The Investigative Journalism Collaboration That Produced the Panama Papers

As the traditional media business model crumbles, leading to massive layoffs in newsrooms—with investigative journalism teams often among the first casualties—collaboration is becoming indispensable. Networks with few actual employees but the ability to pool expertise and spread the expenses of costly investigative endeavors across a wide range of partners are making vast and complex investigations possible.

This week revealed a remarkable example of one such effort. About 100 media outlets around the world—including Suddeütsche Zeitung, the Guardian, BBC, Le Monde, German broadcasters NDR and WDR, the Miami Herald, Univision, and many others—began publishing reports exposing a sprawling worldwide system of offshore companies that enable financial secrecy.

Collectively known as the Panama Papers, the reports were based on a leak of over 11.5 million records—perhaps the largest data leak in history. Spanning 40 years, from 1977 through 2015, the leak provides an unprecedented window into the money that flows through the dark corners of the global financial system.

Among those exposed by the leak are wealthy and powerful figures from around the world. The reports shed light on the offshore holdings of 12 current and former world leaders; the hidden financial dealings of 128 other public officials; boldface names in finance, sports, and entertainment; and 33 people and companies blacklisted by the U.S. government. The reports also show that hundreds of banks—and their subsidiaries and branches—registered nearly 15,600 companies with Mossack Fonseca, the Panama-based law firm from which the leaked records came.

When used in law-abiding fashion, most of the services provided by the offshore industry are completely legal—simply being mentioned in the leak in no way implicates a person as guilty of a crime. But the documents show how banks, law firms, and other players often fail to adhere to the legal requirements meant to prevent the activities of clients from drifting beyond what is legal. The reports also show how loopholes in the current regulations are being exploited, and call into question the workings of the offshore tax-haven system itself.

These reports were made possible by a yearlong collaboration of more than 370 journalists from 76 countries under the auspices of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). The resulting impact underlines the importance of investigative journalism and its role in keeping societies open by revealing wrongdoing at all levels, and exposing structural deficiencies that must be addressed.

This Panama Papers project exemplifies the importance of collaboration between investigative journalists across borders. Its complexity goes beyond the need to analyze and verify huge volumes of documents. Due to the sheer number of countries involved, the story demands the unifying strength of a worldwide network. This is why Suddeütsche Zeitung, which originally received the records from an anonymous source, contacted ICIJ, with which it had collaborated on previous stories.

Work on a project like the Panama Papers validates the concept of international networks like ICIJ, which marshal manpower and expertise, pool and share resources, and distribute costs. It also demonstrates the importance and power of harnessing technological tools, like secure collaboration platforms that allow far-flung reporters to share leads and ideas, and software for searching and analyzing vast amounts of data quickly.

The Panama Papers are proving wrong those who prematurely forecasted that the digital revolution would bring about the weakening of independent journalism, and with it the ability of reporters to hold powerful actors to account. On the contrary, the digital era is presenting new and exciting opportunities for journalism to play its role of watchdog—only now, with the capacity to have an impact across the globe. 

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After all Journalism as a disciplne becomes again credentials!

I for one am humbled by the time, energy, passion for transparency that has been invested in the "Panama Papers". Kudos to all involved in this level of boarder-less collaboration.

Of course, this was an example of what appears to be a more legitimate leak, traditional leak in a country that does not offer whistleblower protections. It is exactly opposite of Snowden matter, an allegedly unlawful leak in concert/conspiracy with Laura Poitras and former OSI employee, Diane Weyermann, now EVP Docs at Participant Media. Ed Snowden and others have been criminally charged and Snowden is a fugitive in Moscow. The comparison between the Panama Papers and Snowden leak couldn't be more clear -- Snowden was a defector CIA/NSA/DIA adviser and NSA/Booz Hamilton Allen contractor who signed binding secrecy agreements and could have followed the Daniel Ellsberg route. Instead, he made a self-serving egotistical film for money with his agents and co-conspirators, now charged with violating the law and not subject to any First Amendment protection or Reporters' privilege as independent journalists, as shown by Guardian's destruction of stolen materials. ICIJ, although we don't know all facts, should probably be given credit for the handling of a leak as lawfully as possible and responsible investigative journalism. Hopefully, OSI can see the difference. Incidentially, the Executive Producer of the Snowden film Citizenfour apparently adopted a phony MFA from Columbia College of film in Chicago, despite official school records showing she attended for five years until 1992 without receiving a degree. It would be interesting to know if she was untruthful about her degree on her OSI application, where she worked for 7 years in NYC as "Cultural Affairs" director dispending money overseas and marrying and divorcing OSI Seribian operative Pantic.Drazen.

Investigative, bold journalism are badly needed also in western developed democracies like Canada, where on a rural periphery of New Brunswick physicians were conspiring to torture and murder innocent patients on an account of a targeted immigrant physician aimed for annihilation. Here in New Brunswick no journalist would dare to touch the topic and even see "crazy" doctor who are making such a claim because could be wasted as journalist, lose his/her income, become unemployable, since the call of the time is death to the whistleblowers. Respect, Wlodzimierrz Sokolowski

Donald Trump would put a LIABLE MUZZLE on all journalist to end reporting as we know it. Much as Putin controls all of Russia's media, we can look forward to what we hear and see be filtered through Fura Trumps interpretation if things go forward as he has planned :(

The problem are not Panama papers, or the big cheating of de wealthy people in the world, the main thing is that these people are routing our life and the future of the world and our sons and grandsons. This is the way we want for it?

"The Panama Papers are proving wrong those who prematurely forecasted that the digital revolution would bring about the weakening of independent journalism, and with it the ability of reporters to hold powerful actors to account."

They do indeed. It is now on the people of the world living in democracies around the globe to held the leaders and the system that enables corruption on this scale accountable.

This has highlighted the significance of cross boarder investigation. For example in Nigeria, there may not be leakage of document but a forceful ingress into the assets declaration forms of public officers will frighten people away from 'unsavory' accumulation. Initiatives like this is a domestic measure to cure Nigeria corruption just like Panama.

Independent journalism can no longer be carried on under for-profit corporations, however. It must either be financed by subscriptions or donations, or funded by foundations like Open Society. The BBC and Al Jazeera are two other examples of independent organizations, funded by sovereign states; but such organizations are rare and many are subject to political pressure leading to self-censorship.

It is shoddy journalism to be selective with revelations They need to name the U.S. culprits as well. This most important information does not seem to be forthcoming which makes this consortium's intentions very suspect.

Information drives the engines of mankind's growth. It is bound to surface up one day and become a guiding factor. Thrills and dangers are the parts of the game.

That is why I am so motivated to exercise in this domain.Journalism is the most amazing job in the world.
I want to send a special thanks to all the journalists who did the great job!

The power of networks has been vindicated. In unity and diversity, there is strength. Bravo to ICIJ!!!

Teaming up always pays off.
Bravo to this most courageous investigation work.
You deliver us what the World needs so badly in order to effectively put the variables together in order to make the over-used concept of "change " that everybody is hailing about.
Your work is dangerous, essential and an expression of peaceful heroism
Please do carry on.

Forging on to the next scoop; Human rights abuses by the Defenders of the Faith in Riyadh, by the only democracy in the MidEast, and by the world's largest democracy in Kashmir. That'll make you soar, but doubt you have the courage. Regardless, well done.

This is the world of exploitation by a few people in society especially those blanketed by nation leaders to safeguard their grip on power and amass excessive wealth that we are living in.

The importance of the Pannma leak and the investigation has been effective in turning rumours that could not be substantiated into hard facts. The consequences will be enormous but it will take time to enforce the necessary changes. The danger is that the offenders will have time to discover new methods to hide their activities .We must be vigilant and be prepared to spend significant funds to prevent this.

What a good example for new ways of getting organized!
What a good results, how happy you must feel about it!

congratulations! Dieuwke

Chân Thật ! L

There is a need for more independent journalism , articles written by investigative journalists who are committed to truth, transparency, and democratic principles , rather than the flash dance of sensationalism ...a great deal is at stake in the " free world".....

JAOURANALISTS: A job well done.
Lord have Mercy upon all your people.

Hi im from Colombia and i like to show this info to My friends and comunity but its hard translate every day; so please can you put on your Page Design something to choice another language, because this information its gold for people where i live.

Myanmar is a heaven for Druglords to launder their ill-gotten money.Law:15/2014 protects them.

It is an inspiring development in the field of investigative journalism

The Fourth Estate is coming of age, yet again! Just when national institutions are failing to detect and punish money launderers - there is not only hope but eventually equity and justice.

Hats off to all those who continuously risk themselves in exposing the crooks.

ICIJ - rightfully a strong candidate for a Nobel Peace Prize this year!

This is a clear demonstration of what we can achieve when we come together to fight injustice.

The success of " GLOBAL VILLAGE " but still much more has to be done. This is the first step to mark/identify the corruption, now the steps are required to be taken globally for execution like to confiscate the funds etc.

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