AIJC Convener urges investigative journalists to empower themselves with tools that improve the quality of their work

By Elfredah Kevin-Alerechi

Often investigative journalists risk their lives to expose the truth in important stories that involve corrupt practices in the public or private and seek to hold the perpetrators accountable. Due to the sensitive nature of their work, journalists are threatened, and even attacked, by corrupt individuals – leading some to conduct their work under the veil of secrecy in order to protect themselves.

These and many other reasons have led many investigative journalists like Anas Anas, Ghana’s well-known investigative journalist, to go undercover in order to expose corruptions in public and private sectors and also protect their sources from attack. Many of the corrupt practices exposed by these investigations resulted in perpetrators either being arrested or policy being changed.

During the 16th edition of the African Investigative Journalism Conference 2020 (AIJC2020), which kicked off from October 06 and runs till October 30, 2020 and brought together hundreds of journalists from across the world to discuss their work and also learn new tools, investigative journalists shared the constant challenges they face as they conduct their work.

AIJC2020 Convener at Wits University, Professor Anton Harber, said investigative journalists have a key role in strengthening democracy and should to be allowed to do their job of holding those in power to account freely across sectors. He further emphasised the need for African countries to nurture investigative journalism and ensure that quality training is readily available.

Harber identified hurdles that stifle investigative journalists across Africa from discharging their work to include attacks on journalists by authorities and lack of resources, adding that journalists need to be protected from harm.

“So when I say protection, I mean protection of the court, the constitution and the authorities to enable us to do our important public service work”, said Harber, following the launch of his book – So, for the record: Behind the headlines in an era of state capture, which reveals the lows and highs of journalism during an era of stake capture in South Africa – on the sidelines of the virtual conference.

With the emergence of great tools and techniques brought by the digital media and the internet, Harber said that high level training is required for investigative journalists to be able to effectively use them.

He explained that some of the new digital forensic tools have empowered investigative reporters enormously, affording them to geo-locate, research and find people, institutions and also authenticate images.

However, he cautioned those using these tools, investigative journalists in particular, to be aware of ethical issues and concerns and also handle themselves with integrity.

Asked about the importance of providing training to young investigative journalist, Harber, said at a time when there are so many attacks on journalists and also issues of credibility, especially lack of trust by the public, young journalists need to be fully trained and aware of the rules, ethics and the expected conduct of investigative journalists.

“You can easily undermine your work by not being fully aware of the ethical implications and rules pertaining to how you should conduct yourself,” said Haber, and further advised young journalists to sign up for these specialised skills, some of which were shared throughout the AIJC2020.

“It is extremely important that young people get specialised skills from the incredible tools and techniques that are available. Once they are properly trained, they will understand ethical rules that govern investigative journalism,” he added.

According to Harber, when young journalists are not trained in techniques such as handling sensitive sources, ways of maintaining their independence and integrity and dangers of accepting “brown envelopes” or of partisan reporting, they will run into trouble quickly. He further stressed that the brown envelope undermines journalistic credibility and authority and that “it is the curse of African journalism”.

About the author:

Elfredah Kevin-Alerechi is an investigative journalist for the People’s Gazette, based in Abuja, Nigeria. He is also an AIJC2020 Fellow.