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 on public spending by the state legislative assembly. Over the course of its investigation, the team found that the assembly had systematically pilfered as much as $400 million in public funds. Their findings set off a firestorm of protest and reform.
Examples of how investigative journalism impacts public policy and accountability are not hard to find. Everyday, from small-town papers to big city media, watchdog reporters are asking tough questions about where the money goes and how power is exercised in our societies. To illustrate the critical role that investigative journalism plays, GIJN gathered examples of high-impact reports from ten countries. All but one — Watergate — have been published since 2000.
Alcatel (Costa Rica)
The investigative team at La Nación newspaper in Costa Rica, led by veteran journalist Giannina Segnini, had earned international attention for the strength of its reporting. Segnini had helped introduce data journalism across Latin America, and her team had won their share of prizes for digging into crime and corruption. But even they were surprised when they began following the money trail of the former head of that nation’s social security administration.
Frere’s Babies (South Africa)
What began with a mother’s complaint — that her baby died of negligence — mushroomed into an appalling exposé of conditions at a local hospital. Three reporters from the Daily Dispatch revealed hundreds of needless neo-natal deaths at Frere Hospital, in Eastern Cape in South Africa. In a series published in 2007, the team reported that alarming numbers of newborns were dying at the hospital, caused by a litany of abject conditions: negligence, staff shortages, incompetence, equipment shortages, and poor infection control.
Spirit Child (Ghana)
Spirit Child is an in-depth investigation into the ritual killing of disabled Ghanaian children deemed to be possessed by evil spirits. They are killed with a poisonous drink by village elders known as “concoction men.” Sometimes, babies born at the same time as a family misfortune were also accused of being “spirit children” and similarly done away with.
The BAE Files (UK)
Over a period of more than seven years, British journalists David Leigh and Rob Evans set out to investigate a network of global bribery by one of the world’s biggest arms companies. Over time, they were able to document the way in which BAE Systems set up secret subsidiaries in the British Virgin Islands and Switzerland, to channel bribes to politicians in the Middle East, Europe, and Africa in return for major arms contracts. They were also able to obtain documents showing British government collusion in this. The Guardian journalists worked with colleagues in Sweden, Tanzania, Romania and South Africa.
Fleeing a popular uprising against his corrupt misrule and pro-Moscow policies, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych departed Kiev in early 2014. At his estate outside the city, he left behind thousands of documents that his staff had tried to destroy by dumping into a nearby reservoir. Aided by volunteer divers and activists, an impromptu group of journalists rushed to the scene and systematically rescued what amounted to 50,000 once-secret documents. Sensing the importance of what they had found, the group quickly formed the YanukovychLeaks investigative project, preserving the documents, posting them online, and launching a series of hard-hitting reports on the disgraced leader’s corrupt practices and abuse of power.
Offshore Leaks (International)
This series of stories – based on a massive leak of 2.5 million privately-held business records – detailed more than 120,000 offshore companies and trusts, exposing the hidden dealings of politicians and billionaires around the world. The leaked files obtained by the nonprofit International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) provided facts and figures — cash transfers, incorporation dates, links between companies and individuals — that illustrate how offshore financial secrecy has spread aggressively around the globe. The records detailed offshore holdings in more than 170 countries and territories.
It began with a bungled break-in at the Democratic National Committee’s office at Washington’s Watergate complex. And it ended with the resignation of the most powerful man in the world, thanks in no small measure to the dogged reporting of The Washington Post. Today, Watergate is a symbol of investigative reporting worldwide, and the suffix “-gate” is used to describe scandals everywhere.
Investigating Estrada (Philippines)
In 2000, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) released an eight-month investigation into the unexplained wealth of then-Philippine President Joseph Estrada. His undisclosed assets include several mansions and hidden stakes in more than ten companies. Using dogged research and voluminous public records, the team uncovered 17 pieces of real estate acquired by the President and various family members since 1998, with a value of about US$40 million.
Umar Cheema, founder of the Center for Investigative Reporting in Pakistan, obtained and analyzed tax records of all 446 members of Pakistan’s parliament. His investigation, published in 2011, revealed that nearly 70 percent of lawmakers didn’t file tax returns in a country with one of the world’s lowest rates of revenue collection. The President and 62 percent of the cabinet members were included among them. What’s more, 90 lawmakers did not even possess a national tax number. A second report, published in December 2012, found that nearly 50 percent of lawmakers who had won in the last election had paid no income taxes.