Transnational investigative journalism and scandal

Authored by: Michael Bromley

The routledge companion to media and scandal

Print publication date:  April  2019
Online publication date:  March  2019

Print ISBN: 9780815387596
eBook ISBN: 9781351173001
Adobe ISBN:


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The traditional ‘watchdog’ role of journalism in promoting democratic accountability through investigation and exposure as a function of freedom of expression has been, at one and the same time, facilitated and challenged by a global proliferation of accessible data and their easy transfer made possible chiefly by the use of digitised information and communication technologies (ICTs). This has fostered transnational cooperation among investigative journalists in order both to enhance their capacity to manage more readily available large volumes of data, and to provide effective counters to (hold to account) the extended power of institutions and individuals that operate across borders. Arguably, there was little which was novel, both as activities and in creating scandals, in money laundering, tax evasion, environmental degradation, trafficking, crime or political corruption – or that they crossed national boundaries. What did change, however, was their global scale and their digitally enhanced speed and reach. Investigative journalists responded not by abandoning their established modes of operation but by augmenting them and pooling resources. The global growth from the mid-1990s of Freedom of Information and more latterly Right to Information legislation coincided with an increase in uptake of digital ICTs, providing investigative journalists with access to masses of both open and via leaks private data, helping them to pursue the same inquiries, often simultaneously, in many countries, and allowing them to establish and track transnational connections. Nevertheless, the ability of the mainstream media to support such investigations waned as they were themselves either incorporated into global entities (many of which had creative tax arrangements and close political affiliations) or struggled to stay in business (Sambrook 2018a: 1). At the same time, journalists, and in particular investigative journalists, have been confronted by increasingly hostile environments, often created by governments and politicians even in European countries such as Bulgaria, Turkey and Austria (Reporters without Borders 2018a; 2018b). In China the number of investigative journalists declined by 57.5 per cent between 2011 and 2017 (Anon 2018). Organisations such as the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), formed in 1997, and the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN), founded in 2003, stepped in to foster and coordinate cooperative transnational investigations. This was exemplified by the global exposure under the auspices of the ICIJ of a series of tax evasions involving politicians, corporates, banks, celebrities and criminals through what became known as the Luxembourg Leaks (2014), the Swiss Leaks (2015), the Panama Papers (2016) and the Paradise Papers (2017). What the ICIJ called ‘the secrets of the global élite’ were laid bare. It remains a moot point, however, as to how many publics were scandalised by such revelations.

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