Toen ik vorige week toevalligerwijs stuitte op investeerinargos.nl, was me volslagen onduidelijk wat de bedoeling van die website was. Een grap? Een actiegroep die bang is voor het verdwijnen van Argos? Opstandige Argos-redacteuren die zelfstandig verder willen? Een ledenwerfactie van de omroep HUMAN? Maar HUMAN is toch helemaal geen ledenomroep? Waarom zouden die dan leden werven?
Marc Josten, hoofdredacteur van HUMAN, verschaft me opheldering: “Het is inderdaad een ledenwerfactie van Human. Officieel gaat die op 21 juni van start. Dan komen ook andere websites online, zoals investeerinfilosofie.nl.”
De actie is bedoeld om de programma’s van HUMAN in de lucht te houden. Die dreigen te verdwijnen doordat de zogeheten 2.42-omroepen hun plek in het omroepbestel kwijt raken. 2.42-omroepen (2.42 slaat op het nummer van het wetsartikel in de Omroepwet) zijn omroepen die hun zendmachtiging krijgen op grond van hun kerkelijke of levensbeschouwelijke grondslag, en niet op grond van hun ledental. Behalve HUMAN zijn dit onder meer de Boedhistische Omroep Stichting (BOS), de Interkerkelijke Omroep Nederland (IKON) en de Joodse Omroep (JO). Door de bezuinigingen op de Publieke Omroep verdwijnen ze allemaal vanaf 2016 uit het omroepbestel.
Een aantal van deze kleine omroepen zal vermoedelijk onderdak vinden bij een grote omroeporganisatie. Zo zullen IKON en Zendtijd voor Kerken (ZvK) terecht komen bij de EO. Rooms-Katholiek Kerkgenootschap (RKK) wordt onderdeel van de fusie-omroep NCRV/KRO.
Mensen verbinden aan programma’s
Maar HUMAN kiest voor een andere weg. “Het huidige bestel met omroepen die als bolwerken zijn georganiseerd, loopt op zijn laatste benen naar mijn overtuiging”, vertelt Josten. “Ik geloof in netwerken. HUMAN is een netwerk van programmamakers en ideeën. Daarom houden we niet alleen een actie om leden te werven voor het netwerk HUMAN, maar proberen we mensen vooral te verbinden aan onze programma’s. Donateurs moeten onze programma’s en ons netwerk stevigheid geven. Mensen die onderzoeksjournalistiek belangrijk vinden, kunnen dus donateur worden van Argos. Daarmee kunnen we op de lange termijn onderzoeksjournalistiek in de meest fundamentele vorm bedrijven.’
Maar wat heeft HUMAN daar dan aan?
“We kunnen het bestel met de omroepbolwerken wel ouderwets vinden, maar de publieke netten zijn nog steeds van groot belang. Daar kijken nog steeds heel veel mensen naar, en uit onderzoek blijkt, steeds langer en meer. Ze hebben een informatieve, culturele en educatieve taak. In die publieke ruimte willen wij duurzaam aanwezig zijn. Daarom zullen we ons wel moeten aanpassen aan de huidige regels. En daarom moeten de investeerders in onze programma’s ook lid worden van HUMAN. Met 50 duizend leden is HUMAN aspirant-omroep en verwerven we een zichtbare plek in de publieke ruimte . We krijgen dan zendtijd plus ook nog financiering van de overheid.”
Waarom dan donateurs voor programma’s werven in plaats van leden voor HUMAN?
“Omdat we denken dat mensen tegenwoordig meer affiniteit hebben met specifieke programma’s dan met omroepen. Mensen die onderzoeksjournalistiek willen steunen, kunnen dat doen door donateur van Argos te worden. Anderen hebben belangstelling voor filosofie en worden daarom viainvesteerinfilosofie.nl donateur van het Filosofisch Kwintet, Dus ik ben en de verdere filosofieprogrammering van HUMAN.”
Gaat dat geld dan ook echt naar die programma’s? Of komt het op de grote hoop bij HUMAN?
“De donaties gaan echt naar de programma’s. Wie 12,50 euro doneert aan investeerinfilosofie.nl, is er van verzekerd dat de volle 12,50 euro naar onze filosofieprogrammering gaat. De 12,50 die iemand in investeerinargos.nl steekt, komt daadwerkelijk voor 100% ten goede aan onderzoeksjournalistiek.”
Zou dat ook geen goed idee zijn voor andere omroepen? Want vaak weten mensen helemaal niet welke omroep welk programma uitzendt.
“Daarom denk ik ook dat dit de toekomst is. Die bolwerkachtige omroeporganisaties zullen in de toekomst verdwijnen. Je ziet nu al de ontwikkeling dat zendercoördinatoren hoofdredacteuren worden. Straks zullen zij het zijn die gewoon de beste programma’s inkopen en uitzenden. En met ‘beste’ bedoel ik dan programma’s met een publieke functie. Informatieve, culturele en educatieve programma’s die niet ook via de commerciële omroepen hun weg naar het publiek vinden. En of die nu door een van de huidige omroepen, door een productiehuis of door een programma met aandeelhouders worden gemaakt, dat maakt helemaal niks uit. ”
ICIJ’s investigative series on offshore secrecy — which draws from a cache of 2.5 million secret records — has ignited reactions around the globe.
Since the initial release of stories by the ICIJ and its media partners across the world, public officials have issued statements, governments have launched investigations, and politicians and journalists have been debating the implications of the records and the reporting.
Among the latest reactions and responses:
Leaders of Britain’s overseas territories — long known as key cogs in the global tax haven system — have agreed to begin sharing tax information with other countries.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron said officials from Britain’s network of territories and dependencies have pledged to sign on to an international convention that provides for automatic exchange of information among tax authorities.
“I commend their leadership and I look to other international partners to work with their own territories to reach similar agreements,” Cameron said. He called the agreement a “very positive step forward” in the fight to ensure that “those who want to evade taxes have nowhere to hide.”
The British Virgin Islands, Bermuda and other UK overseas territories and dependencies also agreed to begin working to remove the veil of secrecy that often hides who owns offshore companies, Cameron said.
Philippine authorities said the launch of ICIJ’s Offshore Leaks Database will prompt them to review the tax records of Philippine residents whose names appear in the data. Kim Jacinto-Henares, commissioner of the country’s Bureau of Internal Revenue said she welcomes the public release of the database, saying it can aid the agency’s efforts to gather information that could lead to tax investigations and cases. “We will look into it and match (the information on Philippine residents in the database) with income tax returns,” Henares told the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, an ICIJ reporting partner.
EU Commissioner Algirdas Semeta says the Offshore Leaks investigation by ICIJ and its partners has transformed tax politics and amplified political will to tackle the problem of tax evasion.
- "I personally think Offshore Leaks could be identified as the most significant trigger behind these developments ... It has created visibility of the issue and it has triggered political recognition of the amplitude of the problem", he told EU Observer. He added that tax transparency overrides the principle of data privacy.
- South Korean financial regulators have opened an investigation into possible illicit fund transfers by hundreds of Koreans whose names are included in ICIJ’s “Offshore Leaks” database. “We will investigate every one of them,” a top regulator said. “When doing capital transactions, they’re required to report to the authorities prior to the trades, so now we are investigating whether they violated the law.” ICIJ’s investigative partner, the Korea Center for Investigative Journalism, revealed that it had identified at least 245 Koreans who established companies in the British Virgin Islands, Cook Islands and other offshore havens.
- Canadian Senator Vern White has called for a probe into a fellow legislator’s role in her husband’s use of an offshore hideaway in the South Pacific. The conservative Senator said he has asked the Senate's ethics officer to look into Liberal Senator Pana Merchant's role in the matter, saying there are "serious questions" to be dealt with. The Senate ethics office said in a statement that will give Merchant a chance to respond before deciding whether to launch a formal investigation. CBC News and ICIJ revealed last month that Merchant's husband, famed class-action lawyer Tony Merchant, had shifted some CA$1.7 million (US$1.1 million) into a Cook Islands trust while he was locked in battle with Canadian tax authorities.
The Chief Executive Officer of one of Europe’s biggest banks, Raiffeisen Bank International AG, has resigned a day after officials began a probe into his investments revealed through Offshore Leaks.
Documents show Herbert Stepic, who has worked with the Raiffeisen banking group for four decades and took its eastern European division public, used companies in Hong Kong and the British Virgin Islands (BVI) to conduct property deals he did not report to his employer.
Stepic did not answer any questions at a press conference called by the bank this morning. In a statement, he referred to the potential damage to the bank because of the "media debate" around the Offshore Leaks revelations and that he took the responsibility to resign to avoid this.
He repeated an earlier statement that he made his offshore investments with income that had been taxed in Austria, and said he was resigning "for personal reasons".
- European Council President Herman Van Rompuy says there has been a "real breakthrough" in the EU's efforts to combat offshore tax evasion.At the council's May 22 meeting, Reuters reports, Rompuy said the current aggressiveness of the EU's push is "unprecedented. We couldn't speak in those terms on those issues, let's say, a month or two months ago. . . . There is a strong political will by the leaders, not only the Europeans but also on a global level, to go forward in attacking tax fraud and tax evasion."
- The Luxembourg finance ministry announced they would automatically exchange information with United States tax authorities about the bank accounts held by U.S. citizens and residents. The tiny nation, one of the biggest financial centers in Europe, announced in April they would "follow a global movement" and end decades of banking secrecy in regards to EU citizens. The move came on the eve of European leaders meeting to discuss sharing more data on citizens who park wealth across borders, in an effort to limit tax evasion.
- The Council of the European Union issued a statement May 14 calling for efforts at the national, EU and international levels “to combat tax fraud and tax evasion” and “aggressive tax planning.” The statement noted that the council’s presidency plans to ask ICIJ to supply EU member states “with the names and details regarding all EU citizens on the ‘offshore leaks’ list.” ICIJ has said that it will not turn over the data to government agencies, but that it is exploring the possibility of publicly releasing some entity ownership data.
- After meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House, British Prime Minister David Cameron made a strong call to tackle what he called “the scourge of tax evasion,” one of the key topics in next month’s G8 meeting in Ireland. “We need to know who really owns a company, who profits from it, whether taxes are paid. And we need a new mechanism to track where multinationals make their money and where they pay their taxes so we can stop those that are manipulating the system unfairly,” Cameron said.
- British, U.S. and Australian tax authorities announced that they are pursuing tax evasion investigations based on a cache of offshore documents that link to the Cook Islands, Singapore and the Cayman Islands, among other jurisdictions. The secret records are believed to include those obtained by ICIJ and that are the basis of the Offshore Leaks investigation. British tax authorities said the files “reveal extensive use of complex offshore structures to conceal assets by wealthy individuals and companies.” The three agencies plan to share the information with their counterparts from other countries in what could be the beginnings of one of the largest tax investigations in history.
- Canada's revenue minister Gail Shea announced a $30 million commitment to fight tax evasion and target the practice of hiding money in offshore accounts, and the formation of an international tax expert "SWAT team". Asked if her department now has the list of 450 Canadian names contained within the documents obtained by ICIJ, Shea said: "We currently don’t have the list and I can assure you that we’re looking at all of our options. We’re working with our international partners to get that list."
- The UK Treasury announced that following the lead of the Cayman Islands, all British overseas territories – including Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Montserrat and the Turks and Caicos Islands – have agreed to share information about individuals holding bank accounts in their jurisdictions with the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.
- The South China Morning Post reported that the new information exchanges will have real implications for Hong Kong and China companies, which do significant business through the Cayman islands, the British Virgin Islands and other offshore locales.
- European finance ministers may reach an agreement to eradicate tax havens on May 13, after a meeting in Helsinki between finance ministers from Finland, Luxembourg, Greece, Slovakia, and Lithuania as well as the European Commissioner on Taxation to discuss measures against tax evasion.
- The European Commissioner on Taxation Algirdas Šemeta and Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan sent a letter to all EU Finance Ministers, setting out 7 key areas for immediate action in improving the fight against tax fraud, evasion and avoidance. Member States were asked to agree on these actions at the ECOFIN in May. The letter credits the offshore leaks investigation with "sharpening the focus" on tax fraud, and says it will ask ICIJ to supply names and details of European citizens from its data.
- Finance ministers and central bankers at the G20 meeting in Washington said in a communiqué that automatic exchange of tax-relevant bank information should be adopted as the global standard to overcome international tax evasion. Skeptical European leaders reportedly "became more enthusiastic" after the public outcry over ICIJ's offshore leaks revelations.
- Bayartsogt Sangajav, deputy speaker of the Mongolian Parliament, has beendismissed from his post following ICIJ's revelations about his undeclared offshore company and bank account. In a parliamentary session he was asked to explain his actions. Several MPs called for further disciplinary action, including expelling him from Parliament entirely.
- Santosh Kumar Agarwal (Kedia), a member of the board of directors for the Antwerp World Diamond Centre, has resigned from the organization after his offshore dealings were revealed. “In the interest of the integrity of the Antwerp World Diamond Centre as [an] organization and the industry as a whole, Kedia has taken the initiative to withdraw from the AWDC's board of directors, awaiting the outcome of a potential investigation,” said a statement released by the company.”
French president Francois Hollande has published the personal financial details of government ministers on the official government website, following the Jerome Cahuzac and Jean-Jacques Augier offshore assets scandals. The list of assets includes details of bank accounts, life insurance, property and other expensive items such as cars, art works and antiques. Various properties in Paris and the south of France have already been itemized by ministers, as well as designer lounge chair (Industrial Renewal Minister Arnaud Montebourg) and a David Beckham t-shirt (Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti).
- European Council president Herman Van Rompuy announced that tax evasion will be discussed at the next European Council in May, saying "we must seize the increased political momentum to address this crucial problem."
- BVI government officials have announced they are opening a new business headquarters in Hong Kong, with Orlando Smith, BVI Premier and Finance Minister, confirmed to officiate the opening. Executive director of BVI International Finance Centre, Elise Donovan, said the data obtained by the ICIJ was "a small fraction" of the total number of BVI firms. She later added, "We want to reassure clients in Hong Kong and the region that this is an isolated incident. We remain committed to clients' privacy and confidentiality."
- The Swiss and U.S. governments are investigating a possible solution to the dispute over wealthy Americans using Swiss banks to hide their money. These talks come at time when Switzerland’s banking sector is under increased pressure to surrender personal information about suspected tax evaders. Swiss Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said all countries should be treated equally in the drive for bank transparency. "We consider it very important that rules must apply to all and are engaging ourselves for a level playing field in multilateral forums," Widmer-Schlumpf said.
- German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged UK's PM David Cameron to crack down on tax havens during talks in Berlin, following a public outcry in Germany over the "offshore leaks." Sources "close to Cameron" claim he was actually the first to raise the issue, spelling out how his government was cracking down on tax avoidance in places such as Jersey and Guernsey.
- Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov.Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov is moving his offshore assets back to Russia after ICIJ's revelations that Shuvalov's wife Olga Shuvalova was either a shareholder or owner of several secretive offshore entities. The Shuvalovs had a declared income of $12.7 million in 2011, most of which was earned by Olga.
- Spanish political party Unión Progreso y Democracia submitted written questions to the Spanish Congress today in the wake of French president François Hollande's announcement that French banks had to declare their tax haven subsidiaries. The questions read: Is the government going to present in the European institutions any initiative to eradicate the tax havens within the Member States? and Is the government going to force banks to disclose the subsidiaries they have in tax havens and what are their activities?
- Francois Hollande: called for tax havens to be "eradicated."French president François Hollande called for "eradication" of the world's tax havens and toldFrench banks they must declare all of their subsidiaries. He also announced the creation of a special prosecutor to pursue cases of corruption and tax fraud. French government ministers have been ordered to declare their assets publicly within days.
- Luxembourg's Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker announced his country plans to lift bank secrecy rules for European Union citizens who have savings based in the country, ending decades of bank secrecy in Luxembourg. "We are following a global movement," Juncker told parliament in a state-of-the-nation address. The new transparency regime would begin in January 2015. Austria is now the only EU country not sharing data about bank depositors. In a recent interview, Austrian Vice Chancellor and Finance Minister Spindelegger Fekter said: “How much money someone has in the bank is a matter between the bank and the customer and is no one else’s business."
- Algirdas Semeta, European Union Tax Commissioner stated in a recent interview that it istime to move “quicker and harder” against tax evasion. He said the “growing willingness to act” increases the likelihood of a more coordinated EU stance against tax havens.
Europe’s five biggest economic powers — Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain —announced they would begin regularly exchanging banking and tax information as a way of identifying tax dodgers and other financial wrongdoers.
- Meanwhile, the British Virgin Islands (BVI) authorities are not fans of the ICIJ investigation. The BVI premier and Finance Minister Orlando Smith told the South China Morning Post that "BVI authorities are actively investigating how this private information has been illicitly obtained and used to attack the BVI financial services industry, which operates compliantly within international guidelines and the law."
- Athens’ district attorney Panayota Fakou has started a preliminary probe to find out if Greeks who own offshore companies unearthed by the ICIJ investigation have evaded taxes or laundered money. According to the Greek newspaper Ta Nea, prosecutors will send information requests to British Virgin Islands’ financial authorities asking them to turn over records of 107 entities connected to Greek citizens.
- An investigation by Finnish State Televisionand ICIJ exposing the offshore connections of state-owned postal company Itella has been received with surprise by the Finnish Finance Minister, Jutta Urpilainen. The minister said that “state owned companies should be an example for other companies. That is why it is especially unacceptable that Itella owns a company in a tax haven.” Urpilainen said the Finnish government should adopt clear rules on the use of offshore jurisdictions by state-owned corporations and called tax havens “one of the biggest threats to the Finnish welfare state.”
- Canada's national revenue minister Gail Shea says the government may pursue the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in court to force it to share the offshore leaks records.
- Quebec Premier Pauline Marois has declared that neither she, nor any other elected officials in her government have dealings in the offshore world. Marois also supported the handover of internal documents to Canadian authorities, stating the Quebec government would not hesitate to use "all legal means" to ensure this.
- French budget minister Bernard Cazeneuve joins the clamor from governments around the globe in urging ICIJ and its media partners to release the offshore tax haven files to them, to "aid justice and help them do their job." Le Monde's response: "It is up to the justice system to establish responsibilities at a time when the law might have been broken ... It is up to the press to enlighten the reader..."
- Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann says he is ready to make concessions on banking secrecy, to bring the nation in step with Switzerland and Luxembourg. "Austria should participate in talks on banking secrecy,” Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann declared to Die Presse.
- The European Commissioner for Taxation, Algirdas Šemeta, called for an automatic exchange of information between countries and a "tough common stance." "Recent developments,fuelled by the outcome of the Offshore Leaks, confirms the urgency for more and better action against tax evasion .... Now it is time to put words into action." He said he was "very pleased" to see many of the Member States reviewing where they stand on the issues and "intensifying their political will to act."
- The Swiss government has distinguised itself from other world governments by publicly stating it does not want access to the offshore leaks records. Finance minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said Switzerland has worked hard in recent years to curb fraud and tax evasion and that much of the activity pointed to in the leaked documents can be perfectly legal. She says the Swiss government does not want access to the data as "it was acquired illegally and Bern wants no part of that".
- The Philippine Presidential Commission on Good Government probe into the disclosure that Maria Imelda Marcos Manotoc, the eldest daughter of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, was a beneficiary of a secret offshore trust in the British Virgin Islands, will release its report within two weeks. “We are duty bound to investigate and, depending upon informed preliminary findings, decide whether to pursue the matter,” said Andres Bautista, the chairman of the Presidential Commission on Good Government, tasked with recovering the Marcos family’s alleged ill-gotten wealth.
- The president of the Association of German Banks denied that his group’s members had helped customers engage in tax evasion. “First in line are the individuals and the organizations that invest their money in tax oases,” Andreas Schmitz said."
- The Berne internal revenue service authorities announced they will re-open the Gunter Sachs case after ICIJ's revelations about the former Mr. Brigitte Bardot's intricate offshore scheme.
- In Canada, a Liberal senator urged his caucus colleague, Senator Pana Merchant, to answer questions in the wake of CBC News and ICIJ reports that she has been listed as beneficiary of an offshore trust created by her husband, a well-known class-action attorney. "We're all innocent until proven guilty in this country, but I want to hear her explanation," Senator Percy Downe told CBC News in an interview.
- In the Philippines, two lawmakers dismissed a report by an ICIJ media partner, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), that they had offshore holdings. Senator Manuel Villar said his offshore entity was a “1-dollar shell company” that he wasn’t required to report, because he hadn’t made any real investment in it. Villar said that he hadn’t conducted business with the British Virgin Islands company “because I decided to concentrate in the Philippines.” Congressman Joseph Victor ‘JV’ G. Ejercito suggested the story about him was politically motivated. “To the best of my knowledge, I have truthfully and accurately declared all my assets, liabilities, and net worth” on required disclosures forms for public officials, he said in a statement.
- Germany's Economics Minister Philipp Rösler urged the media to pass the data on to the government, stressing that tax evasion was a "criminal act."
- Luxembourg's Finance Minister Luc Frieden says he is open to greater transparency of its banks in order to cooperate further with foreign tax authorities.
- The Indian Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said an inquiry had been initiated by the authorities against individuals whose names figured in the global media report. “Yes. We have taken note of the names and inquiries have been put in motion in respect of the names that have been exposed,” he told a press conference.
- The Mongolian Deputy Speaker, Bayartsogt Sangajav, admitted to an "ethics failure" over his undeclared million-dollar Swiss bank account. He told a press conference: “It is true that there is 1,658 Euros or 2.9 million MNT in a Swiss bank account. I opened the account to trade in international stocks with three other acquaintances in 2008. My failure of responsibility is that I did not include the company in my declaration of income. I have admitted my ethic failure and I am ready to take responsibility."
- Philippine government officials said they will investigate evidence that Maria Imelda Marcos Manotoc, a provincial governor and daughter of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, was the beneficiary of a secret BVI offshore trust.
- George Mavraganis, the Deputy Finance Minister of Greece announced that the Greek government is moving to address offshore-driven tax dodging. Greek members of parliament asked Mavraganis what he planned to do about the 103 offshore companies that ICIJ found hadn’t been registered with Greece’s tax authorities.
- George Sourlas from Greece’s Ministry of Justice said the revenue loss caused by offshore was huge. “By the actions of offshore companies in Greece, the revenue loss to the Greek government is in the order of 40% or more of the debt of our country,” Sourlas said. “The offshore companies cast a shadow at this time of great crisis, when some get rich and many get poor.”
- In France, President Francois Hollande denied knowledge of the offshore accounts held by his 2012 campaign manager, Jean-Jacques Augier, asserting that it’s up to the tax administration to monitor Augier’s private activities. Reports about Augier’s offshore dealings by Le Monde, the BBC and other ICIJ partners came in the wake of news about tax fraud charges against Hollande’s ex-budget Minister, Jerome Cahuzac.
- The office of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev asserted there was nothing unusual about the information in the leak – which showed that his two daughters were shareholders of three offshore companies. The statement said the President’s daughters “are grown up and have the right to do business.” A spokesperson for Azersun – a holding company controlled by Hasan Gozal, a corporate mogul who was listed as the director of the daughters’ companies – said the report was biased and based on inaccurate information. “I regret that authority of Press Council doesn't go beyond Azerbaijan and there is no such institution worldwide to fight racketeer journalists,” the spokesman said.
- Ex-Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Vélez publicly defended his sons’ involvement in offshore business. Uribe stated that his sons Tomás and Jerónimo are entrepreneurs and “have participated in business dealings since they were children” and “they are not tax evaders.”
- In the UK, David Cameron is facing renewed pressure to take action over Britain’s entanglements within the offshore world. Lord Oakeshott, a senior Liberal Democrat said that the secrecy haven of the British Virgin Islands “stains the face of Britain.” Oakeshott and others are questioning whether Cameron will raise the issue in June of at the G8 summit of wealth nations. "How can David Cameron keep a straight face calling for the G8 to make big business pay tax when we let the BVI use British law and British protection to suck in billions in dirty money?" Oakeshott asked.
- German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble stated on public radio that he was “pleased”with the ICIJ reports. He went on to say, “I think that such things as have been made known will increase the pressure internationally, and we will be able to increase the cooperation with those who have been more reticent”, a sentiment reflected in Germany’s previous lobbying to stamp out tax avoidance.
- Canadian Federal Revenue Minister Gail Shea called the released of offshore banking information as “good news” for Canadians and bad news for tax evaders. Ms. Shea urged ICIJ or anyone else with information on tax cheats to come forward.
- Pascal Saint-Amans, director of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, said: "Secrecy is no longer acceptable. We need to get rid of it. If the rules make it possible, then we'll change the rules.”
Jay Rosen wrote a insightful post forking the practice of journalism into “politics: none” (that is, traditional American journalism: objective, it thinks) and “politics: some” (that is, the kind just practiced by Glenn Greenwald and the Guardian). Jay catalogs the presumptions and advantages of each. As both he and The New York Times’ Margaret Sullivan observe, Edward Snowden took his leaks to Greenwald and the Guardian because they exemplify “politics: some.”
I want to take this farther and argue first that what Greenwald and the Guardian were practicing was less politics than advocacy, and second that all journalism is advocacy (or is it journalism?).
To the first point: Greenwald and the Guardian were not bolstering their own politics in the NSA story. To the contrary, Greenwald and the Guardian both identify politically as liberal — the Guardian’s mission is to be nothing less than “the world’s leading liberal voice” — yet they attacked programs run and justified by a liberal American administration and no doubt caused that administration discomfort or worse. In so doing, Greenwald and the Guardian exhibited the highest value of journalism: intellectual honesty. That does not mean they were unbiased. It means they were willing to do damage to their political side in the name of truth. Greenwald and the Guardian were practicing advocacy not for politics — not for their team — but for principles: protection of privacy, government transparency and accountability, the balance of powers, and the public’s right to know.
Now to my second point: Seen this way, isn’t all journalism properly advocacy? And isn’t advocacy on behalf of principles and the public the true test of journalism? The choices we make about what to cover and how we cover it and what the public needs to know are acts of advocacy on the public’s behalf. Don’t we believe that we act in their interest? As James Carey said: “The god term of journalism — the be-all and end-all, the term without which the enterprise fails to make sense, is the public.”
When the Washington Post — whose former editor famously refused to vote to uphold his vision of Jay’s “politics: none” ethic — chooses to report on government secrecy or on abuse of veterans at a government hospital or, of course, on presidential malfeasance and coverups, it is, of course, advocating. When an editor assigns reporters to expose a consumer scam or Wall Street fraud or misappropriation of government funds, that’s advocacy. When a newspaper takes on the cause of the poor, the disadvantaged, the abused, the forgotten, or just the little guy against The Man, that’s advocacy. When health reporters tell you how to avoid cancer or even lose weight, that’s advocacy on your behalf. I might even argue that a critic reviewing a movie to save you from wasting your money on a turkey could be advocacy (though we don’t necessarily need critics for that anymore).
But what about a TV station sending a crew or a helicopter to give us video of the fire du jour, a tragic accident with no lesson to be learned? Is that advocacy? No. When a TV network — not to pick on TV — devotes hours and hours to the salacious details of, say, the Jodi Arias crime, which affects none of our lives, is that advocacy? No. When an online site collects pictures of cute cats, is that advocacy? Hardly. When a newspaper devotes resources to covering football games, is that advocacy? No. Is any of that journalism? Under the test I put forth here, no.
So what is it then, the stuff we call journalism that doesn’t advocate for people or principles, that doesn’t serve the public need? At worst, it’s exploitation — audience- or sales- or click- or ratings-bait — at best it’s entertainment. The first is pejorative, the second need not be, as entertainment — whether a journalistic narrative or a book or a show or movie — can still inform and enlighten. But if it doesn’t carry information that people can use to better organize their lives or their society, I’d say it fails the journalism test.
Journalism-as-advocacy has been bundled with journalism-as-entertainment for economic reasons: Entertainment can draw people to a media entity and help subsidize the cost of its journalism. But it was a mistake to then put an umbrella over it all: If a newspaper creates journalism then everything its journalists create in that newspaper is journalism, right? No. The corollary: People who are not journalists can do journalism. It’s a function of the value delivered, not the job title. (I’ll write another post later looking a pricing paradox embedded in this split.)
Why does what seems like definitional hair-splitting matter? Because when a whistleblower knocks on your door, you must decide not whose side you’re on but whom and what principles you serve. This is a way to recast the specific argument journalists are having now about whether Snowden is a hero or a traitor. Wrong question. As a journalistic organization, the Guardian had to ask whether the public had a right to the information Snowden carried, no matter which side it benefitted (so long as the public’s interests — in terms of security — were not harmed).
The next issue for the Guardian was whether and how it adds journalistic value. That is, of course, another journalistic test. Edward Snowden, like Wikileaks, delivered a bunch of raw and secret documents. In both cases, news organization added value by (1) using judgment to redact what could be harmful, (2) bringing audience to the revelation, and most important, (3) adding reporting to this raw information to verify and explain.
Based on his Q&A with the Guardian audience, I’d say that Snowden is proving to be big on rhetoric and perhaps guts but less so on specifics. I still am not clear how much direct operational knowledge he has or whether he — like Bradley Manning — simply had access to documents. So more reporting was and still is necessary. This Associated Press story is a good example of taking time to add reporting, context, and explanation to Snowden’s still-unclear and still-debated documents.
Both these organizations made their decisions about what to reveal and what to report based on their belief that we have a right and need to know. That’s journalism. That’s advocacy.
Reporters Without Borders today submitted recommendations on Chile to the UN Human Rights Council (see document below), which is due to discuss the country during the 18th Universal Periodic Review in January and February 2014, shortly after the November presidential election. This process consists of a review of human rights achievements by UN member countries and, if necessary, a reminder of their responsibilities in this area.
Reporters Without Borders calls on Chile to enact new laws to create a balance between the various types of broadcasting organizations. More egalitarian legislation would usher in genuine pluralism in news and information, particularly as far as community media outlets are concerned. About 95 percent of newspaper titles are currently in the hands of two privately-owned communications groups, El Mercurio and Copesa, and almost 60 percent of radio stations are owned by the Spanish media group Prisa.
The press freedom organization calls on the Chilean government to decriminalize press offences, in particular defamation, as was done in Argentina in 2009. The scope of the 1984 Anti-Terrorism Law must be strictly limited in view of its abusive use against Chilean and foreign journalists recently in the central region of Araucania.
Reporters Without Borders urges law enforcement authorities to respect the work and physical integrity of journalists, who are frequent targets of police brutality while they are covering protest demonstrations, and asks the interior ministry to penalize those responsible for any abuses.
Some subjects, such as human rights violations during the dictatorship or the struggle of the Mapuche Indians, remain highly sensitive and the organization urges the government to ensure the safety of journalists who investigate these, such as Mauricio Weibel Barahona, who was harassed and robbed after he published secret files from the dictatorship era in a book.
Recommendations submitted by Reporters Without Borders to the UN Human Rights Council:
A new super PAC called "Empower Central Valley" has registered with the Federal Election Commission, listing its address in California's 10th Congressional District, which is represented by sophomore Rep. Jeff Denham, a Republican.
Last year, the district was one of the top targets for partisans on both sides of the aisle. On top of the $4.4 million spent by the candidates themselves, outside groups spent more than $8 million on the race, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Just two other House contests in California saw more non-candidate spending during the 2012 election cycle.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee alone pumped nearly $2.7 million into the district in 2012 on advertisements critical of Denham or supportive of Democratic candidate Jose Hernandez. Meanwhile, the GOP-aligned American Action Network spent about $2.5 million on such messages, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Empower Central Valley's objectives are not yet clear. The group lists its treasurer as Nancy Watkins, a Florida-based Republican accountant who did not immediately respond to requests for comment from the Center for Public Integrity. Its mailing address is listed as a box at a UPS store in Tracy, Calif., in San Joaquin County, and it does not have a website.
Watkins has served as the treasurer for dozens of GOP candidates and groups across the country, including Rep. Michele Bachmann's failed presidential bid in 2012. Earlier this month, she signed on as treasurer for a super PAC that's backing Republican Gabriel Gomez in Massachusetts' special U.S. Senate election.
While Republicans have a slight edge in California's 10th Congressional District, President Barack Obama beat out Republican Mitt Romney there by 3.5 percentage points in 2012, according to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, which currently ranks the district among the top six dozen competitive House districts in the country.
Reporters Without Borders is shocked by last night's murder of Thomas Pere, a reporter for the state-owned New Vision media group in the Ugandan capital of Kampala. His body was found early this morning in an open field a few miles outside the city.
“It is clear from the injuries to Pere's body and the way it was found that his death was not accidental, and that in fact he was murdered,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The motive, and whether it was linked to his work, is not yet clear but so far everything suggests that it was not a robbery.
“We welcome the fact that the police lost no time in starting an investigation. We urge them to shed all possible light on the circumstances of Pere's death in order to identify and arrest the perpetrators and instigators.”
Pere was last seen in the New Vision newsroom at around 8 p.m. yesterday evening before he left to go home. The police found his body at 6 a.m. today in an open field in Massajja, beside the highway from Kampala to Entebbe, the town where he lived.
The police said they did not think he was killed at the place where the body was found. None of his personal effects had been taken. His mobile phone, wallet and two credit cards were all found in his pockets, suggesting that robbery must be ruled out as a motive.
Kampala police spokesman Ibin Ssenkumbi said he appeared to have been killed by a blow to the head with blunt object.
Pere covered society stories for the entertainment and supplements sections and was an active member of the Uganda Tourism Press Association.
He was the fifth journalist to be killed in Uganda in the past three years. A documentary filmmaker was killed in May 2012, a Rwandan journalist was murdered in Kampala on 30 November 2011, and two journalists were killed in the space of three days in September 2010.
Picture : Thomas Pere