Future of investigative journalism in Africa

Posted on November 13, 2016 12:37 am

South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria have the top three freest media in Africa.They are the only countries where the powerful people ills are exposed and journalists don’t end up behind bars.In Kenya, journalists are more powerful than the government and are more trusted by public than the government itself.In Nigeria, media has exposed graft in police, security services and military without any of the journalists going to jail.South Africa media is arguably the freest in the whole continent and is well know for decisively exposing all ills of the state and corporate sector.If you are a crooked corporate mogul, property tycoon or prominent politician, chances are you are either quiet to avoid being exposed online or on mainstream media if your character is questionable.Thats the Africa of today. Millions of secret tax-evading dollars in offshore account have been exposed. A lot more people know exactly where the money is and just how much politicians and corrupt business folks have been hiding.A network of media organisation and journalists across African countries have been exposing scandals involving Senators in Kenya, families of dictators in Angola among others who have been caught in such scandals. Mainstream media dutifully report on the duplicity and, in some cases, the illegality of keeping elite wealth hidden away from government tax departments.The future of investigative journalism at a time when the survival of journalism is being questioned is critical to Africa’s economic and democratic growth.Muckraking headlines from collaborative investigations and are based on massive data leaks represent a new chapter of investigative journalism. This is becoming the new normal and mainstream media and the public should come to embrace it.It represents the future of investigative journalism that allows complex but hard hitting stories to see print.

Although online leaks have set a radical precedent for digital leaks and decentralised investigation, these processes are being taken up by reputable journalists, and represent the future of investigative journalism in times of slow growth in the continent.This new journalism comes at a time when low advertising revenue and shrinking subscription rates threaten hard-hitting investigative journalism. Often, the internet is blamed for this demise. The online abundance of free information, unverified content and unedited analysis smothers the economic life out the fourth estate.As the logic goes, investigative journalism becomes the first line item to be cut from media companies caught in the downward financial spiral. Even worse, African societies will realise too late that the editorialised yet objective paper of record was an irreplaceable check on power.Fortunately, claims of journalism’s demise do not add up in practice as I explained few days ago. Speaking plainly, newspapers are not dying. Africa Journalism, including the old-fashioned subscription-supported type, continues along.At the same time, radical new ways of carrying out investigative journalism are emerging. A new form of data driven, collaborative journalism is proving effective. It relies on a different set of rules than Africa newspapers competing to sell classifieds.Africa’s big data and digital leaks have combined with decentralised analysis to create a new way to report the news. WikiLeaks was arguably the first experiment into this brave new world of decentralised, data-driven journalism and its results were mixed.Unearthing the corruption in high places that is being reported across the continent is another example of how the new journalism works in Africa. The current corruption headlines in South Africa and Kenya, and the future of investigative journalism, owe much to a new breed of the digital muckrakers, heads down in data and their relentless exposure of secret evils.Acclaimed newspapers and the online press must exploit this muckraking for all its worth, while supporting its validity as a tool of investigative news making.Africa’s genie of transparency, online leaks and networked journalism will not be placed in its bottle, so Africa need to ensure it is put to good use.That, in my view is the future of investigative journalism in Africa.

Contador Harrison