Responding to European journalistic interests and needs
Our core business is facilitating journalism grants for investigative, independent journalism in Europe. A 2016 evaluation concluded that our competitive advantage is our flexibility in terms of geographic and thematic focus of our grants in comparison with other similar grant makers. Like us, the journalists we support believe it is important that topics for investigations be driven by journalists themselves. In this way, the Fund respects the diversity of issues and interests throughout the region and does not artificially drive journalistic agendas. We therefore seek to preserve this flexibility and bottom-up approach.
Journalismfund.eu is perceived as a well-connected and professional player in our field. In 2012, we were commissioned by the European Parliament’s Policy Department of Budgetary affairs to prepare a report on the state of investigative journalism in 27 EU member states with a special focus on the interaction between European institutions and investigative journalists.
The investigations we support make a difference
Below are examples of the outcomes of just a handful of investigative journalism we supported. We will continue to build on our ability to support the development of exemplary in-depth journalism in Europe.
1. Congo - The Epic History of a People (2008-2010)
Belgian journalist and author David Van Reybrouck received a grant to conduct research for his book documenting the history of Congo from the period before the arrival of the explorer Stanley to today’s Chinese influence. This is a good example of exceptional journalism projects that the Pascal Decroos fund supports that departs from classic investigative journalism. The book has received 11 international prizes since its publication in 2010 and has been translated into six European languages.
2. Romanian children growing up without their parents (2012-2014)
In 2014, a grant (pre-research) was awarded to an Antwerp-based filmmaker for the production of her documentary film entitled Waiting for August. The film is about Georgiana, a 15-year-old teenager from Bacau, who had to raise her six siblings alone when her mother went to work in Belgium in order to support her family. This is a story which illustrates the situation of countless other Romanian children. The film received three international awards and was praised by audiences around the world.
3. The Migrants Files: counting the dead and following the money (2013-2014)
In 2013, a team of seven journalists from across Europe set out to document how many migrants were actually dying on their way to Europe every year. Their findings proved to be significantly higher than what had been previously known and publicised. The initial findings were published in 12 countries, widely quoted in a variety of European media, and were used by the International Organisation of Migration. The project won the European Press Prize Innovation Award. The Migrant Files database is still regularly being updated and continues to serve as an important reference for researchers, journalists, and NGOs.
The project won in 2014 the European Press Prize, Innovation Award, the Global Editors Network Data Journalism Awards and the Gold Medal at 'Premios ÑH'.
4. Trafficking hopeful football youngsters to Europe (2014-2015)
In 2016, a Cross Continents grant was awarded to a team of journalists to investigate the trafficking of young boys from West Africa to Europe by fake football agents promising them trials with top football clubs. The investigative team used data journalism techniques to uncover money flows in the football industry and corruption in the world of football agents. The story won the CNN 2016 African Journalist Award for sports reporting and the team was noticed by The New York Times who wanted to carry out a follow-up investigation.
This project won in 2016 the AMI Journalism against Indifference Prize and the High Commission for Migration's Communication Award.
5. Miscarriage of justice through forensic language analysis (2015-2016)
Criminal justice systems throughout Europe and many other parts of the world increasingly use forensic speech science as evidence in courts. In 2015, a grant was awarded to a team of journalists and researchers that uncovered how the use of this method led to severe miscarriages of justice. The investigation won the 2016 European Science Writer of the Year Prize and team members have been invited to speak at several academic conferences on the topic. The team leader was invited to participate in the UK Parliament Office of Science and Technology’s briefing on forensic language analysis.
In 2016, the same team was awarded another grant for an investigation (the first of its kind) on a controversial linguistic test that is being used in nine European countries to identify the origin of asylum seekers. The investigation showed how the technique, Language Analysis for the Determination of Origin (LADO), led to miscarriages of justice and revealed that it has been questioned by courts and immigration agencies in both the UK and Sweden. This issue is highly topical because the recent agreement between the European Union and Turkey on refugee management unfortunately includes the use of LADO.
Journalist Michele Catanzaro won the 2016 European Science Writer of the Year award for this project.
Read the two stories here:
6. Illicit money flows to African political parties (2015-2016)
A 2016 grant supported an investigation that revealed how four of Africa’s most long-standing ruling political parties are being financed from illicit financial flows from large multi-national corporations.
The investigation resulted in numerous articles being published in the mainstream media as well as in policy-oriented publications such as Harvard ‘s Human Rights Journal and the World Policy Journal. The authors of the investigation were asked to present their findings before the African Union’s Parliament and the Anti-Corruption Board and to the OECD.
7. Double standards in pricing of life saving medicine (2016)
A 2016 investigation on the price of cancer medicines in five European countries revealed that drug manufacturers sometimes charge higher prices for drugs in poor Eastern countries than in the West. The published articles received wide exposure at both national and European levels and sparked heated debate about access to treatment among grassroots groups, cancer specialists and politicians. As a result, in Latvia, the government agreed to allocate extra funding for cancer detection and treatment.
The Bulgarian Society for Medical Oncology used the information for lobbying purposes. As a result, the government re-instated drugs they had taken off the market. In Switzerland patient groups lobbied members of Parliament and the government on unfair pricing practices of Swiss drug companies. One of the published articles received the German Association of Pharmacists’ Expopharm Media Prize and was nominated for the German Reporter Prize for Best Investigation.
8. Dieselgate 2.0
The 2016 investigation proved that Opel dealers in Belgium were using software that enhanced the performance of the Opel Zafira Tourer 2014 model but also increased its nitrogen oxide emission levels several hundred times higher than accepted norms. As a result of the investigation, Opel dealers are now changing the software package thereby making the cars less hazardous to the environment. These changes took place shortly after the Dieselgate scandal erupted in Europe.
9. Special Branch surveillance files made public (2016)
In 2015, the Fund supported the Special Branch Files Project which has become a live archive of declassified files on the surveillance of political movements and individuals in the UK.This is a crucial project because the Metropolitan Police increasingly refuses requests to disclose Special Branch files despite the introduction in 2005 of the Freedom of Information Act in Britain.
The project has led to the development of an active community of contributors and users who are using the archive as a resource to defend victims of unfounded police surveillance and for court cases. The project has become an important example of how to overcome challenges of access to information.
10. The Ematum deal in Mozambique (2016-2017-2019)
In 2013, Mozambique borrowed $850 million ostensibly to fund the purchase of a tuna fishing fleet, through a publicly-privately owned special purpose company called Ematum. It soon emerged that much of the money was used to purchase military hardware – but it remains unclear how much. There are strong suspicions that some of the missing money might have been used to arm the military for a land offensive against opposition forces, which led to human rights abuses against the civilian population, and which appears to be being covered up.
- The article published (in Portuguese) on 9 March 2016 in Mozambican newspaper Foreign Policy, were widely read and quoted by Mozambican news media, as well as cited in numerous blogs and shared on social media.
- Tom Bowker, one of the journalists who worked on the story, contributed to questions which were asked in a high-profile parliamentary inquiry into the deals.
- The reporting on Andrew Pearse (Ex-Credit Suisse Banker) will certainly have informed the Jubilee Debt campaign on Mozambique's debt.
11. The MEPS project: The ghost offices of MEPS (2017)
Journalismfund.eu financed some of the freelancers on this project. In total, 48 journalists were involved in all 28 Member states.
In an unprecedented EU-wide collaborative effort, the journalists from "The MEPs Project" located in every member state investigated how members of the European Parliament (MEPs) make use of the general expenses payments they receive every month.
- On 31 May 2017, Transparency International called for action: “This is what happens when MEPs can collectively spend €40 millions of taxpayers’ money every year without having to produce a single receipt”, said Nick Aiossa, Policy Officer at Transparency International EU.
“It should be obvious that the lack of transparency and control around these allowances make them vulnerable to abuse. Today’s revelations are ample proof of that. This allowance has rules in place and it is not meant to serve as an additional salary, a way to personally enrich themselves, nor subsidise domestic political parties. It is time for the Parliament to take action to instill high-levels of trust in the institution,” concluded Aiossa.
- Litigation: the group of journalists who worked on this story sued the MEPs in the EU Court of Justice. On the 25th of September 2018, the court ruled against the journalists who have since announced that they will appeal.
12. Fish-for-cash barter: How EU robs Africa of its seafood (2017)
The flowery legalese of any Fishing Partnership Agreement always appears to secure the sustainability of the domestic fisheries involved but really this economic document is Brussels’ strategy for plundering the abundant undersea resources of Africa’s maritime states. From Sao Tomé to Sierra Leone, evidence abounds that the EU merely pays lip service to its pledges for global development.
This investigation uncovered cases of corruption involving European companies which was well documented in the published work. The publications in different media outlets led to a subsequent follow up by a member of the European parliament who contacted the team for more details on the issue.
The team’s efforts have not gone unrecognised in media circles. In September of 2018, they were the winners of Hostwriter journalism prize that was funded by the Otto Sprenger Foundation in Warsaw, Poland.
13. The slavery of care: Bulgarian women working in the West as caregivers (2018)
The story focuses on the plight of cash-strapped Bulgarian women who come to Belgium and the Netherlands as posted workers to care for elderly people who want to spend the last months or years of their life in their own home, instead of in a retirement home. The investigation focuses on one of the main players on the market offering such services, Seniorcare24.
The investigation revealed that the Bulgarian women employed by this group are being exploited.
There were different parliamentary debates in Belgium, the Netherlands and Bulgaria about the issue. Civil society organisations called on politicians to look into this issue in order to protect both senior citizens and foreign workers.
In March 2019, Slavery of Care was nominated for the 'Belfius-persprijs' in the category 'Television press'. The Belfius Press Awards is a series of annual press awards from the Belgian bank Belfius for the best articles or series of articles, audio-visual reports and photos that were published or distributed in the media during the past year.
14. Mercy Killing (2018)
Having a child with a disability poses severe challenges to parents, making their lives more difficult. For parents living in a very poor developing country it’s even more challenging. Mercy Killing is a documentary about parents in Uganda who kill their disabled children out of desperation. The parents of disabled children kill or allow them to die by starving them or denying them medical attention because of the belief that these children are better off dead than having to endure a painful and incurable disability.
The documentary was broadcast on Flemish News Channel, Canvas, where around 250 000 people watched on the first night.
After seeing the documentary, member of the European Parliament Hilde Vautmans was so overwhelmed that she put the problem on the European agenda.
On 15 March 2018, there was a EU- resolution on the matter.
In 2019 it was nominated for De Loeps investigative journalism prize (Belgium/The Netherlands). In the category 'Signalerend'.
15. The Toxic Valley (2018-2019)
Journalists investigated the environmental and medical consequences of chemical dumping and pollution that have led to a widespread health crisis in Kocaeli, Turkey’s most heavily industrialised region. After they published their stories in September and October, 22 MPs from Turkey’s main opposition party CHP submitted a written motion urging the Turkish Parliament to investigate “the toxicity of the dump and take necessary precautions urgently, as well as to determine how the dump consisting asbestos came about and who the responsible parties are”.
Turkish MPs asked for a commission to be set up to investigate the lethal dump “that damaged the Dilovasi town to the point of catastrophe”. The motion explicitly referred to the journalists’ reporting, including witness testimonies and lab testings of samples from the dump.
16. The Chlorpyrifos Case (2019)
Residues of Chlorpyrifos, a dangerous insecticide, have been found in fruit baskets and samples of human urine across Europe. Chlorpyrifos is a chemical that kills insects on growing vegetables and fruit. The series of stories, funded by Journalismfund.eu, uncover its effect on adults and children, the spread of the pesticide in different foods, the legal battle in European Union and the fact that it has been banned in more and more countries, but cannot be completely avoided.
Following the publication of the story in different media organisations in Europe, EU experts and staff at the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) published an unprecedented statement on the controversial pesticides, saying the pesticides do not meet the criteria for renewed approval. The announcement was made on the 2nd of August 2019. The present approvals for the pesticide expire in January 2020.
17. Facing the Future (2019-2020)
At the end of February 2020 Euractiv reported on the impact of a Journalismfund.eu- supported European cross-border investigation to uncover the state of facial recognition technology in Europe. MPs in the European Parliament have pressed the Commission for more details on their plans to create facial recognition databases.
The team of journalists from Germany, Spain and the UK unearth the stories behind the development and deployment of facial recognition technologies in the EU. Caitlin Chandler, Zachary Campbell and Chris Jones obtained leaked internal EU documents that reveal law enforcement is lobbying to create a network of national police facial recognition databases.
18. Funding China's energy at Europe's expense: An investigation into a corrupt deal between Malta and Montenegro's leaders (2020)
The Malta-based Shift News in collaboration with the largest Montenegrin daily DAN launched an investigation into the Sino-Maltese wind farm project in Montenegro underhandedly backed by Montenegro's ruling clique and Azerbaijani businesses present both in Malta and Montenegro. In mid-July 2020 the European Commission has said it expects the Mozura wind farm deal in Montenegro to be reviewed by independent and professional institutions in an investigation that may carry implications for those in Malta involved in the project. It expected the Montenegrin authorities to answer to accusations of corruption related to the joint Maltese-Montenegrin wind power project.