By Valmir Mehmetaj/Kosovo 2.0
Diarmuid Jeffreys, head of investigative programs at Al Jazeera English, is one of the special guests at DokuFest this week. During a talk on this year’s festival theme of “Corruption,” the British journalist discussed and screened some of Al Jazeera’s investigative journalism documentaries made in Africa on the continent’s fight against corruption.
“The only way to stop this [corruption], is to embarrass the crap out of the people and to show what is going on,” Diarmuid Jeffreys told a packed audience inside Kino Klubi on Saturday. The Al Jazeera English head of investigative programs is one of the special guests at this year’s DokuFest speaking on the theme of “Corruption.”
Jeffreys, who has 30 years experience in the media industry, is now based in Doha, Qatar, where Al Jazeera English has its headquarters. In his current role he is responsible for the weekly investigative documentary program “People & Power,” the Africa Investigates series and a whole host of other documentaries. With 43 percent of Al Jazeera’s television output consisting of documentaries half of them are commissioned by Jeffreys.
Contrary to the widespread belief that Al Jazeera is a state media since it is partly funded by the Qatar’s ruling family, Jeffrey’s claimed that they are in fact very independent. “The purpose of Al Jazeera, we think, is to give voice to the voiceless, is to give another narrative which is different to the narrative that you get from any of the main Western broadcasters such as the BBC or CNN,” he said. “And we try to tell a different story, a story that is not through a transatlantic prism of how the world is seen from America or seen from the UK or even from China. It’s about the world seen from Kosovo, from Africa, from India, from South America, from Hong Kong.”
Four years ago Jeffreys said that while searching for these new voices they came up with the idea of “Africa Investigates,” a series of investigative journalism documentaries. “The reason we wanted to do this is because Africa’s story for so long has been told by whites, journalists like me, or correspondents from outside going to Africa and telling Africa’s story,” he said. “And it was always the same story; it was always about famine, disaster and of governments oppressing people.”
Although he says that all of these stories are true, they felt that there is a story that is not being told. That of how Africans perceive their own problems. So they contacted all the journalists they knew in Africa and asked them to pitch ideas. “One of their biggest problems is corruption, all the way across Africa and about every aspect of life whether it is politics, the judiciary, business or just in everyday deals, corruption is something they have to cope with.”
Exposing corruption in Africa is a dangerous undertaking since journalists can be beaten, imprisoned and even killed. So they gathered 12 journalists in a safe place in Northern Uganda, where together with experienced filmmakers they worked on how to approach these documentaries. What resulted was six series of documentaries which had a huge impact in Africa.
One of these short documentaries that got screened during his talk at DokuFest was “Uganda, Temple of Injustice.” “‘Uganda, Temple of Injustice’ is a story about corruption, Jeffreys explains. “It’s a story about what happens if ordinary people try to get justice. And they can’t because the judicial system is corrupt. And everyone knows it’s corrupt, but everyone has to pay.”
In the documentary, a local journalist, Emmanuel Mutaizibwa, with the help of a group of other journalists, films himself while bribing police officers and even a magistrate. When the first episode was aired the end credits explained that the magistrate only got transferred and that the two policemen who were caught taking bribes are still part of the system.
“This caused a huge explosion of outrage in Uganda and it led to a whole scale of revisiting and reexamination of the judicial systems, and a lot of change has happened,” he said.
Inspired by the success they continued the series with a documentary called “Justice!” where Anas Aremeyaw Anas filmed himself bribing 52 high court judges in Ghana. “It was a big big documentary called ‘Justice’ which we put out last year and it’s a fantastic bit of journalism,” he said. “It just goes to show that corruption is absolutely everywhere and you cannot trust the judicial system without paying bribes which is something really really rotten.”
Although they try and empower the journalists to do investigative journalism, Jeffreys said that they cannot always guarantee their safety and commended them for their bravery.
“We got other moments like the vice president of Sierra Leone who we got on camera taking bribes,” he said. “We found two presidential candidates in Kenya who were handing out money as bribes in order to get votes. One of the guys who was doing the secret filming of that was spotted by the security guards of one of the candidates and he was given a severe beating and he had to leave the country.”
Jeffreys also revealed that the Sierra Leone journalist Sorious Samura, who in his documentary “Timber!” exposed corruption of high state officials including the Vice President Samuel Sumana, had to leave the country and has since been living in Sweden.
He then went on to briefly present some of the documentaries from the investigative programme “People & Power,” which looks at the use and abuse of power all around the world.
During, a question and answer session at the end of his talk, Jeffreys encouraged journalists from Kosovo to pitch ideas to him either personally or through email for such documentaries of their own. He said that if selected, they would be contacted and together they would go through the idea, the approach, who they want to interview and other details necessary to make it happen.
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