Image depicting Artificial Intelligence

#Uncovered: the secrets of successful cross border journalism

By Jane Whyatt

Day 2 of the #UNCOVERED 2021 online conference took participants behind the scenes of some of the most important stories of the decade.

The themes of collaboration and innovation ran through all the sessions and workshops, and the way the media freedom community has united to oppose SLAPPs was eloquently explained in the debate chaired by Flutura Kusari, legal advisor of the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF). SLAPPs are Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation – in other words, lawsuits that represent an abuse of the legal system to try to intimidate journalists and publishers or ruin them financially.

SLAPPS aim to silence criticism

As Flutura Kusari pointed out, the ECPMF is playing a leading role in the new CASE group of organisations calling for a European Union Directive to combat SLAPPs.  It already has some support in Brussels – panel member Viola von Cramon-Taubadel MEP stressed:

”The situation is depressing, but I’m optimistic that we can achieve something.”

Swedish SLAPP victim Per Agerman described the Realtid case at the High Court in London: “In Sweden, you can only sue the editor responsible. By going to London they could bypass the Swedish constitution”.

Cross-border collaboration is clearly essential in such cases, and this is one of more than 70 which ECPMF’s Legal Support helps to fund. Through a partnership between ECPMF and the Justice for Journalists Fund (JFJ), SLAPP cases can be identified, checked, challenged and publicised, and JFJ’s Maria Ordzhonikidze joined the panel to describe their role.

Many investigations featured at #UNCOVERED tackle global themes such as environmental threats, corruption in the shipping industry (Black Trail) and in fishing (The Insatiables). So the panel on “Lessons for Europe” was a good fit, bringing insights from investigative journalists across Africa, Latin America and the Phillipines (pictured below in a screenshot from the panel) to show how cross-border collaboration works in different regions of the world. and share expertise with European colleagues.

Facing a future where data-driven journalism and digitisation are widely perceived as a threat to journalists’ jobs suddenly seemed easier for participants in the Innovation panel. It was moderated by ECPMF Executive Board Chair Yannis Kotsifos, a board member of the European Federation of Journalists. His three experts showed how new technology is enabling reporters to work with data scientists and produce ground-breaking results like the IJ4EU-funded Money to Burn exposé of Europe’s energy policies

AI – promise or problem?

Conference participants got an even more detailed picture of the possibilities for Artificial Intelligence in news at a workshop with data scientist Morteza Shahrezaye and freelance journalist Sylke Gruhnwald. Like the “good cop/bad cop” duo, he enthused about the ability of algorithms to search documents for stories in up to 50 languages, to find veiled Nazi symbols in Facebook posts and to write Guardian newspaper articles all by themselves with only a human proof-reader. Meanwhile she warned about the in-built race and gender bias of most datasets, the need to make algorithms transparent and accountable and the questions about employees’ rights at big tech companies such as Google.

For the grand finale, conference participants were given the chance to discuss and watch an exclusive preview screening of “Beyond the Headlines” – a feature-length documentary showing how Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Bastian Obermeyer and Frederik Obermaier (no relation) of Der Spiegel worked together with Austrian colleagues, transcending the traditional rivalry between the German-language titles. The film gives intimate glimpses of them contacting whistleblowers and verifying a secretly-filmed sting that brought down the Austrian government. It showed that the then-Deputy Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache was talking to a couple in a villa on the island of Ibiza about taking Russian money to buy political influence.

Corruption charges

Just hours before the screening at #UNCOVERED, Strache was charged with bribery by Austria’s Economic and Corruption Prosecutor. It was another example of the impact of collaborative cross-border journalism to add to the Impact Award winners and many other projects that were showcased at the conference.

 

Yet this was not a time for resting laurels or self-congratulation. Summing up, ECPMF Managing Director closed #UNCOVERED with a reminder of the physical perils and political machinations that independent journalists face:

“Firstly: We will not rest until the murder of our colleague Giorgios Karaivaz, an investigative reporter in Athens, is fully investigated. Secondly: Poland’s constitutional court has forced Adam Bodnar, the Commissioner of Human Rights, to leave office. Bodnar is an ardent fighter for press and media freedom and the government is not. We will not let them get away with this.”

Tomorrow’s struggles are still to be tackled. #UNCOVERED gave us two days of encouragement, achievement and a sense that we are working together in those struggles.

You can read about the Day 1 debates and #IJ4EU Impact Award here.

The #UNCOVERED conference is part of the IJ4EU programme funded by the European Commission. It is organised by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), in partnership with the International Press Institute (IPI) and the European Journalism Centre (EJC).

IJ4EU (Investigative Journalism for Europe) is a fund for cross-border investigative journalism in the EU. It provides grants to teams of journalists or news organisations in Europe investigating topics of public interest.

The content of this website and the topics discussed during the #UNCOVERED conference reflect the views of the authors and speakers, and the European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained.

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