Wednesday, 18 November 2009

FAIR Quarterly newsletter, 15 November 2009

1. The African Investigative Journalism Conference.

The AIJC -officially titled ‘Power reporting: the AIJC’- was held between 25 and 28 October in Johannesburg, South Africa in partnership with the Journalism Department of the University of the Witwatersrand. It was sponsored financially by the Open Society Institute.

Over forty of our professional members attended the conference. Sixteen of these delegates contributed as speakers, panellists and workshop facilitators alongside such international ‘IJ’ luminaries as Brant Houston of the Global IJ Network and David Kaplan of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Our FAIR speakers on the three conference themes: sports, business and justice, shared panels with renowned investigative authors and film makers Andrew Jennings, Danny Schechter and Sorious Samura.

Hot debates

A hot topic was undercover journalism. Is it good or bad thing for journalists to hide the fact that they are journalists? Speaker, and outgoing FAIR Chairman, Eric Mwamba : ‘If you take time to build relationships with people, by the time you reveal you are a journalist, they will have discovered that you are a good person’. Mwamba described investigative journalism, -including the (undercover) journalism that goes out to experience, first hand, the injustices that it wants to expose- as the ‘journalism that interests audiences’. As an example, he mentioned that the circulation of his paper doubled the day that his report –on trafficking young soccer players- was published. “In the previous months, papers had reported the same news about the presidential elections about four times. People were so tired of that.”

Other topics that galvanized the audience into lively debates were on financial journalism (‘did financial journalists worldwide fail to analyse and report the banking practices that led to the global meltdown?’); the need to investigate development aid to Africa (‘which often comes down to maintaining and enabling an incompetent elite’, in the words of Sorious Samura); justice issues ranging from African warlords’ prosecutions by the International Criminal Court and the failings of justice systems that incarcerate innocents.

Prostitution and plunder

Crime as a theme again entered the spotlight when FAIR project manager and Transnational Investigation editor Charles Rukuni presented the FAIR Transnational Investigation 2009. This year’s TI explores the apparent link between illegal enterprise and development in Africa. Whereas many formal developmental programmes appear to fail, ‘criminals’ such as Somali pirates are building schools and assisting villagers. Prostitutes, taking their profession seriously, learn English to become better earners, and as that happens, families and communities benefit.

After his presentation, Rukuni faced some concern from the audience. ‘But pirates are armed robbers! Certainly we do not approve of what they do?’, commented Nigerian editor Theophilus Abbah, whilst others raised the Aids risk that goes hand in hand with prostitution. In response, panelists said that an investigation is only about investigating, not about approving. The point was also made that many civilisations have arisen from a background of civil war and plunder.

Doing ones’ work amidst civil war, plunder, human traffic and prostitution was the subject of a panel discussion between journalists who experience this kind of ‘work environment’. War and human rights abuse reporter Frank Nyakairu –also the new FAIR chairman- compared experiences with his conflict and undercover colleague Sorious Samura, ‘pirate’ correspondent Kassim Mohamed, and FAIR Award runner up Fatima Noor, who had gone –and safely made it out again- undercover as a prostitute in a Somali warlord brothel. By all received accounts, the audience was greatly impressed by the risks taken and sacrifices made by these journalists in the interests of good reporting.

FAIR Awards

The evening highlight of the three days was the FAIR Awards evening, that resulted in well-deserved limelight for our winners: Emmanuel Mayah, who busted a multimillion dollar international tobacco smuggling syndicate; Fatuma Noor and editor (of the Nigerian Daily Trust) Theophilus Abbah. Abbah received the ‘editors’ courage’ award for publishing a story on ‘political dynasties’ that even his own newspapers’ correspondents were afraid to put their bylines to. The representatives of the FAIR Advisory Council: Nixon Kariithi, Tito Ndombi and (standing in for Pat Made) Charles Rukuni were given well deserved applause for their expert and to-the-point judging, which had entailed a lot of work.

Shortlisted for the Awards were also Musikilu Mojeed, for his piece ‘An assembly of looting’, about the Nigerian parliament; Ken Opala, for his series on sugar smuggling as a source of income for warlords; Anas Aremeyaw Anas, for his exposés on the Chinese sex mafia in Ghana (the series went on to win prizes in both the Lorenzo Natali and the Norbert Zongo Awards), and Edouard Gonto for his field investigations in areas in Ivory Coast that have been the terrain of civil war and human rights abuses.

Light at end of tunnel

Even though conditions for the practice of investigative journalism are still challenging in many countries, there are also positive developments.

Charles Mwanguhya from Uganda gave an outline of his newspaper, The Monitor’s, access to information case that is before the Ugandan court at the moment. Mwanguhya and his colleagues are going to court for access to the oil contracts negotiated between the Ugandan government and the Australian oil company Hardman Resources. The road has been hard, with many protestations and even ‘loss’ of case dockets along the way, but there is very possibly light at the end of the tunnel, reported Charles.

Ujima resource for African journalists and a new IJ Centre

A great new information resource introduced at the conference was the Ujima database (, put together by New York Times colleagues in cooperation with the Rwandan Great Lakes Media Centre. The Ujima project is a database of vital virtual information on American and European interests in Africa, accessible for free. Check it out!

The conference also saw the launch of a new South African investigative journalism centre called ‘amabhungana’, which loosely translates as ‘the dungbeetles’. The name was chosen as a variant on the ‘muckraking’ aspect of investigative journalism. The ‘dungbeetles’, colleagues and FAIR members Stefaans Brummer and Sam Sole, are already famous for their exposés in the Mail & Guardian on the South African arms deal and other murky affairs. Other sessions and workshops during the event dealt with new funding models for investigative journalism, including ‘IJ’ team investigations; business investigations; computer assisted research skills and using numbers and statistics.

The conference and awards ceremony received quite pleasing favourable coverage in a number of media, including Allafrica, IJNet, the ICIJ website and communications, the Media department of the University of Illinois, the Global IJ website, the International Center for Journalists ICFJ, the Daily Trust in Nigeria, the Nation in Kenya, several Southafrican media and professional film, TV and print newsletters, the European Communication Research and Education Association, the International Institute for ICT Journalism and Danny Schechter’s ‘Plunder’ blog in the US.

IJ Manuals

The only reason why this is not the first item is because the AIJC also happened in this quarterly period: the IJ Manuals are up! Those among you who have been party to the very, very long road we had to travel to get this done will no doubt sigh with relief. I have also no doubt, however, that all of you, previously part of the process or not, will be impressed by the quality, practicality and the design of this great new resource offered by FAIR to the investigative journalism profession. Check the URL:

Carlos Cardoso

As this newsletter appears in November, we are remembering the great work and the subsequent terrible murder of our Mozambican colleague, Carlos Cardoso, on 22 November 2000. Carlos investigated bank fraud by meticulously trying to understand how banking systems work and where the loopholes for fraudsters were. It was this excellent investigative practice that got him killed. All of us in FAIR are mindful of the dangers that asking questions –especially the right questions- still poses in many countries in Africa and the world. We salute the great work done by Carlos, remember him as a role model and ask the international community to assist ‘IJ’s’ who do their work in similar circumstances, so that the investigative journalism practice as pioneered by colleagues such as Carlos Cardoso can flourish and grow in Africa.

New Board

As the conference was also the venue for the FAIR Annual General Meeting, we are proud to announce our new Board as elected for the coming year.

Chairman: Frank Nyakairu

Deputy chair: Suzana Mendes

Secretary General: Gerard Guédègbé

Treasurer: Mary Fianko Akuffo (with full Finance & Fundraising portfolio)

Services & Mission: Ken Opala

IJ standards: Theophilus Abbah

Membership: Luis Nhachote & Stanley Kwenda

Member without portfolio: John Grobler

Among the resolutions paving the way forward for this new FAIR year were the following:

*FAIR members in one country can appoint one person from their midst to coordinate bank transfer of membership payments and to serve as a focal point for the distribution of FAIR promotional material. The FAIR Board is to develop guidelines to guide the processing of membership payments as above.

*The FAIR office must be strengthened with a new director with lobbying, fund raising and networking responsibilities. This director should be appointed at least two months before Evelyn leaves at the end of 2010.

*FAIR fund raising must address the need for Portuguese translation for all documents, projects, and office interaction.

*Minimum investigative journalism standards for FAIR membership must be developed by a task team that is appointed by the FAIR Board, and membership must be reviewed yearly on this basis. New members are also to be assessed based on the same criteria.

*The FAIR office must strengthen operations that emanate from its core mandate, i.e.: membership liaison, membership output showcasing, membership services and networking in general. It must outsource its publication activities.

*FAIR will seek funds to organise regional conferences, debates and showcase events in all African regions.

*FAIR is to build up a capacity for peer mentoring in French and Portuguese.

*FAIR's visibility and branding must be enhanced through the production and distribution of PR materials.

*FAIR must open communication channels with all institutions that engage with the protection of journalists (including major international media houses); ensure that these institutions know (of) FAIR; and ensure that threats and oppressive measures against FAIR members, -incurred by these members whilst engaged in investigative journalism activities within the framework of FAIR standards and ethics-, are denounced widely as a result.

*The FAIR office must, assisted by members' expertise, identify and develop relationships with key contact people in at least two media houses per African country, with a view to more exposure for FAIR within media houses and the profession in general in Africa.

*FAIR must seek funds for local travel costs where members need to travel within their own countries for the purpose of attending regional and continental conferences.

Hotly debated at the AGM were suggestions for the establishment of national FAIR branches with possibly independent fundraising capacity. A majority of members voted against this, expressing fears that FAIR would lose control over moneys and governance would suffer. Another suggestion that didn’t make it was a proposal to seek corporate funding for FAIR expenses.

The AGM was characterised by dedicated and attentive participation, -which sometimes even ranged on the emotional-, by all, showing that FAIR has clearly grown into an organisation that if of great interest and importance to its members.


That’s it for this quarter, folks! Have a good festive season and a great New Year! We'll publish an AIJC dossier with all the conference contributions, and the first newsletter of 2010, in February.



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