Blog post by Remzi Lani – East-west debate on investigative journalism

By Remzi Lani

Last week I went to Berlin to attend the East-West Forum on Quality Journalism, a meeting that Robert Bosch Stiftung has organized for three years. This year’s topic was “Investigative Journalism.” This topic is both old and new, something you think you have already said everything about, while, in fact, no matter how much you talk about it, you always leave something out.

It was very interesting to hear the speech of Prof. Dr. Herta Daubler-Gmelin, member of High Level Group on Media Freedom and Pluralism, convened by European Commission. Media is global, legislation is national, and this is why we are trying to establish standards.

My colleagues Balazs Weyer from Budapest and Stefan Candea from Bucharest shared valuable experience and serious arguments on media situation, especially investigative journalism, in our region. Perhaps rightly so Candea said that there have been more project proposals written for donors rather than investigative reports for the public.

I had the opportunity to present some ideas on this topic, which I am summarizing briefly in this blog entry:

Although there are several undeniable achievements, investigative journalism in the Balkans remains in unsatisfactory levels. The causes are complex, and for all the changes that exist if one compares various countries, common elements do exist:

TRADITION. First, the Balkans lacks a tradition of investigative journalism. The propaganda journalism of the Communist period was to some extent replaced with the partisan journalism of the post-communist era.

ENVIRONMENT. Second, the difficulties of the Balkan transition, the heavy presence of organized crime, do not constitute a favorable environment for the development of investigative journalism, although precisely because of these reasons, investigative journalism is more necessary than ever. Journalists that wish to investigate in the Balkans must bear in mind that they tread on unpredictable ground, full of dangers. These dangers can originate from governmental sectors, criminal groups, the mafia, etc. 

INFORMATION. Third, a strong mentality according to which information is a monopoly of the state rather than a public property is still thriving in the region. Although Balkan countries have adopted some of the most advanced laws of access to information, state structures, and not only state structures, are still too hermetic and closed. The Balkan environment can hardly be considered a transparent one. Obtaining information is considered a privilege rather than an obligation stipulated by law. The culture of openness is lacking.

BANALIZATION. Fourth, there exists in the region a phenomenon that one may call the banalization of the struggle against crime and corruption. In other words a situation exists in which as a result of everybody accusing everybody else of involvement in crime and corruption, even the true stories discovered by journalists are met with disbelief and skepticism. Everything becomes relative. 

JUSTICE. Fifth, it is clear that an investigative reporter in a way myst be prepared to go to court. The absence of an independent judiciary makes the job of an investigative reporter even more difficult.

REACTION: Sixth, the fact that often nobody reacts after charges are published in the press sets a discouraging atmosphere for the journalists. In other words, we have the right to speak, but not the right to be listened.

MONEY: Seventh, investigative journalism, due to its very nature, demands time and money. Not all the media outlets possess the necessary resources required in order to invest people, time, and money in investigative articles. Actually, who has money has no interest, and who has interest, has no money.

UNHOLLY ALLIANCE: Eighth, the close links between media, business, and politics, the so-called Berlusconi syndrome, which has affected considerably the Balkan media landscape, does not favor independent investigative journalism. This syndrome requires that journalists cater to the interests of the media owners, not to those of the public. On the other hand, it seems that a certain degree of corruption has affected the media, as well. It is clear that one cannot expect proper investigative journalism from a corrupt media. In this case, you have to investigate yourself.

TRAINING: Ninth, investigative journalism requires training, which is also expensive. 

I did not have a tenth proposition, but I’m sure that it exists.

Remzi Lani is the director of the Albanian Media Institute.