Taco Kuiper Investigative Journalism Awards: Collaboration, not competition is the future

The future of investigative journalism is one of collaboration and not competition. This was the common message from judges, panelists and winners at the 2019 Taco Kuiper Awards Investigative Journalism Awards, hosted at the Wits Club in Braamfontein on Friday.

From left: Pauli van Wyk (Daily Maverick Scopio), Susan Comrie (amaBhungane) and Kyle Cowan (News24)

Kyle Cowan from News24 and Susan Comrie from amaBhungane took a joint first prize of R120 000 for their investigations about Bosasagate and Regiment Capital respectively – two stories still dominating national discourse today. Runner-up Pauli van Wyk from the Daily Maverick was awarded R60 000 for her investigation into Tom Moyane’s role in the decimation of SARS.

According to convener of the awards, Caxton professor of journalism Anton Harber, each of the three finalists excelled at comprehensive and thorough investigations that impacted on the country and its operations long after the headlines made waves. As a direct result of these investigations and others like them, the political and social landscape of South has shifted – we have seen commissions of inquiry, the fall of corporate giants, fake news exposed and resignations of some of those implicated.

For those responsible for the capture of the state and other enterprises to be held to account, however, strong, in-depth and tenacious investigative journalism is not enough – it is just the start of a chain of processes needed for justice to be done. Other societal stakeholders like law enforcement and prosecution authorities need to step up, but thanks to investigations like those highlighted at Friday’s awards, it seems they might just be doing that.

In his keynote speech, Maltese journalist and engineer Matthew Caruana Galizia outlined the threats against his family that led to the eventual assassination of his mother, Daphne, in a car bomb in 2017. Like her son, she was an investigative journalist who reported on high-level corruption in their home country. He says the investigative journalism fraternity from South Africa has, for the first time, given rise to an adequate description of what has been a reality in his country for years – state capture.

Matthew Caruana Galizia said the support for investigative journalism comes from the actions of ordinary people.

He says South African and African reporters must now stand stronger than ever in their resolve to uncover the truth and hold the powerful to account – the stakes are too high to allow weakness in resolve to creep in.

In his keynote address, he said, “When justice feels impossible and fighting feels futile, giving up will only increase the danger for everyone.”

While Harber says the winners embody many of the industry virtues, more media houses must realise the value of hard-hitting, high-quality investigative journalism in a time of hit-and-run news and dwindling newsroom resources. He says, however, to the disappointment of the judges, only four of the entries in 2019 were from broadcast media.

Of those, all four came from television and radio did not even feature. This, he believes, is in part due to the precarious state of the SABC and the inherent risks that investigations pose, coupled with the political pressure that is piled on those who conduct them – risks that the embattled public broadcaster has yet to take.

While the real-world impact of the investigations of the past year is evident in every day life, consensus is that it is now up to the industry to step up and take investigative journalism to the next frontier. Media organisations and journalists must realise that in their efforts to uncover corruption, capture and disinformation, they are stronger working together than they are standing alone. The future of investigative journalism is collaborative and not competitive, and the sooner the media fraternity wakes up to this, the better.

After all, it is through collaborative approaches in the recent past that South Africa has seen presidents resign, corporate giants fall and real accountability become a possibility for the first time in more than a decade.

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