14.03.2019 - UNESCO Montevideo Office

New "Investigative Journalism Handbook: Ethics / Narrative / Research / Security"

- "Without vigorous investigative journalism, societies risk to become a dictatorship of money and oblivion".

The "Handbook of investigative journalism: ethics / narrative / investigation / security" was written by journalist Mauricio Weibel Barahona, President of the South American Correspondents Union (UNAC). It is an essential text addressed to those communicators who seek the full exercise of their right to inform and be informed in line with the contents of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in general and, in particular, the Objective (ODS) 16 approved in September 2015 by the United Nations (UN).

Weibel Barahona, is also the author of “Traición a la Patria. ‘Milicogate’ el millonario desfalco a la ley del cobre” (2016); “Ni orden ni patria. La trama secreta del Pacogate” (2018); “Los niños de la rebelión” (2017); in co-authoriship of Asociación Ilícita. “Los archivos secretos de la dictadura” (2012). He warns us that "without vigorous investigative journalism, societies risk to become a dictatorship of money and oblivion".

UNESCO has constantly promoted a debate on the ethical standards of investigative journalism and good professional practices, as part of the interest to contribute to the strengthening of freedom of expression and information, a key challenge of the mandate of the Organization.

Investigative journalism is essential for democratic functioning as well as the reporting of corporate political corruption in times of profound cultural, social and economic transformations.

This journalistic genre is essential to promote debate on urgent issues in the region such as transnational organized crime, venality in the armed or police forces and environmental issues, just to mention some of them.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the UNESCO report on global trends in freedom of expression and media development, more than 150 journalists were killed between 2012 and 2018 in the exercise of their profession due to their claims and investigations. Simultaneously, in 2018, as indicated by report ¿Quién es el guardían del perro guardían? produced by Observacom, there was an increase of media ownership concentration practices, thus jeopardizing the exercise of journalism.

Within this context, the Member States of the UN system and UNESCO, in coordination with professional journalism groups, highlighted the need to foster policies aimed at the promotion of an investigative journalism that optimizes the security of those who exercise it. They also pointed out the need to provide tools to those communicators who are starting to work in this informative genre in a very vast subcontinental territory. A geographic scenario that can be described as one in which diversity accounts for a significant structural heterogeneity in social ecosystems markedly altered by multiple internal conflicts, some of them existing for many decades.

These particularities and problems emerged from civil society and were collected by UNESCO in the last decade. Today the demand placed to this multilateral organization is to collect, systematize and disseminate experiences and reflections that the own investigative journalists produced in the exercise of the profession. All of them originate from increasingly complex areas of fading certainties, fragile public debate and increasing disinformation campaigns (or fake news as they are commonly called).

Hence, the present "Handbook of investigative journalism: ethics / narrative / research / security", aims to be a contribution to the continuing education of students and journalists who want to specialize in this essential narrative genre for the strengthening or recovery of democracy.

The content integrates all the relevant aspects and the successive phases demanded by the investigative process, as well as suggests ethical guidelines, defining the structure and style that this narrative technically demands and the security practices increasingly necessary for journalism in general and investigative journalists in particular.

In this line, it provides various didactic resources - digital links to databases and declassified documents - suggests practical training activities for each step of journalistic research, teacher evaluation guides and, finally, work templates for professionals.

The Handbook contains materials designed both, to stimulate the training of reporters and to support the pedagogical strategies of those in charge of the training of new investigative journalists in workshops, diploma courses, undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate courses.

At the beginning, a chapter on ethics and investigative journalism, addresses one’s relationship with the other and otherness. In a section on investigative journalism, language and narrative structures, the author reviews the importance of elaborating stories and, therefore, proposes to treat information as narrative materials while providing a variety of tools that help achieve that goal.

Next, journalistic investigation is addressed. In the section on the phases in investigative journalism, the indispensable processes and activities to elaborate and undertake a long-term report are explained in detail. Then, the chapter on strategies and tools, delves into the various methodological practices and available assets that range from the traditional resource of accessing a reserved source to data journalism (DataSphere and big data)

In a final part, a section on basic security tools, warns about the computer and physical safeguards that a journalist must include as part of his professional practice. The text also proposes thinking a multiplatform investigation to raise the need to develop possible stories to be narrated in different formats.

The final section is entirely dedicated to recommendations to the users of the Handbook from the vast experience of the author.

What do we want with this effort?

Essentially, to make a contribution to professional and teaching training in a journalistic genre that is profoundly necessary in the societies of Latin America and the Caribbean. These societies are being challenged by globalization and by translational phenomena, such as corruption, which compel investigative journalists to work in networks, to think about their work beyond their national borders and, in terms of formats, to break the classic molds of printed-paper.

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