It has been a sombre year for journalism – according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) since the beginning of 2018, more than 45 journalists have been killed with motive confirmed, the majority of them murdered. It poses the question – what are the costs of uncovering the truth and, is seeking it more important than our lives and safety?
In October, Viktoria Marinova was attacked and murdered, while she was conducting an anti-corruption investigation involving European Union (EU) funds. Marinova was raped, beaten and ultimately died of suffocation. The man suspected of carrying out the attack, Severin Krasimirov was arrested and has been indicted. She was supporting two investigative programs.
According to the BBC, Margaritis Schinas, spokesman for European Commission, said that the commission expected “a swift and thorough investigation” that would “bring those responsible to justice and clarify whether this attack was linked to her work.”
But, are governments doing enough in order to protect journalists? Should more laws be implemented in order to protect those who keep us informed and their sources?
This year, the Centre for Investigative Journalism (CIJ) celebrates its 15th anniversary. To commemorate the milestone, the organisation presented its third biennial Logan Symposium: Conspiracy, an event that gathers a community of investigative journalists, whistleblowers, hackers, artists and experts on the topic.
Artefact decided to attend the event at the Goldsmiths University of London, in order to find out what challenges journalists face while they’re working nowadays, and ways to protect themselves and their sources while conducting important investigative work.
Throughout the two days of talks, journalists killed in 2018 were remembered, including Abadullah Hananzai (Afghanistan), Carlos Dominguez Rodriguez (Mexico), Jefferson Pureza Lopes (Brazil) and Ján Kuciak (Slovakia).
An open debate was held to discuss whether journalists can protect their sources and how they should do it. With the evolution of technology, all e-mails or phone calls can be tapped/tracked by governments or other identities. The best way in Ian Cobain’s opinion — senior reporter of The Guardian— to communicate is to write letters. “This means there are no records of what we send,” he affirmed. Cobain also assumes that journalists should not trust everyone that seems to have important information for an investigation, “We should not get too close to the people we are investigating about, and we should not let them be too close to us,” he continues.
A journalist not only has the responsibility of uncovering the truth but also to protect their sources and their privacy— this is where the real challenge begins.
As stated in the code of conduct of the National Union of Journalists, journalists have the duty to “protect the identity of sources who supply information in confidence and material gathered in the course of her/his work.”
Betsy Reed, editor-in-chief of The Intercept’ believes that journalists are effectively being regulated by the government, “What we have seen in the US is the technological capacity of the government to track down everything about journalists communicating with their sources and it is tough to keep sources in that environment,” she affirms.
Crina Boros, an investigative reporter, supports the view that some aspects regarding security need to be taken into consideration once someone decides to conduct an investigation:
“There were moments when I had to take a week’s break because I could not see the forest from the trees”
“Once you have established that undercover reporting is necessary and acceptable, you can do a few things: Protect your computer’s IP address while conducting sensitive work; temporary social media accounts under a different name; a temporary phone number and disposable mobile phones,” she says when asked about how she protects her identity during an investigation.
After writing for the BBC, Greenpeace, Investigate Europe and others, Boros admits that “there were moments when I had to take a week’s break because I could not see the forest from the trees. But a good way to advance a story, especially an investigation that takes a while, is to ask yourself: is this true constantly? If so, when? Why? And what proof can there be?”
Once asked what journalists need to take in consideration when they decide to publish an investigative piece, Boros says: “In a nutshell: factual accuracy, right to comment, source protection and dissemination.”
But, should journalists be afraid of doing their job without getting killed? Duncan Campbell, an investigative journalist whose 1987 BBC series Secret Society was subjected to interference by the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher, agrees that journalists “are crap at protecting their identities and the identity of their sources” and it is definitely something journalists need to improve while they are working on an investigative piece.
As journalists, we defend the principle of media freedom and the right to inform the public. As Pat Loughrey— a former BBC executive and journalist stated: “The truth is not an easy thing, but it is so worth fighting for.”
And we will keep fighting for it.
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