Getting away with murder

The world news was followed daily by everyone in our family. An occasional letter to the editor or letter to a State Senator was written in response. The newspaper was the media of choice moreso than TV. News of all kinds was followed: world news, Federal and State politics, along with business, medical/health, global trade, Israel, sports, the plight of the needy and poor, along with editorials, opinions and investigations too.

Over time it was the story behind the news story, the one that explains how the report all came together that really interested me. Hearing from investigative journalists who give voice to the voiceless and expose those in power making them accountable are some of the most compelling stories. I like learning how professionals plan and plot a strategy to dig up and expose the truth, and encourage readers to pay attention to the meanings of the story. It’s fast and furious yet painstaking and laborious. Good quality, fact-checked investigative reporting reveals how humans continue to act poorly with each other and with wildlife with which we share the earth. We continue to ravage earth’s beauty and bounty without consideration or mindfulness about what’s at stake.

This past month I watched a couple of presentations online: one in particular exposed the dangers of the wildlife trafficking industry. Yes, it’s an industry claiming over $10 billion in trafficking parts of animals: ivory, rhino horns and tiger bones in particular are in great demand as status symbols and alleged medicinal cures. The Chinese are considered big players in this phenomenon but they’re not alone with other southeast Asian countries and to a lesser degree America too.

Of the three investigative journalists profiled in the report produced by the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJNwww.GIJN.org) the work of Jhesset Enaro of the Philippines Daily Inquirer, a daily English-language newspaper, spoke of the dangers inherent in exposing the poachers of endangered species in the Philippines. She spoke of the difficulties in building trust amongst the people who are witness to the atrocities and have threats made against them. Apparently Philippines is a known endangered species wildlife trafficking haven as it is both the source of and destination for endangered trafficked wildlife parts. But there is no agency within the Philippine government that tracks organized wildlife crime! Apparently there are too many people profiting from it for the government to get involved; what else could be the reason?

Because of journalists like Ms. Enaro and a number of non profit enterprises and news media monitors bring attention to the far-reaching problem. Ms. Enaro explained how the bad actors in wildlife crime tend to be the same criminals who are drug smugglers, money launderers and illegal arms traders. It matters to expose this reality and bring the poachers, smugglers and their salespeople all to justice because they’re raping the land, killing helpless endangered species and funding rebellious and illegal armed groups who in turn rape, kill, torture law-abiding people all over the world. These are not good people and they getting away with murder.

The endangered species are not the only ones endangered. Investigative reporters and photographers alike are threatened by their subjects and governments officials so reports others in the GIJN program. Rachel Bale, executive editor of National Geographic explained how to discover good stories and Foeke Postma of BellingCat, an independent international collective of researchers, investigators and citizen journalists using open source and social media investigation spoke of his work. BellingCat www.BellingCat.com reports on subjects like Mexican drug lords and crimes against humanity along with conflicts worldwide. Mr. Postma explained how he used Instagram and other free social media accounts to investigate and expose the truth about the wildlife trafficking problem. This was pretty illuminating work that teaches others how to use social media to embark on investigative reporting on one’s own.

Of course investigative reporters like these three are a different breed than you or me. And they’re not the only ones who put their lives at risk to create a headline story, for journalists in mainstream media outlets are dispatched to war zones and trouble spots all over the world. Writers too like Ernest Hemingway are drawn to difficult locations to snag the inside story only possible by taking up residence in a war zone.

By listening and watching well-produced programs like those from GIJN I can continue to learn and grow. And by hearing from investigative journalists in the field, I can learn tips and new ways to handle old situations in my own research work. As a researcher I know everything is not found online and to get the story sometimes one has to get into the field, talk with people face to face.

It’s not all about raising awareness of course as there are organizations like the “Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime” that includes best practices to follow and experts to consult in order to expose and fight back against organized crime.

Overall, I like research and reporting but you won’t find me risking my life or limb for the sake of a story. But I really appreciate learning the means that investigative journalists like Jhesset Enaro and Foeke Postma go through to uncover the story behind the story connecting it to other broader and penetrating issues not evident at first. They’re providing a service that we can support and spread the word about.

Published by Richard Halpern

Retired (but busy) after a lengthy career in business marketing, communications and research. Worked at four start-ups and one turnaround. Now volunteer doing prospect research for a climate activity and social advocacy non profit, amongst other things.

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