This post was originally posted on the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) website and is written by Julius D. Mariveles.
IT IS as certain as the sun rising in the East: investigative journalism is still needed in Asia.
Not only that Asia is home to more than 4.3 billion people or 60 percent of the global population, it is also here where democracies are emerging, some teetering on the brink of reverting to dictatorships, amid a changing global order.
More than 300 journalists pondered over this issue on the second day of Uncovering Asia: The First Asian Investigative Journalism Conference in the capital city of Manila, the Philippines.
“There’s a niche for investigative journalism, there’s still a need for it,” Kunda Dixit, founder and editor of the Nepali Times, said in opening the discussion, The Future of Investigative Journalism in Asia.
Dixit, one of the leading senior journalists in Asia, also said that while investigative journalism is still needed, there are lot of problems “stacked up against us,” including the over-commercialisation of media and publishers and owners who have “skeletons in their closets who don’t want to cast the first stone” against government wrongdoing.
“If mainstream media are too squeamish to do investigative journalism, we have other options,” he added.
Leading investigative journalists in the regions who were part of the panel led in weighing in on the issue.
Sashi Kumar, chairperson of the Asian College of Journalism in Asia, said there is a growing “scam fatigue” among people in India who are being treated to reports about officials being involved in issues of corruption but these reports are short-lived and not pursued.
Kumar pointed out that while 60 to 70 percent of the population of India live in rural areas, mainstream media hardly cover people in these places. He cited as an example the high rate of suicide among farmers in rural India that has been hitting the headlines yet there is no “real and sustained investigation of the causes.”
“The news media is part of the problem, not the solution by virtue of its ownership,” he added.
Hongkong University journalism professor Ying Chan, on the other hand, said doing investigative journalism in Hongkong and China remains “very risky” since journalists could lose their freedom.
She also noted that while Hongkong has many tycoons and billionaires, there is “no real support for good journalism” as she added that there is still a need for more training and the building of local data bases.
But while independent media is mostly doing investigative journalism in most parts of Asia, Tomohisa Yamaguchi of Asahi Shimbun in Japan said mainstream news outlets like their paper are doing IJ work.
In fact, investigative journalism has already overthrown three prime ministers in Japan, a substantial number compared to only one in the United States.
Yamaguchi is deputy editor of Asahi’s investigative reports section that was, ironically, nearly shuttered several years ago.
Another problem facing journalists in Asia is the lack of freedom of information or access to information laws that could hamper the work of investigative journalists.
Chavarong Limpattamapanee, editor of Thai Rath, said while Thailand has an FOI law, it still needs to be reformed. In Japan, on the other hand, Yamaguchi said that FOIs started as local laws before it became a national one. Interestingly, the push for local information laws was initiated not only by journalists but by lawyers and housewives.
The form of investigative reporting could also change, a discussion triggered by the question of Filipino editor John Nery of the Philippine Daily Inquirer who said that investigative reporting could change from the usual written long form to a different one, including, interestingly, a video game.
Ying Chan said all media must be used to engage people of any age. She said this requires journalists who can talk to coders or programmers who can translate story-telling to other forms.
Dixit added that investigative journalism can also contribute to the commercial success of a paper.
“It can improve the credibility of a news outlet and improved credibility means more readership.”