The Foreign Policy Centre’s “Unsafe for Scrutiny” report details the threats facing journalists investigating the financial misconduct that lets ‘dirty money’ flow through the world’s most powerful banks. Spencer Woodman’s November 2020 discussion of the report for the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists details a major source of these threats: global elites flexing their intimidating legal advantage. The harassment faced by these investigative journalists damages efforts to bring the issue of financial corruption to light.
Survey responses from 63 investigative journalists working in 43 countries indicated that a vast majority had faced threats and harassment during their investigations into financial crimes. Susan Coughtrie, project director at the Foreign Policy Centre, discussed these large-scale transnational investigations with Woodman, including those conducted by the ICIJ that revealed, “explosive insights into how political and business elites, as well as organized crime groups, all over the world get away with financial crime and corruption.”
The report found that wealthy individuals and corporations involved in financial corruption often threaten legal action against underfunded investigative journalists as a tactic to thwart their reporting efforts. These frivolous suits known as “strategic lawsuits against public participation,” or SLAPPs, are said to, “create a similar chilling effect on media freedom to more overt violence or attack.” The report also noted that these legal threats are often communicated in secret, shielding the action from public view.
The harassment faced by these journalists goes beyond threatened lawsuits, as, “60% of respondents working in sub-Saharan Africa, and 50% of respondents from North Africa and the Middle East region reported threats of physical attack.” Other incidents such as the fatal 2017 car bombing of Daphne Caruana Galizia, a journalist who reported on corruption in Malta and the Panama Papers, strike fear into the hearts of any journalist working to expose the financial misconduct running rampant in global banks.
While there have been a few reports from larger outlets such as the BBC, NBC News, BuzzFeed News, and Reuters touching on the findings of the investigation into financial corruption, virtually no corporate media attention has been given to the threats faced by journalists who cover wrongdoing by the world’s most powerful banks. The ICIJ seems to be one, if not the only, journalistic outlet reporting on the “Unsafe for Scrutiny” report. Threats to journalists are not only detrimental to individual reporters, but they also undermine the freedom of the press and the society that relies on that freedom to keep corruption from spreading like wildfire.
Spencer Woodman, “Threats, Violence, Trolling, and Frivolous Lawsuits Used to Silence Journalists Investigating Financial Crimes, Survey Finds,” International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, November 2, 2020, https://www.icij.org/inside-icij/2020/11/threats-violence-trolling-and-frivolous-lawsuits-used-to-silence-journalists-investigating-financial-crimes-survey-finds/.
Spencer Woodman, “Global Bands Defy U.S. Crackdowns by Serving Oligarchs, Criminals and Terrorists,” International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, September 20, 2020, https://www.icij.org/investigations/fincen-files/global-banks-defy-u-s-crackdowns-by-serving-oligarchs-criminals-and-terrorists/.
Student Researcher: Zach McNanna (North Central College)
Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)