With­out clo­sure, we aren’t quite in Par­adise yet

The Observer - - BUSINESS - Peter Pre­ston

From Panama to Par­adise to Perdi­tion. Global is­sues like tax avoid­ance need global aware­ness and global an­swers. Here comes a net­work of 135 in­ves­tiga­tive re­porters around the world toil­ing over seven long months. And here’s a bumper bun­dle of 13.4 mil­lion doc­u­ments from Ber­muda, Sin­ga­pore and 19 as­sorted havens. This is data jour­nal­ism on a grand scale.

“You think about in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism and you think about Wood­ward and Bern­stein and you think about meet­ing Deep Throat in the car park at two in the morn­ing. We’ve gone from Wood­ward and Bern­stein to geeks looking at vast datasets,” the Guardian’s Luke Harding told ad­mir­ers from the Poyn­ter In­sti­tute. It’s a tri­umph – with headaches at­tached.

The first mi­graine, throb­bing a lit­tle as the new data pro­tec­tion bill passes through par­lia­ment, is the dif­fi­culty of keep­ing such grand col­lab­o­ra­tions clear of le­gal ret­ri­bu­tion.

Süd­deutsche Zeitung, the Mu­nich paper that seems to act as de­liv­ery point for the hack­ers who gath­ered those 13.4 mil­lion em­bar­rass­ments, shel­ters its sources punc­til­iously. But most of the tax ploys re­vealed aren’t il­le­gal. The sto­ries are cal­cu­lated to rile the rich and pow­er­ful op­er­at­ing in scores of le­gal en­vi­ron­ments. How long be­fore the an­gry em­pire strikes back?

Data pro­tec­tion – mix­ing pri­vacy, de­fences against crim­i­nal­ity and the high grass of con­fi­den­tial­ity – is a move­able feast. See how an as­sort­ment of peers is try­ing to use the new data pro­tec­tion bill as a ve­hi­cle to force pa­pers to sign up for a Leve­son-blessed reg­u­la­tor (which, of course, has noth­ing to do with tax gam­bits). See, too, how tests of the “pub­lic in­ter­est” in ex­po­sure can be ig­nored un­der pres­sure, es­pe­cially in the early stages of an op­er­a­tion when il­lic­itly ob­tained data is be­ing ex­am­ined for clinch­ing ma­te­rial. Se­crecy is ab­so­lutely im­per­a­tive.

Per­haps the Par­adise Pa­pers, in their weight of damn­ing de­tail, set­tle such prob­lems this time around. But per­haps, too, the sec­ond headache is more prob­lem­atic be­cause it con­fronts the me­dia’s own pre­sen­ta­tional dif­fi­cul­ties.

Global sto­ries, tracked down by re­porters in dozens of coun­tries, don’t emerge as global on the page. To the con­trary, they’re tar­geted at in­di­vid­ual na­tions. So the UK gets the Queen’s off­shore ad­ven­tures plus the fu­ture king’s green-fin­gered, red-faced in­vest­ments in de­for­esta­tion (and tax) re­lief. Mean­while the same on­line Guardian cov­er­age, this time for Amer­ica, tops off with fat Repub­li­can donors writ­ing even fat­ter cheques – and Trump’s off­shore pals. Canada has Justin Trudeau’s money man in a jam. France (via Le Monde) is ex­cited be­cause the coun­try’s rich­est man has spread some of his riches far from sight. Swe­den has the chief of the em­ploy­ers’ or­gan­i­sa­tion on the rack. Ire­land has Bono.

And this is only the tip of the Par­adise ice­berg. It’s huge. But is it too huge? Con­ven­tional in­ves­ti­ga­tions move on a scan­dal at a time: se­lect, aim, fire. In Par­adise, as in Panama, the rev­e­la­tions come at tidal-wave strength – but can also leave their vic­tims stand­ing. Look through the list of those who used Panama bolt­holes. Close rel­a­tives of China’s Pres­i­dent Xi, Kaza­khstan’s Pres­i­dent Nazarbayev, South Africa’s Pres­i­dent Zuma, and many more.

Panama put tax avoid­ance on the map. Par­adise, af­ter much bril­liant and dar­ing toil, nails it there. But in­ves­tiga­tive re­porters may also soon need to stand back and as­sess ways and means. Is global a def­i­ni­tion of am­bi­tion? Does the whole pa­rade move on too quickly, leav­ing the news cy­cle trail­ing be­hind?

Data jour­nal­ism is a child of the dig­i­tal age. The chal­lenge is giv­ing it enough time and res­o­lu­tion; turn­ing shock and in­dig­na­tion into clo­sure.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.