Johannesburg, SA — African investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas has once again voiced his motto: "naming, shaming, and jailing," people who break the law at the detriment of the majority of the ordinary people.
This Ghanaian-based journalist better known as Anas is considered one of West Africa's best investigative journalists. Anas goes undercover using secret cameras to expose ills in the society and this is not limited to Ghana alone. Other African nationalities have also been caught in the web. He's one of those investigative journalists, whose identities are rarely known to outsiders other than their pen names.
He reiterated his motto of 'naming, shaming and jailing' recently when along with other investigative journalists, attended the African Investigative Journalism Conference (AIJC) in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The annual event, organized by the Journalism Program of Wits University and commenced on October 29 to 31, 2018, was geared towards bringing professors of Journalism and Investigative Journalists from all parts of Africa, Europe and other parts of the world, to speak and share their experiences from their individual countries where they are based.
Anas appeared at the three-day event in South Africa wearing colorful African beads neatly threaded together to completely mask his face in order to obscure his identity.
He was once hailed by the former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who was a Ghanaian, too, and former US President Barack Obama who said the journalist risked his life, to tell the truth.
This true that President Obama talked about is Anas' investigative report, which exposed 47 corrupt judges receiving bribes in Ghana. He put all of these judges secretly on camera as they did their illegal trade in order to sway justice. They were later arrested by the Ghanaian authority.
At the African Investigative Journalism Conference (AIJC), Anas had few clips of his investigative documentaries shown. He used the occasion to encourage colleagues in the field, to always seek the public interests first as they go about their reportage.
"I have realized that when I film people with hidden cameras, it helps to reveal they're true personas and shows what they normally do away from watching eyes. If someone is caught on camera taking bribes, chances are he has done it before and will do it again. This shows people for who they really are," Anas said.
When he again exposed some football officials receiving bribes a few months ago, he probably was unaware of the impacts this undercover reporting would have. One of the participants in the hall announced that as a result of Anas' work, the Federation of International Football Association (FIFA) had announced a lifetime ban of former Ghanaian Football Association president Kwesi Nyantakyi. This work didn't only make headways in Ghana alone. A Liberian referee, Jerry Yekeh, was filmed at the 2017 West African Football Union Nations Cup finals in Ghana, where referees were seen allegedly receiving bribes to influence the matches. However, the footage did not explicitly show Mr. Yekeh receiving money.
Yekeh was among several officials provisionally banned in July pending submissions to a Confederation of African Football (CAF) disciplinary board. In September, CAF exonerated this Liberian FIFA-badge referee "after a thorough check of the elements presented to them regarding the violation of CAF regulations."
Speaking further at the AIJC, Anas emphasized to his audience that putting the public interest first is why he does what he does.
Responding to a question concerning the violation of privacy, Anas stressed that he places public interest first and follows the law. "Going undercover should be your last result when all other means of getting bad people to speak to, have failed. Nobody would want to talk to you when you are holding a conventional camera in front of them," he added.
As Anas left the hall, nearly the entire room of people was excited to see him for the first time; most followed him outside to take photos with him.
Also speaking, Liberia's own investigative journalist Alloycious David expressed fear that the situation of land grab in Liberia could be a recipe for future conflict.
According to Alloycious, the urge for employment, revenues, and development of infrastructures destroyed during the war years saw the grabbing of land in large-scale acquisition as a massive land concession (contracts) in foreign direct investment amounting to US$18 billion in the agriculture, forestry, mining and oil, and gas, to multinational companies.
"As a fragile post-conflict country emerging from 15 years of war, there were very little capacities to deal with these transnational corporations. So the companies took advantage of the weaknesses, lack of skills and expertise in the government to effectively negotiate these contracts by manipulating the process in their own interests," he stated.
According to him, the potential that the series of "investments could undermine and destabilize the country and not contribute to peacebuilding has been characterized by the documentation of protest and violence in 14 of Liberia's 15 counties that have characterized these investments."
Cheryl W. Thompson, an associate professor in Journalism at George Washington University, spoke on interview techniques being essential to the work of journalists and therefore they need to be conducted correctly and with care. Prof. Thompson shared her top tips on conducting interviews based on her experience as an investigative journalist for over 30 years.
"As part of the interview procedures, a journalist should conduct research on the source and the story that they will be covering," said Thompson.
She urged all journalists to go through all documents, clips and any data they can get their hands on, to ensure that they are well prepared for the interview.
"A good interviewer already knows the answer to the question, because they have researched the topic well," she added.
Thompson stressed the importance of writing down questions to ensure that the interview is not side-tracked. Writing the questions down also helps to arrange a story chronologically, "People don't talk chronologically, they need you to guide them," said Thompson.
Journalism professor Jeff Kelly Lowenstein, who teaches at Grand Valley State University in the US, spoke on data collection methods for everyday use.
Ms. Lowenstein also talked about data collection skills. According to her, the public, and not just journalists are able to collect information and data without much technical knowledge or data collections skills.
Juliana Francis, crime editor for the New Telegraph in Nigeria and two other investigative female journalists, Motunrayo Alaka and Pauli Van Wyk, spoke on several challenges face by female investigative journalists. They added that women in investigative journalism do not only have to deal with the dangers that come with investigations, but also with male-dominated workplaces and sexual harassment.
"A police chief I once went to interview, started touching me around my bra area, I put him on the spot and told him to stop. I told my boss; I did not want to be assigned to the police again. He told me to ask myself if I became a journalist to run from challenges because they will keep coming as long as I am a woman," Ms. Francis narrated.
She encouraged other female journalists not to be afraid and not to feel pressured to do a lot of stories; adding: "It does not matter how long [an investigation] takes. The final product is all that matters."
Addressing the same topic, Ms. Alaka, another female Nigerian journalist who leads the Wole Soyinka Center for Investigative Journalism, expressed concerns over how women are represented, treated and not recognized in the newsroom.
"A lot of women are considered quiet and hardworking but a lot of women do not make it to the editor-in-chief position. The perception is that if you are vocal, you are aggressive," she said.
Pauli Van Wyk, an investigative journalist for the Daily Maverick, said women cannot expect to change things overnight. "Doing small things in your own newsroom is something that everyone should be doing every day. Don't just accept what people tell you."