 2010 series drew 30,000 people to the streets in anti-corruption protests and resulted in more than 20 criminal investigations.
In 2007, the Bosnian Center for Investigative Reporting used public records to expose how Nedzad Brankovic, prime minister of the Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Republika Srpska, received a nearly free apartment through a dubious government privatization deal. The investigation led to public protests, an indictment of Brankovic, and ultimately his resignation.
In 2003, the Georgian TV channel Rustavi-2 was heralded as the voice of that nation’s peaceful “Rose Revolution,” helping overturn a rigged election and force the resignation of President Eduard Shevardnadze. Rustavi-2’s staff, trained by Western journalists, had built much of its credibility through investigative reporting on government corruption and organized crime.
In 2000, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism ran an eight-month investigation into the hidden assets of Philippine President Joseph Estrada, detailing how Estrada had amassed luxury homes and held secret stakes in a dozen companies. The series goaded the Philippine media into action, helped form key charges in an impeachment trial, and led to Estrada’s downfall months later.
What these cases have in common is that they were the result of determined, in-depth investigations by journalists in developing and democratizing countries. Supporting dedicated teams and individual reporters to do in-depth investigations has always been a struggle, even in Western countries where the practice is well established. It is risky, expensive, and often controversial.
But investigative reporting has earned a unique and honored place in the profession. Investigative reporters are, in a sense, the “special forces” of journalism. They tend to be better trained, go after tougher targets, and have greater impact than beat and daily news reporters.
Fueled by globalization, international aid, and the efforts of journalism groups, the worldwide practice of investigative reporting has grown dramatically since the fall of communism began in 1989. The field’s emphasis on public accountability, targeting of crime and corruption, and demonstrated impact have attracted millions of dollars in media development funding from international donors, who see it as an important force in promoting rule of law and democratization.
Support for investigative journalism, however, has been identified as a major gap in international media assistance, marked by funding that is largely episodic and that makes up but a small fraction of that spent on overall media development. Veteran trainers and implementers broadly agree that sustained programs, support of nonprofit investigative journalism groups, and adherence to high standards can produce impressive results both in fostering public accountability and in building a professional news media.
Investigative journalism has spread rapidly around the world in the past decade, helping to hold corrupt leaders accountable, document human rights violations, and expose systematic abuses in developing and transitioning countries. Despite onerous laws, legal and physical attacks, unsupportive owners, a lack of qualified trainers, and other obstacles, the practice has found a footing even in repressive countries.
Global and regional networks of investigative journalists, backed by donors and fueled by globalization and an explosion in data and communications technology, are growing increasingly effective and sophisticated. Journalists are linking up as never before to collaborate on stories involving international crime, unaccountable businesses, environmental degradation, safety and health problems, and other hard-to report issues.
Strategic investments into investigative journalism programs can have significant positive impact in a wide range of countries, including those in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Such funding will be most effective if it is long term and integrated into broader initiatives that include legal reform and freedom of information.
Despite its frontline role in fostering accountability, battling corruption, and raising media standards, investigative reporting receives relatively little support–about 2 percent of global media development funding by major donors.
Nonprofit investigative reporting organizations–now numbering 106 in 47 countries–have been pivotal drivers of the global spread of investigative journalism. These include reporting centers, training institutes, professional associations, grantmaking groups, and online networks.
These nonprofit groups have proved to be viable organizations that can provide unique training and reporting, serve as models of excellence that help to professionalize the local journalism community, and produce stories with social and political impact. Different programs will be appropriate for different regions and markets.
This extract is taken from Global Investigative Journalism: Strategies for Support, a special publication of the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA).
The Center, an initiative of the National Endowment for Democracy, works to strengthen the support, raise the visibility, and improve the effectiveness of media assistance programs by providing information, building networks, conducting research, and highlighting the indispensable role independent media play in the creation and development of sustainable democracies around the world. An important aspect of CIMA’s work is to research ways to attract additional U.S. private sector interest in and support for international media development