Global Reporting Centre wins National Edward R. Murrow Award

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We are thrilled to announce that our documentary series Turning Points received a national Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the RTDNA’s small digital news organization category. Turning Points was co-created with the GRC and Indigenous storytellers from Yellowknife, N.W.T.  As part of our work to advance empowerment journalism, storytellers were directly involved at every stage of the production of the project. They shared the cultural, social, geographic and historical factors that pulled them into addiction and also their journeys to recovery. 

The series debuted in 2020 at a screening in Yellowknife, where friends, families and community members gathered to watch the documentary series. After it was shared with the community, it aired in partnership with PBS Newshour and was later used in a PBS Newshour lesson plan about the legacy of boarding schools in the U.S.

We are grateful for the time, commitment and generosity of the storytellers. We are proud to share this award with them.

This project was made possible thanks to generous funding and support from the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and the University of British Columbia.

Fragile Chains: Coronavirus and Medical Supplies

Free Webinar. Register HERE

Meet the journalists and scholars behind a major investigation into how medical supply chains collapsed under the strain of the coronavirus pandemic. Since the start of the outbreak, we’ve interviewed manufacturers and government officials, analyzed records, and traced key medical supplies that culminated in a FRONTLINE documentary, Associated Press series, and multimedia project. This is the first of two roundtables examining medical supplies and the pandemic.

Martha Mendoza: Two-time Pulitzer winner and Emmy award-winning Associated Press reporter who spoke with many of the key players in medical supply production, distribution and regulation, and tracked several databases of medical supplies coming into the United States.

Juliet Linderman: National investigative reporter for The Associated Press who conducted key interviews on the ground including with the FBI and members of the White House who are responsible for overseeing medical supplies in the US — including President Trump’s key trade advisor, UC-Irvine economist Dr. Peter Navarro.

Dr. Jane Lister: GRC Research Manager who will offer her perspectives on helping oversee the academic framing of this research.

Sharon Nadeem: UBC Journalism alum who served as associate producer on the documentary will share stories of tracking down documents, data and sources throughout the half-year investigation.

Peter Klein: Professor and Executive Director of the Global Reporting Centre, who oversaw the documentary production, will moderate the virtual workshop. Many of the scholars and students who participated will also be in attendance.

The project has been supported by a SSHRC Partnership Grant and a VPRI Research Excellence Cluster, and the workshop is supported by the Peter Wall Virtual Roundtable.

Re-Airing of Unseen Enemy: Pandemic on CNN

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Award-winning director Janet Tobias and some of the world’s top health experts explore lurking viruses and bacteria that might cause the next global pandemic. Global Reporting Centre’s founder Peter Klein was a producer on this timely film.

CNN will be re-airing this documentary on Saturday, March 13 at 10 pm EDT.

Synopsis

In the 21st century, we are all connected. Population growth, mass urbanization, deforestation, climate change and increased travel have dramatically increased the risk that familiar diseases will spread and mutate, and new ones will emerge. As people enter new spheres of biodiversity, they come into closer contact with other species, increasing the risk of viruses jumping from animals to humans, and then spreading more widely.

Unseen Enemy is an essential exploration of reasons 21st-century populations are experiencing a rash of diseases that were once only outbreaks, but have now become full-blown epidemics. This increased risk that we face, and the ways society and individuals can work together to reduce that risk, are explained to the public through the case studies of three epidemics: Ebola, influenza and Zika. Moving across the globe, we meet doctors, disease detectives and everyday people who have stepped into the horror of an epidemic and emerged deeply changed. Epidemics bring out the best and worst of human behavior, with effects reaching far beyond the tolls of sickness and death.

On the ground during the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, we witness the human and economic costs of epidemics, the global hysteria, a poor international response — and how global economic inequality drives epidemics. Examining our yearly influenza epidemics as well as the history of influenza pandemics, we learn that the flu is a disease that causes experts sizeable fear. Yet, influenza is often misunderstood by the public. Even in an average year, the virus can kill between 250,000 and 500,000 people globally, with new strains constantly emerging.

Finally, through the Zika outbreak in Brazil, we see how a disease can move across the world, endangering particularly vulnerable targets: pregnant women and infants. Through the reach of Zika, we learn how climate change and travel can affect the spread of disease.

What these epidemics have made clear is that we, as a society, are woefully unprepared for a major pandemic. As stated by Dr. Larry Brilliant, “Two speeding trains are racing toward each other, both fueled by modernity: one represents the increasing likelihood of a pandemic brought upon us by our own behavior; the other carries new tools and technologies that could help us find viruses and bacteria early enough to prevent a global outbreak. The choice is ours as to which of those speeding trains wins.”

As individuals, we connect with thousands of other people every day; people we know well and others whom we only meet once. Each person is a part of a global web of connection that quickly leads from Vancouver to Hong Kong, New York to Liberia, Leipzig to New Delhi and from Rio de Janeiro to Kinshasa. Our connection can be either incredibly dangerous or a powerful force for good. Now more than ever, we need to put the “public”back in Public Health, for it is only by uniting our collective strength that we will all be truly safe. As it turns out, we are all the frontline in global health.

Words matter: What language can tell us about the government

Credit: Getty Images
Published

Just weeks before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Katharine Gun, a British intelligence official, leaked evidence that the public was being manipulated into war. She was quickly detained. Her interrogator from Special Branch confronted her about her actions, and said with a sneer: “You work for the British government.” Her famous response – recently portrayed by Keira Knightley in the film Official Secrets – was simple: “No. I work for the British people. I do not gather intelligence so the government can lie to the British people.”

The exchange is telling of the English language, at least as it’s spoken and understood in the United Kingdom, where public employees generally see themselves as serving the public. This is not the case in my country, Serbia, where the law defines public sector workers as state servants, or in Serbian, državni službenici, which literally translates to “the one who serves the government.”

Compare this to how Merriam-Webster defines a public service worker: someone who renders services “in the public interest.”

The Serbian word for government is vlada, which comes from the Slavic word for “the one that rules.” Biographies of public officials, consequently, do not state that they “served” as mayor, minister, or member of parliament. Instead, the officials were “in power.” 

There is meaning in language, and these nuances in my country are magnified in the lived experiences of my fellow Serbians.

Since the Second World War and  the creation of the Yugoslav Republic in 1946. the word “citizen” has been nearly removed from legal acts in Serbia. Our post-war constitution changed the purpose of the government by referring to it as the ruler and replacing “citizens” with the term lice, which literally translates to “face.” Likewise, Balkan countries used to use the term “Council of Ministers” as the formal name for the government. Council of ministers, (savet ministara,) was replaced with vlada, the word still used today in all former Yugoslav republics. By using impersonal terms, the state forcefully separates itself from the people. This alienation compromises the very essence of our democracy – defined by ancient Greeks as “rule by the people.”

Another illustrative example of language phenomena is that of salaries in the Balkans, which are presented in net values, while product prices are in gross values. As a result, citizens are typically unconscious of the fact that they are taxpayers and that the money government is spending is in fact theirs. Both media and members of the Government regularly exploit the phrase državni novac, or state money.” This in turn emphasizes the power of the state and diminishes the role of citizens.

Although the term poreski obveznik, or taxpayer, exists in media reports and in legislation, it’s almost exclusively used in one way — to designate those in debt to the government. Rarely is there a sense that the government is in debt to the people for taking a cut of our income and purchases.

“How can I be angry over taxes, when I’m not a taxpayer?!?,” a friend asked me after hearing me complain about this.

My daughter, who is ten, provided a helpful interpretation. Recently, while helping her with her homework in Vancouver, Canada, where we now live, I spoke with her about politics in Canada and in Serbia. Trying to understand, but looking for a simpler explanation, she said:

“Oh, so you’re saying that Serbian politicians are like those buses that run on the street not picking up any passengers, by putting up the sign ‘Not in service’!”

Unfortunately, it’s becoming clear that in Serbia, democracy is more of a goal than an achievement. Officially, almost all politicians call for further democratic development. However, from my perspective, democracy should be considered as a way to achieve rule of law, human rights, independent media, or, at the very least, as a foundation for these things.

On the surface, it seems that democracy is threatened by nationalism, populism, and different forms of corruption by a handful of political parties. But, in fact, all of these are consequences of a more serious problem— lack of civil literacy, which leads to a poor perception of democracy and its mechanisms. 

For this reason it’s important to understand that the role of media is not just to inform, but to educate— not just to provide precise and complete information, but to provide context and use the right words to describe it.

It’s not easy to change a political or educational system. It’s even harder to change people’s mentalities. But to start, let’s use the right words.

Open up the borders (for journalism)!

Published

This piece was originally published in MO*

Information is vital. Anyone who still has doubts about this in these coronation times must crawl out of his bunker. For weeks, the Chinese government hampered an efficient approach to the new virus by the prevailing culture of censorship. The U.S. President had a similar effect by mocking science. And in Italy, the seriousness of the story was minimized so as not to harm economic interests.

Throughout all the differences, it turns out that governments everywhere today are extremely image-sensitive, which mainly means that they want to decide for themselves which information is published and which narrative gets the upper hand. That is why journalism exists: to disobey the laws of communication services, even when they are laid down in actual law — as in China.

An important point to make here, is that it is not only politicians who strive for complete communication control and place their image above the truth and transparency. Companies, organisations and even some media commit the same sins.

It would be easy for us to write here that it is “the mainstream media” that sweep the journalistic mission under the carpet of profit and readerschip numbers. But the world isn’t that black and white (fortunately).

Standing up for the duty to show and interpret the unpleasant truth, the invisible dreams or the complex coherence of things is also a daily challenge for media without profit motive. No matter how eagerly everyone clicks on razor-sharp opinions or sleazy stories, they do not turn readers into informed citizens. And no matter how relevant and necessary local or national reporting is, if it remains disconnected from global developments, these stories conceal more than they clarify.

“Information is vital to make rational choices,” said Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen in an interview with MO* a few years ago. Make that “correct information”. For “misleading information or the messed up emotions of communal identities” are ubiquitous today and prevent the very conversation that is necessary, Sen said. The corona crisis makes that clear, but the climate crisis may be an even more painful example in the slightly longer term, because it will be more deadly, for example.

Journalism should not feed doubt on such a crucial issue, as it is deliberately fuelled by cynical politicians or opinion makers; on the contrary, it should insist on correct information — even if it is uncomfortable or even disturbing.

After half a century of intensive globalisation, global journalism should be evident. But it is not. There is, of course, a never-ending stream of reports from Trumpland and there is the enduring obsession with war and disasters in remote areas, but how many Belgian journalists today still have the time and the means to delve deep into what really determines our future?

And that refers not only to global climate change and the accompanying transition, but also to the destruction of the Middle East, the enormous potential of Africa, the disruption of booming Asia, the geopolitics of energy, the power of women’s protest in Latin America, the human stories behind more than sixty million fugitives and displaced people, the alarming increase of terrorist violence in the Sahel,…

Yet for these and so many more global trends and their local translations, what we said above is true: information is vital. As long as oil or tobacco multinationals can hide their knowledge about climate change or cancer, ordinary people die from the consequences of their business model. As long as authoritarian populists monopolize the stage and social media, they can turn any lie into an electoral goldmine. We realize all too well that information alone is not enough to reverse this, but it is necessary.

Investing in newsrooms with a global outlook and expertise is therefore a must-do for every medium and a societal necessity. It means, investing in professional journalists who have the time to investigate and write, who can experience the complex reality in the field, who are fully critical of the spin and communication strategirs of the powers that be, but who also continue to question their own sympathies.

Over the past seventeen years, MO* has shown that such investments provide knowledge, insight and understanding. Qualitative added value for readers and society. We are pleased that we are not entirely alone in this and would actually prefer to have a little more competition.

For the importance of global news is not just a matter of intellectual satisfaction, and certainly not a question of branding. Global information feeds the debate on the structure of the globalized society. Open the borders for information, give journalists the opportunity and the assignment to search for the truth worldwide, involve the reader in everything that impacts him or her or should matter to them. High Street and Main Street are important, as are my house and the White House, but journalists should also be able to report on Tahrir Square and Avenida de los Derechos Humanos.

The Outlaw Ocean: A conversation with Ian Urbina

There are few remaining frontiers on our planet. But perhaps the wildest and least understood, are the world’s oceans: too big to police, and under no clear international authority, these immense regions of treacherous water play host to rampant criminality and exploitation.

In his new book, The Outlaw Ocean: Journeys Across the Last Untamed Frontier, New York Times investigative reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner Ian Urbina uncovers a globe-spanning network of crime and exploitation that emanates from the fishing, oil and shipping industries, and on which the world’s economies rely.

Join Ian at the University of British Columbia as he discusses the stories of astonishing courage and brutality, survival and tragedy, that he witnessed in the high seas.

Moderated by Peter Klein, director of UBC’s Global Reporting Centre, this event is a collaboration between the Sea Around Us initiative, the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, UBC’s School of Journalism, the GRC, and Trace Foundation.