More than 400 journalists from more than 80 of the world’s countries have been involved in the release of the Panama Papers and the subsequent reporting of the trove of information they contain. Thanks in part to the extensive coverage the papers have received in the press, the impact of the Panama Papers has been far reaching. The release of the documents to date has helped to prompt at least 150 investigations in 79 countries across the globe. This includes investigations by UK tax authority HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), Australia’s tax office, and the French and Canadian governments.
However, the aftermath of the Panama Papers has also seen blowback from the elites whose offshore wealth empires have been threatened. “They have also provoked pushback from individuals and governments displeased with revelations of the hidden economic holdings of the global elite,” the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICJT), which brought together journalists from across the world to conduct the Panama Papers investigation, reported in an article late last year. “Politicians, business executives and thousands of their supporters have responded with vitriol, threats, cyberattacks and lawsuits.”
The journalists who leaked these papers and reported on them are increasingly at the center of the firestorm. In Spain, for example, the parent company of the newspaper behemoth El Pais, Grupo Prisa, is planning to sue El Confidencial, one of the ICJT’s media partners in the country. The lawsuit levied by Grupo Prisa for a staggering $9 million is in relation to El Confidencial’s reporting on the leaked papers, which alleged that an offshore company named in the papers belonged to the wife of Juan Luis Cebrián, who was previously the Grupo Prisa chairman. It is alleged that this reporting constitutes unfair competition. The concern is that if the suit is successful, it could potentially set a precedent effectively barring journalists from writing critically about any other journalistic competitors, whether another editor or publication.
This isn’t the only incident of journalists attracting a storm of controversy because of their involvement with the leak. In Panama, journalists at Panamanian daily newspaper La Prensa were allegedly threatened and berated on Twitter, while the Finnish tax authorities actually threatened to raid the homes of journalists who had been involved in reporting on the papers and seize relevant documents. Similarly, a reporter in Venezuela, Ahiana Figueroa, was reportedly fired for his role in reporting on the Panama Papers, as was Keung Kwok-yuen, a senior editor at a prominent newspaper in Hong Kong.
“We are tracking the impact of the Panama Papers and the retaliation journalists and media organizations are suffering,” Courtney Radsch, advocacy director at the Committee to Protect Journalists, explained. “Sadly, we find it par for the course that journalists are under attack for reporting on corruption. We know that it is one of the most dangerous beats for journalists.”
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