From visualizing how war has changed Syria’s landscape to busting a fake science academic racket in Korea, investigative journalists from around the world are exposing crucial stories. A group of journalists at the Uncovering Asia conference in Seoul spoke about important projects being done in their newsrooms with Bruce Shapiro, executive director of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma.
How War Has Changed Syria’s Landscape
For seven years, Storyful documented the effect of the Syrian conflict on the people living there. Rachel Blundy, a Hong Kong-based Storyful journalist, spoke about the project.
By comparing satellite imagery from before and after conflicts, the social media intelligence agency which offers verified video and compiles comprehensive reports using investigative techniques, was able to visualize the scale of destruction caused by both government and opposition forces. They also used local activist footage to identify the zones where civilians face deteriorating conditions. This project showed the conflict’s impact on both the geographical region and the Syrian citizens.
Tracking Cow-Related Violence
Factchecker.in, India’s first dedicated fact checking initiative, created a database to track cow-related violence in the country. Journalist Alison Saldanha spoke about the origins of the project, how the database was created and its ripple effects in society.
Because the cow is considered holy by many Hindus, most Indian states have cow protection laws, making it illegal to slaughter or harm cows. In 2014, Saldanha said they started to notice a significant escalation in cow-related violence. People were being killed by lynch mobs for allegedly trying to harm cows. Factchecker.in decided to start tracking these incidents by creating a database.
First, Factchecker.in collected, analyzed and verified print and online news reports. These incidents were then cross referenced to eliminate duplicates and geocoded into the database. The journalists working on this project also encouraged people to come forward with incidents so they could try to verify and add to the database.
The database findings have been referenced in Indian as well as international media. It’s even been cited in the country’s supreme court proceedings. Other organizations have since come forward to ask about the growth of other hate-related crime, which led to the creation of a hate-crime database that was launched during the Uncovering Asia conference, Saldanha said.
Hideaki Kimura, managing editor of Japan’s Waseda Chronicle, and Makoto Watanabe, a journalist for the investigative non-profit, spoke about their investigation into the country’s forced sterilization program.
“What would you do if someone important to you was sterilized without them ever knowing about it?” Watanabe asked the audience.
The series examines the government’s role in violating human rights. Three years after World War II ended, Japan enacted the 1948 Eugenic Protection Law, which allowed the government to forcibly sterilize mentally disabled people. The law was banned in 1996; however, by that point more than 16,500 underwent forced surgery.
Waseda Chronicle journalists filed FOIA requests and found that local municipalities increased surgeries to meet a national quota. The Japanese government has yet to apologize or compensate the victims, many of whom are still alive today.
Money Trail Project
Nick Mathiason, director for Finance Uncovered, spoke about a collaborative project between four journalism and training organizations called Money Trail, which is examining tax abuse, money laundering and grand corruption through training, funding and enabling cross-continent collaborations.
“In summary,” Mathiason said to a room full of investigative journalists, “get the cross-border story, find a collaborator in another continent, apply for a grant, consider training and check out the Money Trail site.”
The Secrets of a Fake Science Factory
The Korea Center for Investigative Journalism, also known as KCIJ Newstapa, worked with 23 other newsrooms around the world to expose fake scientific conferences and predatory journals that misuse public research and development funds.
Newstapa found thousands of Korean professors and researchers who attended bogus international conferences, and journalists carried out sting operations to investigate academics. Jiyoon Kim, a Newstapa journalist, spoke about her experience trying to confront some of the suspicious professors.
“One guy didn’t even show up to the international conference he was registered for,” Kim said. “We went back to Korea and visited him at his school four times, but we could never meet him.”
Newstapa developed a documentary and shorter television pieces that aired on MBC, a public broadcasting station in Korea. After airing, more than 200 universities launched their own investigations. Government and state-run institutions immediately started preparing guidelines for distributing funds.
The investigation is still ongoing, Kim said.
Liquor Business: Given by Ghosts
Sohel Parvez, a senior reporter for Bangladesh’s The Daily Star, talked about his investigation into the country’s illicit liquor business. In Bangladesh, it is illegal to import, sell and consume liquor. Parvez and his two colleagues started questioning why alcohol was still largely available at bars and clubs. They wanted to figure out where it came from.
Through the investigation, Parvez helped unmask parts of the illegal trade. His team relied on public data, documents and inside sources. The investigation, which is ongoing, proved that the liquor business is controlled by a small group of powerful businesses.
“If you walk along the road to reach a destination,” Parvez said in closing, “you will find friends accidentally on your way.”
194 Politicians Fake PAN Details to Election Committee
Cobrapost’s editor Anirruddha Bahal spoke about their investigation, which exposed nearly 200 Indian politicians for falsifying their Permanent Account Number (PAN) details while reporting their income. This code acts as an identification for individuals, and every politician running for office is required to file this information with the election commission. Cobrapost found politicians from each political party were guilty, and experts believe this may be a ruse to hide evade taxes and conceal steep rises in income between election cycles.
Mariel Padilla is a data and investigative fellow at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. Her work has been published in USA Today, Patch.com, FilAm Magazine, The Philippine Daily Inquirer and The Cincinnati Enquirer, where she contributed to the Pulitzer-prize winning project: “Seven Days of Heroin.”