Conference: More than 350 journalists, including top investigative reporters, data journalists and media law and cyber-security experts from 52 countries who met during the second Asian Investigative Journalism conference held in Kathmandu, Nepal said that courageous journalists have exposed corrupt leaders, kleptocratic state machineries, cross-border financial crimes, trafficking, and illegal logging.

The conference that began on September 22 ended yesterday.

The conference held 60 workshops and panel discussions focused largely on experience sharing by the team of Panama Papers data journalists. The presentation by a team of Pulitzer-winning journalists from Associated Press (AP) and Walter V Robinson of the Boston Globe, whose team bagged the Pulitzer Prize for an investigation on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church were the major highlights of the event.

The story about the paedophile priests was featured in the Oscar-winning film Spotlight. In his keynote speech on Thursday, Robinson recounted how the sexual scandal of the Catholic Church was exposed with the Spotlight team.

Other highlights included a panel on the groundbreaking Panama Papers investigation with International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ (ICIJ) Asian team and the AP reporters who won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for helping free 2,000 seafood slaves in Indonesia.

The Panama Papers exposed offshore holdings, forcing government-level investigations and resignation of top-level officials in many countries. The team shared how the ICIJ and its colleagues broke the story and how they plan to apply those lessons in the future.

World-renowned investigative journalist, Sheila Coronel, who is the founder of Investigative Journalism Centre, Philippines, also shared her experience of how she exposed the former president of Philippines, Josef Estrada, in 2001 that eventually led to his downfall.

Based on the joint effort of the Panama Paper team, the participants agreed to share contacts and ideas and to collaborate in covering human trafficking and slavery, terrorism and extremism, organised crime and illicit trade and discussed how to defend themselves from legal threats.

The conference focused on building practical skills and providing training to promote and expand quality investigative journalism, particularly in Asia. There were also sessions on investigating climate, corruption and investigative reporting under difficult conditions.

The participants noted that recent crackdowns on press freedom across Asia have made it difficult and dangerous for reporters, especially investigative journalists. More than 1,200 journalists were killed since 1992 and thousands more assaulted and persecuted. About 200 journalists were jailed and about 500 exiled since 2008 while reporting under difficult conditions.

“Yet reporters are digging deeper in more places than ever for the public interests,” said moderator Alinda Vermeer of Media Legal Defence Initiative, UK.

The chairperson of Centre for Investigative Journalism (CIJ) of Nepal, Namrata Sharma, said that currently press freedom in Nepal is under question. She said that human right activists, particularly women, and media personalities and media houses are facing harassment and “unseen” censorships both by their owners, the state and its organs. “The situation that Himal South Asia is facing currently is a perfect example.”

Kantipur Daily’s editor Sudheer Sharma said that the last two decades have been the most difficult for Nepal with a decade-long conflict and a long, unstable political transition. “However, over the years, the Nepalese media have come of age, exposing wartime atrocities and investigating corruption in leading institutions.”

Uncovering Asia conference was jointly organised by the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) and CIJN with support from Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, Germany.

Rinzin Wangchuk | Kathmandu