It is not an uncontested practice. It has its theorists, ideologues and ardent practitioners just as it has its numerous critics. Between them lies the never-ending debate on investigative journalism. As a journalistic genre most disruptive of the scripts of those who scheme against the society and scams it, investigative journalism offers such a fascinating bait. The down side, for its critics, is that investigative journalism is, in the last instance, an interested narrative, someone’s gaze on reality. As the argument goes, journalists do not have the facts. Someone always gives them the facts or points at the oddity. And even when they have the facts, those facts are either their own individual or institutional interpretations. The capacity to disrupt is also the capacity to build up. So, critics of investigative journalism do not privilege it to be above interrogation and deconstruction itself. It is a debate that will go on without resolution. Suffice it to say it is a power resource. In other words, only those who own and control the media can tell us what and when it is investigative journalism rather than a timeless, universal practice that a plastic understanding of it may suggest.
For a continent such as Africa whose citizens can be auctioned like used cars in the 21st century as a CNN report earlier in the year showed, investigative journalism can be a power resource for good, an idea that might appear to have informed the concentrated annual engagement with it at South Africa’s University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. This year is featuring about 60 sessions with nearly a hundred speakers, most of them veterans of the domain – academics, writers, media managers, variety of publishers, bloggers and sundry activists. Critical issues are coming up for new insights from the point of view of how the investigative journalism approach might be best or most effectively deployed, be it on use and misuse of state power, extra-judicial killings, child abuse, migrants and mobility, massive corruption especially the power – corruption nexus, the very idea of investigative journalism – the theory, the craft and the dynamics, the politics of data/fact checking, safety in reporting and damned so many other things.
Nigeria is featuring very strongly both in terms of resource persons and the recent achievements of investigative journalism. But it is not inwardly Africa. Rather, the conference is tracking the world too, taking and looking at models from outside. It promises to be an exciting three days (October 29th – 31st, 2018) of brain work, networking and reflexivity in this domain. The academic environment of Wits University whose Journalism Programme is hosting makes this a major intellectual hub of Africa’s multiple struggle to achieve disciplining itself as well as challenge the cultural misrepresentation of the continent. Both cases privilege the media through investigative journalism even as controversial as it is and through media geopolitics respectively. In the context of investigative journalism as an instrument of self-disciplining, the question as to whether investigative journalism can save Africa might be no more than a rhetorical device.
Funders, partners and sponsors of the conference are Global Investigative Journalism Network; Africa-China Reporting Project; Open Society Foundations, MacArthur Foundation; the University of the Witwatersrand; Wits Radio Academy; Konrad Adnauer Stiftung and ABSA, among others.