Investigative Journalism


Investigative journalists offer selfless service in terms of promoting dissenting opinions and discourse in society. Sadly, people in power often resort to threatening their dignity, profession and lives. And it’s only getting worse.

Last week, a Saudi Arabian journalist named Jamal Khushoggi was allegedly murdered in the Saudi Consulate of Instanbul in Turkey. Turkish officials claimed to have audio and video evidence of the same which Saudi Arabia blatantly denied. This ploy on behalf of the government of Saudi Arabia has faced international backlash, with the White house condemning the attack and considering sanctions.

With a twitter following of more than 2 million, Khushoggi was an outspoken critic of Saudi governance and policies and a member of the nouveau elite among journalists and writers worldwide. From a self imposed exile in the United States of America, he contributed to editorials in BBC, Al Jazeera and the Washington Post.  He is infamous among the conservative Arab elite for campaigning that Islamist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood should be included in choices available to the region’s citizens. Saudi officials classify the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group. Saudi Arabia is notorious for ‘eliminating’ all those it sees as a threat to its sovereignty. A well reputed journalist with a vast and infiltrating network of informants and sources, and an advocate for democratic governance in the Middle East, Khushoggi was without a doubt, a prime target.

On 13 June 2018, a leading newspaper journalist and editor in Indian-administered Kashmir, Shujaat Bukhari, was murdered by gunmen in Srinagar, India. Bukhari, a frequent contributor to the BBC News website, was attacked in his car near the office of the Rising Kashmir newspaper, which he founded and edited. He previously worked for The Hindu, and was well known for groundbreaking reports, unprecedented exposés, and strong views about the ideals of journalism.

In September 2017, Gauri Lankesh, a prominent Indian journalist critical of Hindu nationalist politics was shot dead in Karnataka.. The death of such a high profile journalist triggered protests in several Indian cities including Delhi. The news made top headlines in Indian media, with editors and journalists condemning her murder and paying tribute to her work.

In the same year, Zehra Dogan, a Kurdish artist and journalist, who was the founder and the editor of Jinha, a feminist Kurdish news agency was jailed by the Turkish government for a painting of the destruction of the city of Nusaybin in 2017. This also faced international backlash,  although in vain.

These cases highlight the egregious nature of the increasing crimes against those working in the media. According to the BBC, more than 2,500 journalists have been killed since 1990, and media rights groups warn of a growing trend of journalists being targeted for the work they do. This occupational hazard ranges from physical harm and violence to rape threats and even conviction or imprisonment in certain autocratic states.

This has had a detrimental effect on reporting standards, since high profile kidnappings and beheadings of foreign journalists in 2012 onwards sparked a shift in news organisations’ policy, with fewer correspondents being sent into danger zones.

Most of those killed were murdered for their investigations into political corruption and organised crime, according to several media rights groups. Imprisonment has always been a form of intimidation. These practices are aimed towards silencing those in jail and intimidating those outside reporting it. Journalists have been targeted by security forces and militants alike. Publications have been denied federal government adverts—a key source of revenue for smaller newspapers.

In India, with nationalists trying to purge all manifestations of ‘anti-national’ thought from the national debate, self-censorship is growing in the mainstream media, primarily due to cases of violence against these ‘anti-national’ writers. Adding to that, radical ‘nationalist journalists’ have also targeted other writers, with online smear campaigns and threats of physical reprisals.

When Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri separatist convicted over the 2001 Indian parliament attack was hanged in 2013, copies of newspapers were seized from the press and the stands.  Newspapers were forced to cease publication for approximately four days.

Since the outbreak of armed rebellion in Kashmir in early 1990, media in the region has had to work on a razor’s edge in what is effectively the world’s most heavily militarised zone. Authorities had forced several media platforms to suspend publication during the protests against Indian rule in 2008 and 2010 as well.

These instances compel us to think about the endangerment of freedom of speech and expression of media. Not only are these against the very foundation of democratic ideals, but also imperative to avoid negative flow of information, false propaganda, heavy state censorship, and asymmetric information. Media should not be seen as an enemy in a democratic set up. Stifling the media does not help to strengthen the democracy. The occupational hazard that comes complimentary with the status of ‘the people’s voice’ is far too detrimental and comes full circle when governments, state functioning, and economies implode, as history has proven time and again.


Feature Image Credits: CNN

Nikita Bhatia

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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.

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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
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