The untold stories of heroic African journalists
With his famous motto of “Name, Shame, and Jail,” Anas Aremeyaw Anas worked on several undercover investigative stories for which several offenders got jail time. The Ghanaian journalist who never shows his face covered with beaded mask, practiced journalism for over two decades. His undercover stories have reputation of how journalism can shake up the status quo and hold those in authority accountable for any wrongdoing.
Initially after seeing an infamous thief arrested in his home village in Ghana, who was later released for lack of evidence, the journalist and lawyer Anas understood the need to have evidence for his journalistic work. This is how he began going undercover and reveal evidences in the investigative journalism that he does.
From 34 judges and 145 judicial personnel to football match referees caught up taking bribes, to girl traffickers now jailed for 45 years to a pastor rapist and smugglers, he had worked on most of them collecting hardcore evidences and paving the way for their detention by law enforcement.
For that, politicians always sought refuge in having no evidence, Anas provides evidences from his undercover journalism works disguising himself as a madman, women, or even a Sheik. He brought down several people and assures they are arrested. He even put himself in prison to report the human rights abuses there and that justice was indeed up for sale.
“First of all, I don’t like football. I have never watched or played it before, so I underestimated it was passion for many.” Anas said to a group of media professionals and investigative journalists full of an auditorium. He was referring to an undercover investigative report he did to BBC African Eye on how football referees and officials were engaged in corruption.
Explaining each of the dozens of his undercover reports he did to the journalists at the 18th African Investigative Journalism Conference (AIJC2022), he firmly said he never has regrets on what he published. “If I had the chance to do the stories again, I will repeat the same,” he said. The three days conference featured testimonies of the fearless investigative journalists like Anas, with scholars forwarding their scholastic views and technology experts showing how journalism can go hand in hand with new time technologies, among others.
Anas is still finalizing a few stories he investigated on, about a six of them at his archive currently. “I think we are getting ready to shake the foundations of our democracy, it will be soon when we meet and I can tell you it will not be nice,” he forwarded his message to Ghanaians.
Along with Anas in the side session of the conference with a theme Undercover Journalism – its Potential and Risks held in the morning of last Monday, October 31, 2022, a Ugandan based anonymous journalist presented her experiences of how she managed to do her undercover investigation stories.
She was sold into slavery in Dubai for 6,000 Dirham and worked as a maid after putting her in the market with no food or drinks. “I prayed for someone to buy me,” she said, explaining how the situation she put herself in to investigate was unbearable.
Her story as a housemaid in United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia exposed several scandals in her country as well as the Middle East. She had exposed of employers abusing basic human rights of the maids, agents sexually abusing girls and more in her stories.
Journalism in Africa was proved to be a journalism of necessity. The demonstrations from such journalists show how investigative journalism should be done to expose the wrongdoings for the betterment of the society.
This week at the Conference, A gathering of 375 delegates from various media organizations, most of which were bold investigative journalists, were convened at the century old University of Witwatersrand, in economic capital of Sub-Saharan Africa, Johannesburg, South Africa.
The university’s journalism division, Wits Centre for Journalism has been organizing the African Investigative Journalism Conference since the inception in 2004 under the supervision of Anton Harber. He was former chair of the Centre, as well cofounder, editor and journalist at several media houses in South Africa.
The 18th conference (AIJC2022) has seen nationalities of about 55 countries attending it, of which most of them were journalists and professionals from 42 African countries. Built from small local conference until now, it now became the biggest annual gathering of African working journalists.
“I would love to do it in other countries and grow it even bigger, but it is difficult and costly,” Anton said, who is also a professor of journalism at the university now and executive director of the Campaign for Free Expression, an organization supporting free expressions of ideas. He was also one of the founders of the then Weekly mail now Mail & Guardian.
Teaching students at the university and later seeing them coming back to attend the conference after doing investigative stories, was what Anton most find rewarding about it. Some of the presenters at the sessions started at Wits University as young students.
On how the university helps journalists by hosting the conference and more, he explained that journalists, particularly investigative ones need skills that are with a big rage and high level, and the university education becomes more important to own those skills with the kind of thinking that journalists need to do.
“To be a journalist, you have to be very conscious of the decisions that you have to make. These decisions you make as a journalist every single day affects other people and the society. That is the importance of the teaching and training that we do here,” he told The Reporter.
Catherine Gicheru is a veteran journalist from Kenya who was in the media industry for nearly four decades. Ascending from a reporter to editor in chief of various media houses in Kenya, Gicheru is currently board member various organizations such as Open Society Foundations, British Council, and Media Development Investment Fund.
Serving as a country director of Code for Africa in Kenya, she co-founded Pesa Check in 2016. With her position as the director of Africa Women Journalism Project, Catherine follows the journalists’ situation in Ethiopia closely.
After a session on how dangerous the career is for investigative journalists, she advises journalists protect themselves from harm over stories while still revealing offenses.
“There is no story worth dying for, and you shouldn’t die because of a story. You need to be smart on how you go about writing a story,” she told The Reporter. “I hear that it is difficult to say certain things in Ethiopia and it is extremely impossible to say other things there.”
Currently working as a senior fact checker for Code for Africa’s Pesa Check from Ethiopia for the last two years, Tolera Fikru compares journalism with fact checking explaining how his vast experience in conventional journalism has been.
At the beginning of his career, Tolera worked as a journalist and editor in chief of his newspaper for nine years from 2001 up to 2010, working at different non-media organizations afterwards, until he joined the media industry as a managing editor of the Oromia Media Network.
After two years of service, when his latest media organization was forced to close in Addis Ababa, he became a fact checker. Observing the difference within journalism between two decades ago and the technology time now, he believes the time has brought both negative and positive advantages to the media.
Technology upgraded the work of media and modernized access to information, but also disadvantages such as the tech access to disseminate fake information came along. “ABC of journalism is telling truth and accuracy, which now became hard due to technology,” he said.
Here comes the trend of establishing fact checking organizations in recent years, after researchers came across to the fact that controlling misinformation from circulation is a hard task, thus debunking it with the fact shall be the new way of tackling fake information.
Through audio, video, image and text verification of what had been considered as fake and propagated information, the fact checkers would reveal it to the public on their platform.
“The window period for fact checking is three months. Its main intention isn’t information giving but exposing lies in the internet. It helps the conventional media a lot,” Tolera said.
Initiatives such as fact checking and technology assisted information verification was one of the main topic under several sessions in the conference.