Networking Africa's investigative journalists
Ghanaian investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas uses his anonymity as a tool in his investigative journalism work. He focuses on issues of human rights and anti-corruption in Ghana and sub-Saharan Africa. In December 2015, Foreign Policy magazine named Anas one of 2015's leading global thinkers. Anas is also one of the 19 African investigative journalists from 14 countries who came together to form the Network of African Investigative Reporters and Editors (NAIRE) exactly a year ago. Their goal was to "establish in the investigative journalism profession in Africa a more systemic focus, moving away from (the focus on) corrupt events and corrupt individuals towards questioning the institutions of the African (postcolonial) state."
Read an automated transcript.
Five takeaways from the talk and discussion:
1. Investigative reporting in Africa (and beyond) is dangerous. Wearing his trademark beaded mask to hide his face, Anas Aremeyaw Anas discussed his use of anonymity, citing examples of journalists who have been jailed or killed for their work.
Anas has received death threats multiple times. "I'm so used to it that when I do a story and I don't get threats, it sometimes feels like the story has not been properly done. But it is not about me alone. Many of our colleagues on the continent also face similar threats," he said.
Anas argued that safety measures should be taken to ensure journalists don’t pay the ultimate price. “No story is worth the journalist's life,” he said. The concealment of his identity is a step he takes to protect himself. He insisted he can still be held accountable for his reporting even if people don’t know who he is: “Accountability is defined properly in my work; for example, when I say you're a criminal, I show you the evidence and my work stands the test of time, it goes to a court of law.”
2. Collaboration between journalists in different countries is crucial for good stories. To produce accurate and authentic reporting, especially in complex or sensitive stories, local journalists have to be consulted, Anas argued. “Collaboration has always been the bedrock of proper investigation. No journalist knows a story better than the journalist who lives within that story,” he said.
3. Collaboration is also important to safeguard journalist safety. Anas emphasised the need for African journalists to work together to find solutions to the problems they face. NAIRE is a way for African journalists to stand together and try to answer difficult questions. “How can we as African journalists on our own mobilise human resources, brains, technical assistance are the real questions,” he said. “Why was our friend killed? Is there a possibility that someone else will be killed? What did our friend do wrong? What are we also doing wrong in our corners? How can we improve on it so that many more people are not killed?” These are some of the questions that matter, Anas said.
4. Journalists should also take personal precautions to protect themselves. "You have to be very careful. There's no point in wanting to tell a story that will end up killing you. We’d end up losing much more because we won't get to tell a story tomorrow," Anas said. Having safety protocols, including a backup plan, can help to ensure safety in dangerous situations, he explained. He also stressed the importance of journalists being discreet about the investigations they are working on.
5. Evidence is a valuable tool when defending yourself against accusations. Anas highlighted the need for a watertight story in the face of adversity. "If I say you've committed a crime, I show you the hardcore evidence, and I prove to you that you did it. Even then, people still deny it. But your best medicine for people coming after you is your evidence," he said.
The bottom line
A balance between courage and caution is key to investigative journalism everywhere, particularly in environments where reporters are often risking their lives. Collaboration with other journalists (and especially journalists from other countries) is essential, both for producing good reporting and to be able to band together to address common problems and stand up for one another.
Individual investigative journalists should also take personal steps to protect their safety. For Anas Aremeyaw Anas, this includes masking his identity. Others may decide anonymity is not required, but every investigative journalist should consider the possibility that someone may come after them – physically, legally, reputationally or in any other way.