News - More support for investigative journalism needed from policymakers
BRUSSELS - A study on investigative journalism in and on Europe was presented at the European Parliament on 9 October 2012. It was requested by the Parliament’s Committee on Budgetary Control and executed by Margo Smit for the Belgian Pascal Decroos Fund.
In the fall of 2011, the European Parliament Committee on Budgetary Control, instigated by Bart Staes, called for a study on deterrence of fraud with EU funds through investigative journalism in the EU member states. Of the three candidates who were in the running, it was the Belgian Pascal Decroos Fund for investigative journalism that won the bid. The study is unique in that it, for the first time, presents an overview of the state of investigative journalism in the 27 member states and talks about ways to further it.
The study focuses on the question if investigative journalism can be instrumental in the detection of and fight against corruption and fraud with EU funds, and if so, how. The recommendations it eventually makes are multifaceted but clear-cut: both European and national policymakers should do more to support and facilitate investigative journalism if they want to enlarge its role in tracing irregularities and fraud. Some of the recommendations the study makes:
- the development of a central European hub or centre for generating, aiding and executing investigative projects
- reducing bureaucracy, especially in access to data and in granting money to journalistic projects and organisations
- the level of journalistic professionalism needs to be raised through targeted training, presentation of best practices and research into sustainable business models
- furthering a swift implementation of workable FOI laws across the EU
An overview of investigative journalism in the EU
Before making any recommendations, the study gives an overview of the investigative journalism landscape in the EU-27. To get as clear and correct a picture as possible, close to one hundred journalists and dozens of officials at the institutions were interviewed. Six countries are zoomed in on in more detail. The Parliament had requested two old member states to be highlighted, as well as two younger member states, one member state in the North and one in the South of Europe. Smit decided on Italy, the United Kingdom, Hungary, Romania, Denmark and Spain.
The analysis of the state of investigative journalism in those countries revealed that a country does not necessarily need a long tradition in hard-boiled investigative journalism to guarantee an investigative journalism culture today (e.g. Romania and Bulgaria). Three things determine whether good investigative journalism occurs in a country: determination (individual journalists who are willing and able to commit to thorough, in-depth research), prioritisation (media that are willing to invest, financially as well as organisationally, in important investigative themes) and cooperation (journalists who are willing to cooperate across geographical and media borders – which is not really in their nature).
Investigating European expenditures
The study acknowledges that there are great differences between the EU member states when it comes to investigations into European expenditures and revenues. In some countries there are ample stories about EU misappropriation of funds, while in others such stories are virtually non-existent. The study analyses a set of arguments why different media outlets in different countries might (not) be doing these time-consuming and expensive investigations:
- organisational (a climate that does not support investigative journalism, or a lack of priority for EU fraud stories)
- financial (lack of money)
- practical (difficult access to data or documents)
- political (either a partisan or a very EU-sceptic press)
- lack of investigative journalism skills
- freedom of speech and the press
Margo Smit, director of the Flemish-Dutch organisation of investigative journalists VVOJ, was asked by the Pascal Decroos Fund to be the coordinator and principal author of the study. Co-authors were Journalismfund.eu’s Brigitte Alfter, Spanish investigative journalists Mar Cabra and Marcos García Rey, British EU journalist Annamarie Cumiskey and German Albrecht Ude. The Pascal Decroos Fund’s director Ides Debruyne acted as project manager, while communication manager Rafael Njotea provided editorial assistance.
Contact Margo Smit for more information (email@example.com).