Laura Bacon
Principal, Policy

A new era for investigative journalism

Why We Invested: International Consortium of Investigative Journalists

On April 3, 2016, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, with support from its global network of journalists and media partners, published the findings of its Panama Papers investigation. This became one of the biggest and longest- running stories of the year, and arguably one of the most high-profile and influential stories of the last decade. And, as recently seen in Brazil, Costa Rica, Panama, Canada, and India, this investigation continues to have impact.

This global collaboration coordinated by ICIJ involved 370+ journalists from 100+ media organizations over 12 months, publishing simultaneously in 80 countries. It exposed money laundering, tax evasion, and sanction-defiance through anonymous shell companies and secretive financial accounts, implicating 140 politicians in more than 50 countries, including 12 current or former world leaders. Authorities in more than 90 countries launched investigations based on the information published and citizens were deeply and widely engaged, with spontaneous citizen protests arising in Iceland, Malta, Pakistan, and the U.K.

Investigative journalism has always played a crucial role in society, holding power to account, and providing a voice and platform to citizens. Through the relentless pursuit of truth, it shines a light on the injustices and illicit activities conducted in the shadows, and brings those involved to justice.

Today with the greater cross-border mobility of individuals, data, and financial flows, there is a requirement and opportunity for news media organizations to increase the scope of their role as watchdogs and story-tellers. Information is being provided on a vast scale, from both whistleblowers and publicly available sources such as government websites, data obtained through freedom of information laws, and corporate documentation. Technology is rapidly evolving to allow for the deep analysis of enormous, complex data sets and networks. In parallel, social media and other platforms have vastly increased the readership and reach for the outcomes of investigations.

Even as journalists have obtained greater access to data and better tools to analyze it with, misinformation is being spread, open and honest debate is challenged by the rise of hate speech, and the misuse of data leaks is threatening the privacy of the innocent.

The increased need for technology-enabled and cross-border journalism has developed alongside revenue decline and consolidation in the news media sector. The associated cost-cutting exercises in news organizations have affected their ability to invest in these long-term investigations, which are often perceived as “high risk and low reward.”

At the same time, the traditional dangers of investigative work have continued apace. Violence against journalists is a daily reality alongside ever more consistent attacks on press freedom from authoritarian leaders and private sector interests.

Against this backdrop, ICIJ has pioneered, and proven, a model of investigative journalism, based on collaboration between journalists and news media organizations around the world, enabled by technology.

Omidyar Network is therefore proud to support ICIJ’s mission and the strengthening and expansion of its work with a grant of up to $4.5 million over the next three years. We look forward to working with ICIJ through the next phase of its evolution as it scales its model of collaborative, data-driven, cross-border investigative journalism. Its plans to increase focus on global investigations and develop infrastructure such as data analysis tools for the investigative journalism space could not come at a better time, and we hope will help and inspire many other organizations and journalists around the world.

ICIJ and its partners have proven that a relatively small group of journalists can affect change across the world by applying new technology and old-fashioned reporting to vast amounts of information. We are excited to see even greater impacts for justice, accountability, and transparency as ICIJ leads the charge in a new era for investigative journalism.

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