Panama Papers: a coup for journalism?

It is the biggest leak of data that journalists have ever had at their disposal: the Panama Papers on offshore companies in which celebrities and VIPs from all over the world have parked their money comprise roughly 2.6 terabytes of data. Some commentators see the revelations as a major coup for investigative journalism. Others point out that the origins of the documents raise questions.

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Novinar (BG) /

US government behind leak

The US government is behind the huge Panama Papers data leak, the daily Novinar believes, and addresses the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) who published the documents:

“You yourselves should be closely scrutinised. Or better still, you should scrutinise yourselves, because you are the dupes of this whole affair - whether it's because of naivety or part of a carefully conceived strategy. Hopefully it's the former, although it doesn't really matter as regards the consequences. Have you actually considered the consequences, by the way, or was that part of the deal? … Congratulations on your first victory - the fall of the Icelandic government. The cheek of those island goblins, offering that big-mouth Edward Snowden asylum. But of course you're not lone whistleblowers like Snowden but an entire investigative consortium.”

Sega (BG) /

Slapdash Investigation in Bulgaria

The daily paper 24 Chasa is only Bulgarian media outlet with access to the Panama Papers. The daily paper Sega raises doubts about whether the colleagues at the other paper were thorough enough in checking the documents:

“24 Chasa ran with the unambiguous headline 'No Bulgarian politicians among offshore company owners'. … Is that really the main thing Bulgarian readers want to know? Any first-semester student of journalism knows that a news report should say what is the case and not what isn't. The search produced no names of people belonging to Bulgaria's elite, the newspaper claimed. Vladimir Putin's name doesn't appear in the Panama Papers either, but the journalists who went through them still found a connection with Putin via the cellist Sergei Roldugin. Yet we're supposed to believe that there are no connections to Bulgarian politicians simply because their full names didn't appear in the documents?”

Die Tageszeitung taz (DE) /

Rise of the fourth power in the global community

The revelations of the international journalist network could lay the cornerstone for a new global public, the left-wing daily taz comments:

“The current revelations are not the first scandal exposed by the network, but probably the most complex ever uncovered by investigative journalism. Individual editing teams would never have the resources to decode such a vast amount of data in its global context. Fortunately, for some years now journalists have been finding answers as to how to develop into the fourth power in a global community, particularly given that the first three powers barely exist. There is no international state, and the institutions that simulate such a state at the UN or G20 level are unable to bring global tax evasion under control. … At least for a few days the problem of tax havens will be on the agenda throughout the world - a brief moment of emancipation in which an all too often simulated global public can denounce problems and demand consequences.”

Novi list (HR) /

Newspapers as a guarantor for investigative journalism

Print journalism is under major pressure economically but without it society would be far worse off, the centre-left daily Novi list writes with conviction:

“The subjects of these investigations are politicians in top positions who have grandiloquently pledged to fight corruption. So it's clear that this story would never have made the news without independent media. And although the print media are in a major crisis it was mainly print media journalists who worked on this investigative scoop of the century. Print journalism has thus regained its vitality and proven its relevance. And this at a time when it is fighting for survival faced with a digital world focussed solely on stars and glitter. This affair is an important message to us all: our politicians would probably survive in a state without free media and free journalists, but such a country would not be a good place for its citizens.”

La Stampa (IT) /

Leaks are also one-sided

Information leaks seldom serve to uncover the whole truth, the liberal daily La Stampa points out:

“Welcome to a new type of war, the infowar, which is fought with leaks. The Panama Papers are the perfect offensive in this war, unprecedented in dimensions, with more than 1,500 times as much data as the Wikileaks documents of six years ago. But why is this gigantic leak going down so well with the public? … Not least because people believe that because the data was made public without intermediaries it possesses a higher degree of purity, that there is no hidden agenda behind the leak. … But that's not true. … Whistleblowers may frequently be acting in good faith and deserve protection because they can be of great use. But their revelations must be taken with a pinch of salt. Because although the veracity of the information they leak has been checked it shines a spotlight only on one side of the big picture. Perhaps precisely the side someone wanted us to see.”

Duma (BG) /

The data could be faked

There is every chance that the leaked documents are faked, the left-leaning daily Duma believes:

“How can we know that these millions of documents are authentic? It's a question of trust, they can't be checked. ... As a rule, however, every good lie contains a large chunk of truth. It is not possible to fake such a huge amount of documents completely. But it's entirely possible for people with the right know-how and skills to add hundreds of emails, contracts, bills and whatnot to a huge mass of authentic, harmless documents. In any event, it's possible in theory. Whether or not that's what actually happened is anyone's guess.”

More opinions

Spiegel Online (DE) / 07 April 2016
  Staged hype over Panama Papers trumps their content (in German)
Finanz und Wirtschaft (CH) / 06 April 2016
  Media outcry over Panama Papers exaggerated (in German)