International cooperation is the way forward for investigative journalism. In today’s globalised world, major issues are complex and cross-borders to an extent that editorial teams cannot handle on their own.
This is one of the most important lessons learned from last autumn’s exposure of financial fraud against treasuries in several European countries.
DR, Yle and SVT in cooperation with 14 other international media outlets brought the story to light, breaking it at exactly the same time on 18 October. In a dividend scandal later dubbed ’the CumEx Files’, tax authorities have been victims of scams amounting to at least 55 billion euro.
“It’s impossible to kill the story, put spins on it or remain silent in order to reduce its impact. In that way, large-scale collaborations also give our journalism more weight than ever before.”
- Marko Hietikko, Yle
Debated in the European Parliament
The exposure reverberated widely and created a social media storm.
In the European Parliament, the case triggered debates directly related to the revelations, and this news story had everyone talking in countries such as France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Sweden and Denmark.
DR journalist Niels Fastrup, along with German public service broadcaster NDR, was one of the driving forces in the collaboration. He points out that it is necessary for news media to cooperate, not only to share the burden of research, but also to ensure that a story has international impact.
“It is very evident that international cooperation is the way forward for investigative journalism, and I reckon we’ll all have to learn how to conduct ourselves in cross-border collaborations. All the big agendas such as climate change, right-wing populism, migrant flows, terrorism, financial scandals and abuse of social media are exactly the kind of issues that transcend national boundaries,” says Niels Fastrup.
- The collaboration was initiated in October 2017, at a meeting between journalists from DR and the German TV station NDR, a large regional public service broadcaster under the ARD umbrella.
- NDR was in possession of 60,000 pages of nvestigative material
- The revelations involve some of the world’s largest banks, for instance JP Morgan, Spanish bank Santander and the Australian Macquarie Bank.
- Through a loophole in Danish tax inspection, companies and individuals domiciled abroad were able to claim refunds of dividend tax, based on fictitious shareholdings and forged documentation from foreign companies.
- The fraudulent practices have ties to countries such as Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, France, Finland, Sweden, Spain, Belgium and the United Kingdom.
- A total of 17 media outlets broke the story at exactly the same time – 6 am CET on 18 October.
- The Nordvision Fund provided financial support DR were able to interview the secret inside source, for this collaborative project.
Impossible to spin the story to death
Yle – Finnish broadcaster and Nordvision partner – was among the media brought into the collaboration along the way, with producer Marko Hietikko from Yle’s investigative team being invited to a Nordvision meeting.
“Our work is based on our willingness to collaborate, and since the financial system exists across all national boundaries, all national states are affected by cases such as this,” says Marko Hietikko.
He believes that collaboration is the only way forward for the smaller media providers in the Nordic region. “
It’s impossible to kill the story, put spins on it or remain silent in order to reduce its impact. In that way, large-scale collaborations also give our journalism more weight than ever before.”
The journalists had taken a ’musketeer’s oath’ – they would draw on each other’s research and break their story at the same time. And they did just that.