[op-ed]: The Big Unknown: Climate action under President Trump

Op-ed written for The Weekend Express broadsheet newspaper in Sri Lanka, 18 November 2016

The Big Unknown: Climate action under President Trump - By Nalaka Gunawardene, Weekend Express, 18 Nov 2016

The Big Unknown: Climate action under President Trump – By Nalaka Gunawardene, Weekend Express, 18 Nov 2016

What does Donald Trump’s election as the next President of the United States mean for action to contain climate change?

The billionaire non-politician — who lost the popular vote by more than a million votes but won the presidency on the basis of the electoral college — has long questioned the science underlying climate change.

He also sees political and other motives in climate action. For example, he tweeted on 6 November 2012: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

Trump's tweet on 7 November 2012 - What does it mean for his administration?

Trump’s tweet on 6 November 2012 – What does it mean for his administration?

His vice president, Indiana governor Mike Pence, also does not believe that climate change is caused by human activity.

Does this spell doom for the world’s governments trying to avoid the worst case scenarios in global warming, now widely accepted by scientists as driven by human activity – especially the burning of petroleum and coal?

It is just too early to tell, but the early signs are not promising.

“Trump should drop his pantomime-villain act on climate change. If he does not, then, come January, he will be the only world leader who fails to acknowledge the threat for what it is: urgent, serious and demanding of mature and reasoned debate and action,” said the scientific journal Nature in an editorial on 16 November 2016.

It added: “The world has made its decision on climate change. Action is too slow and too weak, but momentum is building. Opportunities and fortunes are being made. Trump the businessman must realize that the logical response is not to cry hoax and turn his back. The politician in Trump should do what he promised: reject political orthodoxy and listen to the US people.”

It was only on 4 November 2016 that the Paris climate agreement came into force. This is the first time that nearly 200 governments have agreed on legally binding limits to emissions that cause global warming.

All governments that have ratified the accord — which includes the US, China, India and the EU — carry an obligation to contain global warming to no more than 2 degrees Centigrade above pre-industrial levels. Scientists regard that as the safe limit, beyond which climate change is likely to be both catastrophic and irreversible.

It has been a long and bumpy road to reach this point since the UN framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC) was adopted in 1992. UNFCCC provides the umbrella under which the Paris Agreement works.

High level officials and politicians from 197 countries that have ratified the UNFCCC are meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco, this month to iron out the operational details of the Paris Agreement.

Speaking at the Marrakesh meeting this week, China’s vice foreign minister, Liu Zhenmin, pointed out that it was in fact Trump’s Republican predecessors who launched climate negotiations almost three decades ago.

It was only three months ago that the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters – China and the US — agreed to ratify the Paris agreement during a meeting between the Chinese and US presidents.

Chandra Bhushan, Deputy Director General of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), an independent advocacy group in Delhi, has just shared his thoughts on the Trump impact on climate action.

“Will a Trump presidency revoke the ratification of the Paris Agreement? Even if he is not able to revoke it because of international pressure…he will dumb down the US action on climate change. Which means that international collaboration being built around the Paris Agreement will suffer,” he said in a video published on YouTube (see: https://goo.gl/r6KGip)

“If the US is not going to take ambitious actions on climate change, I don’t think India or Chine will take ambitious actions either.  We are therefore looking at a presidency which is going to push climate action around the world down the barrel,” he added.

During his campaign, Trump advocated “energy independence” for the United States (which meant reducing or eliminating the reliance on Middle Eastern oil). But he has been critical of subsidies for solar and wind power, and threatened to end regulations that sought to end the expansion of petroleum and coal use. In other words, he would likely encourage dig more and more domestically for oil.

“Trump doesn’t believe that renewable energy is an important part of the energy future for the world,” says Chandra Bhushan. “He believes that climate change is a conspiracy against the United States…So we are going to deal with a US presidency which is extremely anti-climate.”

Bhushan says Trump can revoke far more easily domestic laws like the Clean Power Plan that President Obama initiated in 2015. It set a national limit on carbon pollution produced from power plants.

“Therefore, whatever (positive) action that we thought was going to happen in the US are in jeopardy. We just have to watch and ensure that, even when an anti-climate administration takes over, we do not allow things to slide down (at global level action),” Bhushan says.

Some science advocates caution against a rush to judgement about how the Trump administration will approach science in general, and climate action in particular.

Nature’s editorial noted: “There is a huge difference between campaigning and governing…It is impossible to know what direction the United States will take under Trump’s stewardship, not least because his campaign was inconsistent, contradictory and so full of falsehood and evasion.”

We can only hope that Trump’s business pragmatism would prevail over climate action. As the Anglo-French environmental activist Edward Goldsmith said years ago, there can be no trade on a dead planet.

Candidate Trump on CNN

Candidate Trump on CNN

BBC Sinhala interview after US Presidential Election 2016: සමීක්ෂණ හා සෑබෑ ජනමතය අතර ගැටුමක්

Within hours of the US Presidential Election’s results becoming known on 9 November 2016, I gave a telephone interview to BBC Sinhala service. They asked me how almost all the opinion polls did not see Donald Trump winning the election, even though many polls said it was going to be a close contest.

සමීක්ෂණ හා සෑබෑ ජනමතය අතර ගැටුමක්

නොනවතින තොරතුරු ප්‍රවාහයක පිහිනීමට බටහිර රටවල් ඇතුළු ලොව බොහෝ රටවල ජනතාවට අවස්ථාව ලැබී තිබුණ ද, ඒ බොහෝ තොරතුරු ‘දූෂිත’ හෝ ‘විකෘති කරන ලද’ තොරතුරු වීම වර්තමාන සමාජය මුහුණදෙන අභියෝගයක් බව සමාජ මාධ්‍ය ජාල විශ්ලේෂක නාලක ගුණවර්ධන පවසයි.

දැනට වොෂින්ටනයේ සංචාරයක නිරතව සිටින නාලක ගුණවර්ධන ඒ අදහස් පළ කළේ අඟහරුවාදා (නොවැ. 08) පැවති ජනපතිවරණයේදී බොහෝ ජනමත සමීක්ෂණවල අනාවැකි බැහැර කරමින් ඩොනල්ඩ් ට්‍රම්ප් ජයග්‍රහණය ලැබීම පිළිබඳව බීබීසී සංදේශය සමග අදහස් දක්වමිනි.

වෙනත් ආයතනවල ජනමත සමීක්ෂණ ඇසුරින් බීබීසී සකස් කළ ජනමත සමීක්ෂණය අනුව ද අඟහරුවාදා මධ්‍යම රාත්‍රිය වනවිටත් හිලරි ක්ලින්ටන් ඒකක හතරකින් ඉදිරියෙන් සිටියාය.

“ඇත්තටම මේක අද ඇමෙරිකාව පුරා මාධ්‍ය ආයතන සහ ජනමත සමීක්ෂණ ආයතනවල ප්‍රධානම ප්‍රශ්නය බවට පත්වෙලා තියනවා,” නාලක ගුණවර්ධන පැවසීය.

“අදහගන්න බැහැ සියලුම ජනමත සමීක්ෂණ සැබෑ ජනමතයෙන් මෙතරම් දුරස් වුනේ කොහොමද කියල.” යැයි පැවසූ ඔහු ඒ සම්බන්ධයෙන් මේ අවස්ථාවේ කළ හැක්කේ අනුමාන පළකිරීම පමණක් බව කීය.

‘ජනමත සමීක්ෂණ සැබෑ ජනමතයෙන් මෙතරම් දුරස් වුනේ කොහොමද?’

ජනමත සමීක්ෂණ පිළිබඳව ඇමෙරිකානු ජනතාව කිසියම් කලකිරීමක් දැක්වීම හේතුවෙන් ඔවුන් සිය අවංක මතය හෙළි නොකළේය යන්න එවැනි එක් අනුමානයක් බව ද ඔහු සඳහන් කළේය.

පසුගියදා බ්‍රිතාන්‍යය යුරෝපා සංගමයෙන් ඉවත්වීම සම්බන්ධ ‘Brexit’ ජනමත විචාරණයේදීත් මේ හා සමානම තත්වයක් මතුවීම ජනමත විචාරණ ක්‍රමවේදයේ වරදක් දැයි විමසූ විට ඔහු කියා සිටියේ ක්‍රමවේදයේත් අසම්පූර්ණතා පවතින බව කලක් මුලුල්ලේම දැනසිටි බවය.

එමෙන්ම ජනතාව තවදුරටත් සිය අවංක මතය පළකිරීමට උනන්දුවක් නැති නම් සමස්ත ජනමත විචාරණ කර්මාන්තයම කඩාවැටීමේ අනතුරක් පවතින බව ද නාලක ගුණවර්ධන සඳහන් කළේය.

ඒ සියල්ලටම වඩා ඇමෙරිකානු මැතිවරණයෙන් මතු වූ බරපතලම අභියෝගය වූයේ ජනමාධ්‍ය සහ සමාජ මාධ්‍ය ජාල ඔස්සේ ගලා ගිය තොරතුරු අතුරින් ‘සැබෑව සහ මිත්‍යාව වෙන් කරගැනීම’ බව ඔහු පෙන්වා දුණි.

එක් අතෙකින් ඉතිහාසයේ අන් කවරදාකටත් වඩා ජනතාවට තොරතුරු ලබාගැනීමේ අවකාශයක් මතු වී තිබෙන අතරම ඒ තොරතුරු අතරින් සත්‍යය සහ සම්පූර්ණ තොරතුරු සොයා ගැනීම අභියෝගයක් මෙන්ම ඉතා පරස්පර සංසිද්ධියක් බව ද නාලක ගුණවර්ධන වැඩිදුරටත් පැවසීය.

Communicating Climate Change: Going Beyond Fear, CO2 & COPs!

SRI LANKA NEXT 2016 International Conference on Climate Change - http://www.srilankanext.lk/iccch.php

SRI LANKA NEXT 2016 International Conference on Climate Change – http://www.srilankanext.lk/iccch.php

On 19 October 2016, I spoke on climate change communications to a group of Asian journalists and other communicators at a workshop organized by Sri Lanka Youth Climate Action Network (SLYCAN). It was held at BMICH, Colombo’s leading conventions venue.

It was part of a platform of events branded as Sri Lanka NEXT, which included the 5th Asia-Pacific Climate Change Adaptation Forum and several other expert consultations.

I recalled what I had written in April 2014, “As climate change impacts are felt more widely, the imperative for action is greater than ever. Telling the climate story in accurate and accessible ways should be an essential part of climate response. That response is currently organised around two ‘planks’: mitigation and adaptation. Climate communication can be the ‘third plank’ that strengthens the first two.”

3 broad tips on climate communications - from Nalaka Gunawardene

3 broad tips for climate communications – from Nalaka Gunawardene

I argued that we must move away from disaster-driven climate communications of doom and gloom. Instead, focus on climate resilience and practical solutions to achieving it.

We also need to link climate action to what matters most to the average person:

  • Cheaper energy (economic benefits)
  • Cleaner air (health benefits)
  • Staying alive (public safety benefits)

I offered three broad tips for climate communicators and journalists:

  • Don’t peddle fear: We’ve had enough of doom & gloom! Talk of more than just disasters and destruction.
  • Look beyond CO2, which is responsible for only about half of global warming. Don’t forget the other half – which includes some shortlived climate pollutants which are easier to tackle such action is less contentious than CO2.
  • Focus on local level impacts & responses: most people don’t care about UNFCCC or COPs or other acronyms at global level!
Global climate negotiations - good to keep an eye on them, but real stories are elsewhere!

Global climate negotiations – good to keep an eye on them, but real stories are elsewhere!

Finally, I shared my own triple-S formula for covering climate related stories:

  • Informed by credible Science (but not immersed in it!)
  • Tell authentic and compelling journalistic Stories…
  • …in Simple (but not simplistic) ways (using a mix of non-technical words, images, infographics, audio, video, interactive media)

Poor venue logistics at BMICH prevented me from sharing the presentation I had prepared. So here it is:

Siyatha TV CIVIL show: Discussing Sri Lanka’s Right to Information (RTI)

Siyatha TV CIVIL show: Dr Ranga Kalansooriya (left) and Nalaka Gunawardene (right) discuss Sri Lanka's Right to Information law with host Prasanna Jayanththi: 27 Sep 2016

Siyatha TV CIVIL show: Dr Ranga Kalansooriya (left) and Nalaka Gunawardene (right) discuss Sri Lanka’s Right to Information law with host Prasanna Jayanththi: 27 Sep 2016

Back in 2009-2010, I used to host a half hour show on Siyatha TV, a private television channel in Sri Lanka, on inventions and innovation.

So it was good to return to Siyatha on 27 September 2016 — this time as a guest on their weekly talk show CIVIL, to talk about  Sri Lanka’s new Right to Information (RTI) law.

Joining me was Dr Ranga Kalansooriya, experienced and versatile journalist who has recently become Director General of the Government Department of Information. Our amiable host was Prasanna Jayaneththi.

We discussed aspects of Sri Lanka’s Right to Information Act No 12 of 2016, adopted in late June 2016, with all political parties in Parliament supporting it. Certified by the Speaker on 4 August 2016, we are now in a preparatory period of six months during which all public institutions get ready for processing citizen request for information.

I emphasized on the vital DEMAND side of RTI: citizens and their various associations and groups need to know enough about their new right to demand and receive information from public officials — and then be motivated to exercise that right.

I argued that making RTI a fundamental right (through the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in April 2015), passing the RTI Act in June 2016 and re-orienting the entire public sector for information disclosure represent the SUPPLY side. It needs to be matched by inspiring and catalysing the DEMAND side, without which this people’s law cannot benefit people.

In the final part, Ranga and I also discussed aspects of Sri Lanka’s media sector reforms, which are stemming from a major new study that he and I were both associated with: Rebuilding Public Trust: An Assessment of the Media Industry and Profession in Sri Lanka (May 2016).

 

Part 1:

 

Part 2:

 

Part 3:

Going beyond “Poor Journalism” that ignores the poor

Sri Lankan Media Fellows on Poverty and Development with their mentors and CEPA coordinators at orientation workshop in Colombo, 24 Sep 2016

Sri Lankan Media Fellows on Poverty and Development with their mentors and CEPA coordinators at orientation workshop in Colombo, 24 Sep 2016

“For me as an editor, there is a compelling case for engaging with poverty. Increasing education and literacy is related to increasing the size of my readership. Our main audiences are indeed drawn from the middle classes, business and policymakers. But these groups cannot live in isolation. The welfare of the many is in the interests of the people who read the Daily Star.”

So says Mahfuz Anam, Editor and Publisher of The Daily Star newspaper in Bangladesh. I quoted him in my presentation to the orientation workshop for Media Fellows on Poverty and Development, held in Colombo on 24 September 2016.

Alas, many media gatekeepers in Sri Lanka and across South Asia don’t share Anam’s broad view. I can still remember talking to a Singaporean manager of one of Sri Lanka’s first private TV stations in the late 1990s. He was interested in international development related TV content, he told me, “but not depressing and miserable stuff about poverty – our viewers don’t want that!”

Most media, in Sri Lanka and elsewhere, have narrowly defined poverty negatively. Those media that occasionally allows some coverage of poverty mostly skim a few selected issues, doing fleeting reporting on obvious topics like street children, beggars or poverty reduction assistance from the government. The complexity of poverty and under-development is hardly investigated or captured in the media.

Even when an exceptional journalist ventures into exploring these issues in some depth and detail, their media products also often inadvertently contain society’s widespread stereotyping on poverty and inequality. For example:

  • Black and white images are used when colour is easily available (as if the poor live in B&W).
  • Focus is mostly or entirely on the rural poor (never mind many poor people now live in cities and towns).

The Centre for Poverty Analysis (CEPA), a non-profit think tank has launched the Media Fellowship Programme on Poverty and Development to inspire and support better media coverage of these issues. The programme is co-funded by UNESCO and CEPA.

Under this, 20 competitively selected journalists – drawn from print, broadcast and web media outlets in Sinhala, Tamil and English languages – are to be given a better understanding of the many dimensions of poverty.

These Media Fellows will have the opportunity to research and produce a story of their choice in depth and detail, but on the understanding that their media outlet will carry their story. Along the way, they will benefit from face-to-face interactions with senior journalists and development researchers, and also receive a grant to cover their field visit costs.

Nalaka Gunawardene speaks at orientation workshop for Media Fellows on Poverty and Development at CEPA, 24 Sep 2016

Nalaka Gunawardene speaks at orientation workshop for Media Fellows on Poverty and Development at CEPA, 24 Sep 2016

I am part of the five member expert panel guiding these Media Fellows. Others on the panel are senior journalist and political commentator Kusal Perera; Chief Editor of Daily Express newspaper Hana Ibrahim; Chief Editor of Echelon biz magazine Shamindra Kulamannage; and Consultant Editor of Sudar Oli newspaper, Arun Arokianathan.

At the orientation workshop, Shamindra Kulamannage and I both made presentations on media coverage of poverty. Mine was a broad-sweep exploration of the topic, with many examples and insights from having been in media and development spheres for over 25 years.

Here is my PPT:

More photos from the orientation workshop:

 

 

Details of CEPA Media Fellowship Programme on Poverty and Development

List of 20 Media Fellows on Poverty and Development

ආපදා අවස්ථාවල මානුෂික ආධාර එකතු කිරීම හා බෙදීම මාධ්‍යවලට සුදුසුද? එසේ කළත් ඒ ගැන පම්පෝරි ගැසීම හරිද?

Disaster reporting, Sri Lanka TV style! Cartoon by Dasa Hapuwalana, Lankadeepa

Disaster reporting, Sri Lanka TV style! Cartoon by Dasa Hapuwalana, Lankadeepa

ආපදා අවස්ථාවල මාධ්‍යවලට ලොකු වගකීම් සමුදායක් හා තීරණාත්මක කාර්යභාරයක් හිමි වනවා. ඉතාම වැදගත් හා ප්‍රමුඛ වන්නේ සිදුවීම් නිවැරදිව හා නිරවුල්ව වාර්තා කිරීම. වුණේ මොකක්ද, වෙමින් පවතින්නේ කුමක්ද යන්න සරලව රටට තේරුම් කර දීම. එයට රාජ්‍ය, විද්වත් හා ස්වේච්ඡා ආයතනවල තොරතුරු හා විග්‍රහයන් යොදා ගත හැකියි.

ඉන් පසු වැදගත්ම කාරිය ආපදා ප්‍රතිචාරයට හැකි උපරිම ආවරණය සැපයීම. මෙයට බේරා ගැනීම්, තාවකාලික රැකවරණ, ආධාර බෙදා හරින ක්‍රම හා තැන්, ලෙඩරෝග පැතිරයාම ගැන අනතුරු ඇගවීම් ආදිය ඇතුළත්.

ආපදා කළමනාකරණය හා සමාජසේවා ගැන නිල වගකීම් ලත් රාජ්‍ය ආයතන මෙන්ම හමුදාවත්, රතු කුරුසය හා සර්වෝදය වැනි මහා පරිමාන ස්වේච්ඡා ආයතනත් පශ්චාත් ආපදා වකවානුවල ඉමහත් සේවයක් කරනවා. මාධ්‍යවලට කළ හැකි ලොකුම මෙහෙවර මේ සැවොම කරන කියන දේ උපරිම ලෙස සමාජගත් කිරීමයි. ඊට අමතරව අඩුපාඩු හා කිසියම් දූෂණ ඇත්නම් තහවුරු කරගත් තොරතුරු මත ඒවා වාර්තා කිරීමයි.

මේ සියල්ල කළ පසු මාධ්‍ය තමන් ආධාර එකතු කොට බෙදීමට යොමු වුණාට කමක් නැතැයි මා සිතනවා. එතැනදීත් තම වාර්තාකරණය සමස්ත ආපදා ප්‍රතිචාරය ගැන මිස තමන්ගේම සමාජ සත්කාරය හුවා දැක්වීමට නොකළ යුතුයි.

මාධ්‍ය සන්නාම ප්‍රවර්ධනයට ආපදා අවස්ථා යොදා ගැනීම නීති විරෝධී නොවූවත් සදාචාර විරෝධීයි. රාජ්‍ය මාධ්‍ය කළත්, පුද්ගලික මාධ්‍ය කළත් වැඩේ වැරදියි.

[Op-ed] Investigative Journalists uncover Asia, one story at a time

Op-ed written for Sri Lanka’s Weekend Express newspaper, 23 September 2016

Investigative Journalists uncover Asia, one story at a time

By Nalaka Gunawardene

Second Asian Investigative Journalism Conference: Kathmandu, Nepal, 23-25 September 2016

Second Asian Investigative Journalism Conference: Kathmandu, Nepal, 23-25 September 2016

The second Asian Investigative Journalism Conference in opens in Kathmandu, Nepal, on September 23.

Themed as ‘Uncovering Asia’ it is organized jointly by the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN), Centre for Investigative Journalism in Nepal, and the German foundation Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (2016.uncoveringasia.org).

Founded in 2003, GIJN is the world’s leading international association of investigative reporters’ and their organizations. Its membership includes more than 100 non-profits and NGOs in 45 countries. They are committed to expanding and supporting quality investigative journalism worldwide. This is done through sponsoring global and regional conferences, including the every-two-year Global Investigative Journalism Conference. GIJN also does training, links journalists together worldwide, and promotes best practices in investigative and data journalism.

For three days in Kathmandu, reporters from across Asia and beyond – including several from Sri Lanka – will swap stories, cheer each other, and take stock of their particular craft.

It is true that all good journalism should be investigative as well as reflective. Journalism urges its practitioners to follow the money and power — two factors that often lead to excesses and abuses.

At the same time, investigative journalism (IJ) is actually a specialized genre of the profession of journalism. It is where reporters deeply investigate a single topic of public interest — such as serious crimes, political corruption, or corporate wrongdoing. In recent years, probing environmental crimes, human smuggling, and sporting match fixing have joined IJ’s traditional topics.

Investigative journalists may spend months or years researching and preparing a report (or documentary). They would consult eye witnesses, subject experts and lawyers to get their story exactly right. In some cases, they would also have to withstand extreme pressures exerted by the party being probed.

This process is illustrated in the Academy award winning Hollywood movie ‘Spotlight’ (2015). It is based on The Boston Globe‘s investigative coverage of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. The movie reconstructs how a small team systematically amassed and analyzed evidence for months before going public.

Spotlight: investigative journalism at work

Spotlight: investigative journalism at work

Nosing Not Easy

Investigative journalism is not for the faint-hearted. But it epitomizes, perhaps more than anything else, the public interest value of an independent media.

The many challenges investigative journalists face was a key topic at the recent International Media Conference of the Hawaii-based East-West Center, held in New Delhi, India, from 8 to 11 September 2016.

In mature democracies, freedom of expression and media freedoms are constitutionally guaranteed and respected in practice (well, most of the time). That creates an enabling environment for whistle-blowers and journalists to probe various stories in the public interest.

Many Asian investigative journalists don’t have that luxury. They persist amidst uncaring (or repressive) governments, intimidating wielders of authority, unpredictable judicial mechanisms and unsupportive publishers. They often risk their jobs, and sometimes life and limb, in going after investigative stories.

Yet, as participants and speakers in Delhi confirmed, and those converging in Kathmandu this week will no doubt demonstrate, investigative journalism prevails. It even thrives when indefatigable journalists are backed by exceptionally courageous publishers.

Delhi conference panel: investigative journalists share experiences on how they probed Panama Papers

Delhi conference panel: investigative journalists share experiences on how they probed Panama Papers

Cross-border Probing

 As capital and information flows have become globalized, so has investigative journalism. Today, illicit money, narcotics, exotic animals and illegal immigrants crisscross political borders all the time. Journalists following such stories simply have to step beyond their own territories to get the bigger picture.

Here, international networking helps like-nosed journalists. The Delhi conference showcased the Panama Papers experience as reaffirming the value of cross-border collaboration.

Panama Papers involved a giant “leak” of more than 11.5 million financial and legal records exposing an intricate system that enables crime, corruption and wrongdoing, all hidden behind secretive offshore companies.

This biggest act of whistle blowing in history contained information on some 214,488 offshore entities. The documents had all been created by Panamanian law firm and corporate service provider Mossack-Fonseca since the 1970s.

A German newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung, originally received the leaked data. Because of its massive volume, it turned to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), a Washington-anchored but globally distributed network of journalists from over 60 countries who collaborate in probing cross-border crimes, corruption and the accountability of power.

Coordinated by ICIJ, journalists from 107 media organizations in 80 countries analyzed the Panama Papers. They were sworn to secrecy and worked on a collective embargo. Within that framework, each one was free to pursue local angles on their own.

After more than one year of analysis and verifications, the news stories were first published on 3 April 2016 simultaneously in participating newspapers worldwide. At the same time, ICIJ also released on its website 150 documents themselves (the rest being released progressively).

Registering offshore business entities per se is not illegal in some countries. Yet, reporters sifting through the records found that some offshore companies have been used for illegal purposes like fraud, tax evasion and stashing away money looted by dictators and their cronies.

Strange Silence

 In Delhi, reporters from India, Indonesia and Malaysia described how they went after Panama leaks information connected to their countries. For example, Ritu Sarin, Executive Editor (News and Investigation) of the Indian Express said she and two dozen colleagues worked for eight months before publishing a series of exposes linking some politicians and celebrities to offshore companies.

Listening to them, I once again wondered why ICIJ’s sole contact in Sri Lanka (and his respected newspaper) never carried a single word about Panama Leaks. That, despite nearly two dozen Lankan names coming to light.

Some of our other mainstream media splashed the Lankan names associated with Panama Papers (often mixing it up with earlier Offshore Leaks), but there has been little follow-up. In this vacuum, it was left to civic media platforms like Groundviews.org and data-savvy bloggers like Yudhanjaya Wijeratne (http://icaruswept.com) to do some intelligent probing. Their efforts are salutary but inadequate.

Now, Panama Leaks have just been followed up by Bahamas Leaks on September 22. The data is available online, for any nosy professional or citizen journalist to follow up. How many will go after it?

Given Sri Lanka’s alarming journalism deficit, investigative reporting can no longer be left to those trained in the craft and their outlets.

Science writer Nalaka Gunawardene blogs at http://nalakagunawardene.com, and is on Twitter as @NalakaG.