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17.01.2019

Uncovering stories that matter for Europe

by Daniel Leon

Over 10,000 migrant children have fallen off the radar of European authorities, European Union funds have supported far-right Eurosceptic political parties, and criminal organizations have siphoned off EU taxpayer money in Romania and Bulgaria. These are the kinds of stories that fall through the cracks and are only picked up by dedicated investigative journalists.

cover story ij4eu Twelve projects were supported by the IJ4EU grant. (screenshot: ij4eu.net)

Under the support of the IJ4EU grant, investigative journalists have uncovered these stories and dug into other more high-profile topics, such as Russian espionage in Europe and how to continue the work of murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who investigated complex webs of corruption in Malta.

During the Uncovered conference, organised by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) in cooperation with the International Press Institute (IPI), investigative and cross-border journalistic teams will present these stories at the European House (Europäisches Haus) in Berlin. The event takes place on Thursday, 31. January and Friday, 1. February of this year, with over 30 experts at the podium and about 200 audience members expected to attend. 

Uncovered - Investigative Journalism for Europe

The IJ4EU grants were launched in 2018 to foster and strengthen collaboration among European Union-based journalists and newsrooms on revelations in the public interest and of cross-border significance. The grant aims to support investigations that reflect the media’s watchdog role and that assist the public in holding those in power accountable for their actions and to their obligations. In so doing, it seeks to contribute to the sustainability of democracy and the rule of law in the EU.

Launched by the ECPMF and managed by the International Press Institute (IPI), the IJ4EU grants have given €315,000 in total to 12 cross-border journalistic teams in Europe. The grant has allowed these teams to develop their stories when costs would otherwise have been prohibitive. Funding for the grant comes from the European Commission after an initiative by the European Parliament.

An independent jury headed by Wolfgang Krach, editor-in-chief of the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, selected the 12 IJ4EU grantee teams in 2018 so that they would be able to uncover stories that matter for the democratic well-functioning of Europe. The reports the teams collaborated on, published in outlets across the continent, provide critical information about happenings in European society and politics previously kept under wraps.

The investigative work presented at the Uncovered conference comes at a time when the news media industry is undergoing an economic crisis, as fewer people are willing to pay for quality journalism. In addition, certain political groups aim to prevent journalists from publishing evidence-based stories that would harm their interests, whether directly or indirectly. Some political groups even retaliate against them for digging too deep, as the case of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia perfectly exemplifies.

Important links

For more information about the conference, visit the Uncovered website

To read more about the Ij4EU projects, have a look at their page.

Going behind the scenes of investigative journalism

The Uncovered conference is not only for investigative journalists, but for all those interested in investigative journalism. Not only will investigative journalists talk about their recently uncovered stories, but also about the importance, advantages and difficulties of undertaking and collaborating in cross-border investigative journalism.

For example, one of the speakers, Zoltan Sipos, and fellow journalists from Hungary and Romania, investigated the Hungarian government’s questionable spending of public money on football stadiums and academies located in Hungarian communities in Romania and other Eastern European countries. He commented on their transnational experience thus: "Constant communication and information sharing is crucial in a cross-border cooperation. Don't share only the information: You must also share context. Even if our countries are very close to each other, sometimes a very straightforward set of data can have a very different interpretation in another culture a few miles across the border. Something you believe to be a minor detail can be of huge importance for your colleague working in a different country.

Information that seems obvious in your bubble is not known by your team members. You must be prepared to talk about historical context, the background and motivation of each public figure involved, and possibly also about the perspective and bias of each journalist involved.”

Zoltan Sipos, journalist at Atlatszo/Atlatszo Erdely (Photo courtesy of Zoltan Sipos)

The speakers of the Uncovered conference will take attendees behind the scenes, so to speak, into the making of their work. Alongside them, experts in the field - like Pavla Holcova, founder of the Czech Centre for Investigative Journalism, and Georg Mascolo, head of the Joint Investigative Group of NDR/WDR and the Süddeutsche Zeitung - will give deep insights into the purpose and impact of cross-border investigative journalism in Europe.

Several panel formats such as keynote talks, an IJ4EU slam and panel discussions allow for different ways of disseminating the important work done by the grantees, and for creating different forms of discussion between speakers and the public. Also, on the morning of 31. January and afternoon of 1. February, journalist and security trainer Daniel Moßbrucker (also working for Reporters Without Borders) will lead a workshop on state-of-the-art strategies for investigative journalists to keep themselves and their digital work safe in these times of cyberwarfare. Interest in this two-part workshop was so high that tickets quickly sold out.

Why investigative journalism concerns us all

Journalism provides information to the public at large that is critical for them to remain educated about topics like human rights violations and misuse of influence or public funds. Such information enables voters to make their own decisions, in line with the public interest rather than that of power- and money-hungry politicians. Investigative journalism is just as important because, as journalist Augustine Zenakos at The Manifold explains:

[It] can safeguard the memory of the news industry. As news cycles shift, the knowledge of preceding events and the intricate ways they connect to the contemporary moment must be preserved."

Augustine Zenakos Augustine Zenakos, journalist at The Manifold (Image courtesy of Augustine Zenakos).

Keeping in mind that the next EU parliamentary elections are due next May, the significance of the Uncovered conference on 31. January-1. February is more than clear. Investigative journalism digs deep into the facts, and historical and political contexts, of themes that are in the public eye and those that are not. It allows stories critical for the functioning of democracy to be uncovered, and this is why investigative journalism concerns us all.

You can follow the Uncovered conference's developments on ECPMF.eu, and on our Twitter (hashtags #Uncovered, #IJ4EU and #ECPMF) and Facebook channels.