Called the “biggest leak in the history of data journalism” by Edward Snowden, the Panama Papers story has rocked the world in the past few days exposing how the rich and powerful use tax havens to hide their wealth.
A big part of the Panama leak story is about corporate evasion and corporate avoidance, however… if you look at News Corporation, operated and run by Rupert Murdoch, who was known to have a 136 subsidiaries of that one organisation, one most notably being Twentieth Century Fox films, which operates out of Panama. So to say that the Western media may not focus on corporations, I’d say, it’s probably a safe bet.
The papers – some 11.5 million documents – have revealed how Mossack Fonseca, a Panama-based law firm, allegedly helped current and former world leaders, as well as businessmen, criminals, celebrities and sports stars, evade or avoid tax via anonymously-owned shell companies and offshore accounts.
In terms of the size of the leak and the scale of the journalistic collaboration, the story has garnered wall-to-wall coverage and dominated the front pages of newspapers across the world.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalism, a non-profit group in the United States, coordinated the reporting with 376 journalists from 109 news organisations and 76 countries poring over the files.
Such multi-newsroom collaborations are growing more common in an age of big data leaks, partly because newsrooms are shrinking while the influential players they are trying to hold accountable are growing in size, power and complexity.
But despite the success of the collaboration, the select group of media organisations that had access to the data have been criticised for how they tackled the story.
One of the main criticisms has been the way they went after wealthy business figures and some political leaders while largely shying away from the corporate side of the story that has enabled trillions of dollars, euros, pounds and rubles to be hidden offshore.
This has in turn raised a larger question: can the corporate-owned news media really be expected to hold the corporate world to account?
Talking us through the Panama Papers and how the story came together are: Gerard Ryle, director of the ICIJ; Wolfgang Krach, editor-in-chief at Suddeutsche Zeitung; Jacqueline Kubania, a reporter at the Daily Nation, Kenya; and investigative journalist Steven Topple.