Sonali Samarasinghe, Sri Lanka, wins the second Global Shining Light Award at the GIJC-2008 at Lillehammer, Norway. Runner-up is Edik Baghdasaryan, Armenia.
Press release - Global Shining Light Award 2008
The Winner (2000 USD and a plaque)
Gangersterism and the faulty legal system – Sonali Samarasinghe – Sri Lanka
Sonali Samarasinghe and the Sunday Leader decided enough was enough.
What started out as an attempt to follow-up on the beating of a bar patron by the son and body guards of a powerful government minister became an investigation that exposed how that government minister used his power and connections to the Prime Minister, to run roughshod over the media and the justice system.
Samarasinghe’s tracked down all the people connected to the beating and in the process found many other people, including police officers and lawyers with stories of corruption and brutality by the government minister and his son. In the bar beating she revealed that the Sri Lankan president had called senior police officers and lawyers. Malaka Silva’s father the government minister, even appeared in a hospital operating room where he tried to intimidate the surgeon, the husband of the judge presiding over his son’s case.
The stories ran four days of stories over three months and after the last story aired thugs broke into the newspaper offices, burned down the presses, torched the papers being loaded onto trucks for delivery and assaulted three newspaper employees. A month later, Minister Silva broke into the offices of the state controlled television station, outraged that the station had not broadcast a certain politic story. He manhandled the News Director and threatened the staff. The staff of the station stood up to the Minister.
This story showed the importance of cultivating sources, convincing people to talk and gathering the documentation to back it all up.
The Second place (a plaque)
The Minister and the Mining Sector – Edik Baghdasaryan – Armenia
What started as an attempt to clarify why the country’s Environment Ministry was seemingly disinterested in tackling the looming ecological challenges facing the country in particular in regards to the rapidly expanding mining sector.
Eight months later Baghdasaryan had discovered that the Minister of the Environment had been very busy awarding exploration licenses to 15 members of his family as well as his office assistants in violation of several statutes. As a result of these stories a study was begun into the mining industry and changes were made to create a public tender process and competitive bidding. A few months later the Environment Minister lost his job.
This story showed the impact that can be made by collecting the documentation and using it in the story.
Three others of note
From Nigeria – Abuja Environmental Task Force by Solomon Adelbayo
This entry exposed the abuses of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board that abducted and imprisoned people for allegedly violating environmental rules. Adelbayo snuck his audio recording equipment into the jails at great risk to interview people. After his story aired people were released from the jails and the jails were closed.
From South Africa – The Government 60 bn Rands Arms Deal by the Investigation team at the Mail and Guardian
This entry exposed how members of the South African government received kickbacks for purchasing weapons the country didn’t need. Among other things, the team’s investigation found that the criteria for the arms purchases was changed so expensive and impractical equipment could be bought instead of much cheaper and more easily useable planes. The South African people will be paying for these purchases until the year 2020.
From Ghana – Child Alert by Anas Aremeyaw Anas
This investigation discovered how Ghana had became the headquarters of the
West African trafficking syndicate and through the reporting of it, smashed the syndicate. As a result of the reporter’s work seventeen girls were rescued.
The journalist had to work undercover for several months under great personal risk. The investigation raises the issue of how far to go to protect your identity and get the story in cooperation with the criminal gang on one hand and the importance of the story on the other.
The jury consisted of Nils Mulvad, Denmark, Sandra Bartlett, Canada and Rune Ottosen, Norway. They judged the entries on four criteria:
The difficulty of doing the story – the ability to get documents, sources and contacts, what to do in the absence of FOIA, and the difficulty of getting to the places where the interviews or documents are - the laws and government where the story was done – the rich and powerful are more difficult and dangerous subjects
The resources available to the reporter for the story – money, time, research and other journalists – a small organization with very little money has made a bigger commitment than a well funded organization – we looked at what the journalist was able to accomplish with the resources at hand
The danger to the reporter and/or the news outlet – physical, economic, political danger – the threat of lawsuit, jail, death. In many countries in transition journalists do investigative work at their peril, the peril of their families and of their organization
The impact of the story – did something change as a result of the story – this is the hardest to determine because many times the story begins a process of change and the change doesn’t happen immediately and we took that into account