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Freedom of the Press: Investigative Journalism throughout History

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Investigative journalism requires sheer grit, passion and a tenacity to fight against many great odds, including government repression. The article traces some of the best pieces of investigative reporting in the history of journalism.
A recent sting by a news website called Cobrapost revealed the cracks in the “free media” of India. In the lieu of big money donations, 25 media houses agreed to peddle the ideology of Hindutva through the various mediums of print, electronic, FM, radio etc. These media houses included The Times of India Group, India Today, Zee News, Big FM, Red FM, Dainik Bhaskar, Network 18 and many more. The sting, conducted by journalist Pushp Sharma of Cobrapost, is an example of brave undercover journalism that brought forward the ugly truth in the form of evidence such as video recordings. There have been many such meticulous efforts throughout history that were geared towards exposing the ugly side of those in power, sometimes to definitive consequences. Here are a few examples:
1. Watergate by The Washington Post: In what is probably the most famous piece of investigative journalism in recent history, two reporters named Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of The Washington Post led an expose on the role of the administration of President Richard Nixon in illegally recording conversations in the White House, helping in cover-up of burglaries that lead to massive abuses of power. Exploiting a source nicknamed “Deep Throat” in the FBI, Woodward and Bernstein published a series of reports in 1972 that eventually led to the resignation of President Nixon and the conviction of 48 of Nixon’s top officials.

Image 1

Image Credits – Daytona Beach News Journal
2. Bofors scam expose by The Hindu: In a brilliant piece of reporting, The Hindu’s N.Ram and Chitra Subramaniam acquired around 350 documents from a source in the Swedish police which implicated the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and several of his party members in receiving illegal kickbacks from a Swedish weapons manufacturer called Bofors in lieu of purchasing of their weapons. Under immense pressure from the government, The Hindu was eventually barred from continuing to publish the reports which were later taken up by The Statesmen and The Indian Express.

Image 2Image Credits – Frontline
3. The Snowden revelations by The Guardian: In a shocking news report on 5th June, 2013, the UK-based The Guardian published its first exclusive based on the leaks of the whistleblower Edward Snowden, who revealed a trove of thousands of US intelligence documents. The reports were primarily written by Glenn Greenwald and Ewan MacAskill of The Guardian who were the first to meet Snowden in a hotel in Hongkong. The report revealed how the US government had conspired to illegally engage in surveillance of millions of Americans through telecom giants like Verizon. In a series of reports in the month of June, The Guardian showed how the US government had indulged in global surveillance mechanisms through companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, Yahoo and other giants. The reports led to a global outrage against the American hegemony, a renewed conversation regarding digital privacy of individuals and governments as well as catapulting Snowden to the status of a cult hero for whistle-blowers.

Image 3Image Credits – Afflictor
4. Novaya Gazeta and the hunt for truth: Sometimes, journalists have to pay for their lives while pursuing stories. The Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta’s efforts since 1993 have been seen as a crusade for the freedom of the press through critical reporting of Russian political and social affairs. Probably the only newspaper in Russia which dares to publish anti-establishment reports, many of the newspaper’s journalists have been assassinated for their heroic efforts. Some of them are Anna Politkovskaya, the journalist who was shot down in October 2006 due to their role in reporting on the Chechen war; the newspaper’s deputy editor Yuri Shchekochikhin who was mysteriously poisoned; reporter Igor Dominikov who was bludgeoned to death. Yet, the newspaper continues to remain the last standing beacon of truth-telling and investigative reporting in Putin’s repressive Russia.

Image 4Image Credits – Piece Research Institute Oslo
5. Undercover in North Korea by Suki Kim: In what took immense courage and sheer pluck, Suki Kim, Korean-born American writer went undercover for 6 months among the ruling elite of North Korea, a world bounded by extreme secrecy, government monitoring and a brainwashing centered around an all-powerful leader. Posing as a missionary working as a teacher in Pyongyang’s University for the boys of North Korea’s ruling elite, Suki Kim spent the 6 months observing, noting, recording her experiences in detail all the while fear of being sent to the gulag (labour camps) haunted her. Out of her experiences, a brilliant narrative emerged in the book called “Without you there is no us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea’s Elite” – possibly the only investigative journalism done by a female reporter in North Korea.
Ultimately, journalism remains an immensely collaborative effort. It takes time, perseverance and a penchant to go on despite failures, for investigative reporters to be successful in their trade. They remain one of the most vital bastions of democracy, the ones rightly holding those in power accountable for their actions.


Image Credits – Suki Kim

Feature Image Credits – Daytone Beach News Journal
Sara Sohail
[email protected]

Journalism has been called the “first rough draft of history”. D.U.B may be termed as the first rough draft of DU history. Freedom to Express.

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