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The Muckraker

Mark Schapiro's Blog

Belarus and Egypt: The Double Edge to Social Media

 

Global Digest: Resisting with social media in Belarus

One of the most protracted and violent struggles for freedom of the press in Europe since the fall of the Soviet Union is unfolding in Belarus, where a presidential election widely viewed as rigged has sparked protests and a brutal crackdown. The country, about the size of Kansas, bordering Poland to the west and Russia to the east, has retained a Soviet-style communist regime since 1991. 

When an election was held on December 19, the country’s long-time president, Alexandr Lukashenka, claimed victory with more than 80 percent of the vote in a field with six other candidates. The results were immediately denounced as fraudulent by independent observers, and protests broke out across the country. The government responded by arresting four of the six opposition candidates and by violent suppression of the independent media. Those measures are now being met by increasing pressure from outside the country and by an agile group of journalists and human rights campaigners inside the country using the tools of social media.

Last week, I spoke via Skype with Andrei Alaksandrau, Vice Chairman of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, from his apartment in the capital of Minsk. He told me that in the month since the election, more than 20 members of his association have been placed in administrative detention “for participating in mass actions which they were attending while performing their professional journalistic duties.” Six face criminal charges, with possible sentences as long as fifteen years. Many have been brutally beaten. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which has launched a campaign on behalf of the journalists, Belarusian law permits detentions to be renewed every two months until trial. 

The situation, Alaksandrau told me, prompted the BAJ to utilize social media tools to resist the crackdown, including an “alarm system” to alert supporters when police arrive at a colleague’s apartment or a new person is brought into a police station for questioning, in order to document abuses if they happen. “Our people are going online immediately with e-mails and text messages when something is happening,” he said, “there’s a search going on at this place, an interrogation going on at that place.” Long lines have formed outside KGB headquarters (the country’s intelligence service retains the Soviet-era name) of citizens bringing parcels of food and clothing for those detained inside. “Even people who have never been involved in political or opposition activity are showing up, saying ‘this is not right,’ ” he said. ”Many of these people have never in their lives been involved in the political struggle inside Belarus.” 

On June 12, Alaksandrau testified at the Human Rights Subcommittee of the European Parliament, which devoted part of the day to the situation in Belarus. He told the parliamentarians he was appearing in the place of his imprisoned boss, the chairman of the Belarusian Association of Journalists. “The repression has continued,” he testified. “Students are being kicked out of the universities. Professionals are losing their jobs.”

Among those who also testified that day was the daughter of Uladzimir Niakliayeu, who came in a distant second to Lukashenka and is one of the country’s leading poets. She appealed to the Parliament, “You have a key to my father’s prison!” (Their testimony, in English, begins at the 26th minute in the Parliamentary video). 

The EU has been embarrassed by Lukashenka’s violent response, which comes after attempting to induce democratic reforms in the country with promises of more than $3 billion in foreign aid and friendly meetings with members of Lukashenka’s cabinet. That plan has collapsed, and instead there’s been a steady rise in international pressure on Lukashenka.

A coalition of more than 100 civil society and journalism organizations from across Eastern and Western Europe, Russia and Central Asia sent an appeal to the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe demanding that it sanction Belarus, which is a member, and release political prisoners. 

One week after Aliaksandrau testified in Brussels, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling on the European Commission — the EU’s executive body — to demand release of all prisoners of conscience and retreat from its aggressive efforts to control the press. It also calls for the freezing of all aid to the country from Europe and international financial institutions, instead channeling support to Belarusian civil society, expanding educational opportunities for Belarusian students at European universities and blocking Belarus’ scheduled hosting of the World Ice Hockey Championship in 2014, “while there are political prisoners in the country.” 

The resolution is expected to be approved by the European Commission on Jan. 31, when it is also expected to rescind the visas for Lukashenka and several dozen other Belarusian government officials. Lukashenka denounced the effort as “baseless.”

 

Mark Schapiro | The Investigative Report | November 23, 2010

Global Digest: Journalists As Patriots?

A very rough gem of a question comes this week from across the Atlantic. The UK media has been swept up in a lively debate, prompted by an upcoming and already controversial BBC documentary. First, the question: ‘Should the Press be Patriotic?’ That was the subject of a discussion on the BBC’s World Have Your Say radio program, which features daily in-depth discussions among participants from around the world on topical global issues (it airs on our public radio station, KALW.)

And what could possibly prompt such a grandiloquent question? Has Britain gone to war? Some may remember various derivations of this question emerging in the U.S. shortly after President Bush invaded Iraq. Thankfully, no. Rather, the BBC is preparing to air a one-hour show on its flagship documentary program Panorama investigating allegations of corruption in the world soccer federation FIFA.

The airing of the show, “FIFA’s Dirty Secrets,” is slated for November 29, three days before the international soccer federation is scheduled to decide who will host the 2014 and 2018 World Cup — for which London is a top bidder (along with joint efforts by Portugal and Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands, and Russia). So, whose interests do journalists have in mind, anyway?

Andy Ansen, CEO of the London bid committee, demanded a meeting with the BBC’s Director General Mark Thompson to request that the broadcast be delayed, and that airing it as scheduled would undermine London’s chances of winning the coveted hosting opportunity.

Ansen’s claim was supported publicly by the UK’s former Minister of Sport from the previous Labour government, Richard Caborn, who asserts on the program World Have Your Say that the BBC’s timing does not have the “national interest” at heart.

The controversy over the impending Panorama broadcast comes on the heels of a series in the London Sunday Times, in which reporters posing as lobbyists for the U.S. Cup bid offered bribes to two officials on FIFA’s Executive Board. The journalists filmed the interaction. The original Sunday Times series is, alas, behind a paywall, so here’s a Guardian rendering of the story and its fallout. And here’s a line-up of the Guardian’s substantial coverage of the controversy.

The Panorama doc also comes on the heels of a blockbuster report by the Federation of African Investigative Reporters on corruption in the soccer associations in eight African countries, which we highlighted in an earlier Global Digest post.

The primary reporting behind the Panorama film was done by Andrew Jennings, a veteran British investigative journalist who has been steadily unraveling numerous corrupt deal-making in international soccer over the past decade. He’s the author of the book, "Foul! The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote-Rigging and Ticket Scandals." Jennings' long history of reporting on FIFA and other national soccer federations is hosted at his website, Transparency in Sport.

You might guess where CIR comes down on the question of whether journalists’ obligation is to ‘patriotism’, or in revealing the truth about abuses of power. It’s a false dichotomy. As for the BBC, their response thus far has been: “Airing this documentary is in the public interest.”

*******

The other week we wrote about the attacks against Russian journalists who have been reporting on the controversy over efforts to build a highway through the Khimki forest. The news of the brutality of those attacks has spread rapidly. Olga Zakharova, a Russian journalist and our eyes and ears on this evolving story, commented in an email: “People are really angry.” There have been protests against the beatings by people in Moscow and elsewhere in Russia, in Paris, in the German city of Bremen, and elsewhere.

The protesters are demanding a thorough police investigation into the assaults. Within Russia, the protests brought together an unprecedented show of support from environmentalists, journalists, and opposition politicians demanding the ability to report on controversial topics without fear of violent repercussions.

We’ll stay on top of this story, and continue to highlight the dangers that many journalists face who are operating in often far more treacherous conditions than here in the United States.

 

Mark Schapiro | The Investigative Report | November 10, 2010

Global Digest: Forest Fight Turns Brutal for Russian Journalists

Journalists in Russia have long faced often brutal retaliation for their reporting into organized crime and the corruption of public officials. Now that violence appears to be hitting journalists reporting on one of the country’s most high-profile environmental battles—over the government’s plan to pave a highway through one of the last remaining pristine forests in western Russia.

Over the past three days, two journalists reporting on protests into the plan to create a road through the Khimki forest from St. Petersburg to Moscow, and onto the international airport in Sheremetyevo, were brutally beaten. On November 8, Anatoly Adamchuk, who had reported on protests against the clearing of the forest as well as other forest controversies, was bludgeoned in front of the offices of his suburban Moscow weekly newspaper, Zhukovsky City News (Russian only).

That attack followed an assault on Saturday against Oleg Kashin, who has reported extensively on the forest conflict as well as other instances of Russian corruption for the daily newspaper Kommersant, one of Russia’s most respected mainstream newspapers. Bishkin was found on Saturday morning, his head battered, leg broken and jaw shattered, in front of the newspaper’s office in Moscow.

The assault against Kashin was captured in a horrific surveillance video. It’s pretty graphic and I’m not necessarily recommending you watch it. I include it as a reminder of how cold statistics about threats to journalists—Russia ranks eighth on the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Impunity index of countries where assaults on journalists are least likely to be prosecuted - often contain a truly gruesome back-story and grim reality.

The attacks around the controversial Khimki project have not stopped at journalists. Environmental activists camped out in the forest to protest a multibillion-dollar effort to construct a highway have been met with violence. While trying to stop bulldozers from destroying the forest, the activists were repeatedly attacked by armed thugs; at least two of the activists are still in the hospital recovering from their wounds.

[A thank you to Olga Zakharova, an environmental journalists and lecturer at Moscow State University, who helped alert me to this story, which she’s been following. She commented in an e-mail: “This seems like an organized campaign to shut up citizens.”

You can see a thorough rendering of the evolving, and increasingly violent, controversy here.]

Still on the subject of forests, though in a different part of the world, the Task Force on Financial Integrity and Economic Development, a Toronto-based consortium of governments and research institutions probing into the impact of financial corruption, released a devastating report on the illegal logging trade.

It details how the black market in tropical hardwoods does little to spur economic development but instead leads to channeling billions of dollars from developing countries to developed ones. It’s no surprise, perhaps, to those who follow such things, but the details, and the credentials of the authors of the report, signal a new seriousness, perhaps, about the multiple destructive impacts of illegal logging.

 

Global Digest: Investigating 'sham marriages,' and Iceland becomes 'safe haven' for reporters

One of the side effects of the integration of Europe has been a boom in what a team of reporters in Ireland and Latvia call “sham marriages” between Europeans and non-Europeans, leading frequently to sexual abuse and trafficking. An investigation published recently in the Irish Times involved a team effort between Jamie Smyth in Ireland, and Aleksandra Jolkina, a Latvian journalist for the newspaper Diena (the link is for those who speak Latvian).  Jolkina has been probing deep into the links between organized crime and Latvian brides for the newspaper, and writing a book on the topic. She started the investigation by creating a false email account and inviting marriage proposals. She received quite a few, as she explains in English to the European Fund for Investigative Journalism.

Each member of the team was working on their separate investigations in their home countries – Smyth in Ireland and Jolkina in Latvia – when the Fund, created last year to provide support for Europe-wide investigations, helped bring them together to share sources and information.

********************

For those of us who have not been following the latest developments in Iceland, I bring important news: The country has declared itself the world’s first, official, ‘safe haven’ for the world’s investigative reporters and whistleblowers.

A remarkable law passed last summer – I feel compelled to point to a three-month-old development for those who might have missed it – is intended to turn Iceland into a sanctuary for global independent media, offering an umbrella of protection for sources and servers. The initiative seems to have been prompted by two converging events: On the one hand, Iceland’s financial collapse, spurred partly by the highly secret maneuverings of the nation’s banks, and, on the other, by the potential vulnerability of sites like Wikileaks to government subpoenas in an effort to unearth its sensitive sources.

While the details of the law are still being hammered out, and its unclear whether its unlikely to afford protection against libel charges – “publication” is likely to be defined in any country as the point of download, not the point at which a story is ‘uploaded’ – the law could offer some protections against investigations into anonymous sources, like those relied upon by Wikileaks. The law offers incentives for international media companies to register in Iceland, and a strong freedom of information act which can be used by journalists regardless of whether they’re based in Iceland. Here’s a clear summation of the genesis of the law, and its potential vulnerabilities, from al-Jazeera English on YouTube:


***************

Finally, here’s a nice glimpse into how the fact that the United States does not have a system permitting private financing of political campaigns is being perceived overseas: The European Internet Network (EIN), the largest European digital news service, features a story that focuses on the ability of secret money to influence the election, and the lingering impacts of the Supreme Court case, known as Citizens United, which struck down much of U.S. campaign finance laws requiring transparency.

 


Global Digest: The Hidden Secrets of African Soccer

Here at CIR’s Global Digest, it’s been heartening to see what amounts to a boom in nonprofit journalistic enterprises around the world. We’ll be having a look at some of their work over the coming months. They often offer insights into issues of global consequence that never make it into American media.

Case in point: a seminal collaborative investigation by the Forum for African Investigative Reporters (FAIR), founded in South Africa in 2003, into the continent’s soccer establishment. When one of Cameroon’s leading journalists was brutally beaten last winter while investigating his country’s official soccer federation, FAIR responded with a call to journalists across the continent to cooperate in investigating their own sports authorities. The result, Killing Soccer in Africa, provides a panoramic and scathing look at corruption in the soccer federations of eight different African countries.

In Cameroon, they follow leads suggesting that a major athletic shoe manufacturer had made payments into the personal bank account of the vice president of the country’s football association, and that government auditors had recommended prosecutions for corruption of four top officials in the same association. In Kenya, they assert that soccer officials had gone on “an all-expenses paid trip to the United States, leaving the national soccer team … without means to go play a match in neighboring Uganda.” In the Ivory Coast, a $2 million donation by the national oil company to the country’s soccer federation never made it to the local football clubs for whom it was intended.

The journalistic team doesn’t stop with their own national soccer authorities. They investigate the interrelationships between corrupt national officials and those affiliated with the international soccer federation, FIFA, which they claim has moved to block law enforcement investigations of soccer corruption. In Nigeria, for example, the journalists’ claim that a proposed government audit of the national team’s $6 million budget was met with a threat to expel the country from FIFA’s governing council. The report is an eye-opening read for anyone looking for an African back-story to the world’s most popular sport.

FAIR’s team investigation has special resonance here at CIR. FAIR calls their investigation Africa’s first “Arizona Project” — a reference to the U.S. case back in 1976, in which a journalist for the Arizona Republic, Don Bolles, was killed in the course of investigating connections between organized crime and financial and political leaders in that state. A team of journalists from around the country were called together by the Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) to investigate Bolles’ murder and continue his investigation.

The team involved thirty-eight reporters, whose findings were published in twenty different media outlets. Two of those reporters, Dan Noyes and Lowell Bergman, would go on the next year, along with Rolling Stone reporter David Weir, to found the Center for Investigative Reporting. (Bergman left CIR to work at 60 Minutes, and is now a correspondent with PBS Frontline; Noyes now serves on CIR’s Board of Directors).

Thirty-one years later, CIR organized its own “Arizona Project” — this time a collaborative investigation, involving reporters from a consortium of local newspapers, radio, television, web sites and universities, into the murder of Chauncey Bailey, an Oakland-based journalist shot in broad daylight in the midst of his probe into corruption and violence at what had been a pillar of the city’s African American community, Your Black Muslim Bakery.

The Cameroonian journalist who launched the inquiry that led to FAIR’s soccer investigation has, according to the group’s director, Evelyn Groenink, chosen to remain anonymous after being nearly killed by his assailants. Like others who have faced such consequences, the Africa Arizona Project’s commitment to continuing and expanding upon his work sends a powerful message, as FAIR puts it: “… you can stop a journalist, but you can’t kill the story.”

****

Onto some entirely different terrain: the rainforests, or more precisely, former rainforests, of Brazil. The Belgian magazine MO, a monthly, offers a devastating probe into the claims by a global timber company that it practices sustainable forestry in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest. The magazine is published in Flemish, but offers an English-language version.

The reporters, Leopold Broers and An-Katrien Lecluyse, tour the timber plantation of a Swedish-Finnish-Brazilian joint venture called Veracel, and investigate its certification by the Forest Stewardship Council, which offers guidelines promoting less destructive logging practices. They methodically dismantle the companies’ claims that it is preserving the “forest” by planting vast monocultures of eucalyptus trees. They reveal that the company has used excessive quantities of powerful herbicides and pesticides—and unintentionally destroyed “large amounts of indigenous trees.” They interview a public prosecutor in the city, Eunapolis, which borders the project, who says that the company has been investigated for “money laundering, tax evasion, corruption and environmental crimes”—which include overuse of the chemical herbicides and diversion of local water supplies from local farmers to the eucalyptus plantation. State court documents indicate that in 2008 the company was fined more than $10 million (20 million Real, or 8 million euros) for illegal deforestation of the Atlantic Forest, a finding that the company is currently appealing.

The question of whether eucalyptus plantations may be considered “sustainable” is a controversial topic at the highest ranks of conservation circles—starting at the United Nations, which continues to certify such plantations as greenhouse gas offsets for their carbon sink potential, as I wrote about last February in Harpers. Veracel’s Atlantic Forest plantation produces pulp for paper towels, toilet paper and glossy magazines. The authors quote the public prosecutor, Joao Alves da Silva: “The consumer buying cellulose from Veracel has to realize that he is buying an illegal product and that the sustainability label doesn’t reflect reality.”

The authors received funding for their investigation from the Fonds Pascal de Kroos in Brussels, which has helped pioneer nonprofit support to long-term investigative projects in Europe.

 

Global Digest: A highly selective weekly look at journalism across the world

Secret contributions to the president. An aggressive hunt for the source of leaks to a major newspaper about a police investigation into the contributors. Sound familiar? Now add a twist: the contributor in question is heir to the fortune of one of the biggest cosmetics companies in the world — L’Oreal.

What many are calling a ‘mini-Watergate’ has exploded across the French political scene over the past several weeks — and sparked a lawsuit by Le Monde challenging what the newspaper claims were unlawful measures used to identify their confidential sources.

The paper has been on a crusade to unearth secret contributions from France’s richest woman and L’Oreal heiress, Liliane Bettencourt, to President Nikolas Sarkozy’s presidential campaign and political party. On September 13, Le Monde sued the government alleging that Sarkozy ordered the country’s counter-intelligence services to identify and investigate its sources. Sarkozy denies the charges.

Here’s a video of Sylvie Kauffmann, editor of Le Monde, explaining the newspaper’s position and the necessity for strong legal protection for sources.

She speaks, as is often the case in France, in French. Here’s an English language take on the story, from the Brussels-based EU Observer.

A result thus far of the still-unfolding scandal: One of the newspaper’s sources inside the Ministry of Justice was recently transferred from Paris to a remote outpost in Latin America, to Cayenne, the capital of the French colony of Guiana.

***
Now we move to the southern hemisphere, where a series of stories in the Australian internet paper Crikey reveal the outsourcing of Australia’s foreign aid program to a small group of the country’s largest multinational companies.

In a detailed and scathing anatomy of the country’s foreign aid programs, the stories show how Australia has been channeling more than half of its multibillion-dollar fund for foreign aid through just six corporations. Those companies include GRM International, a company which, while receiving more than a billion dollars in aid-related grants, was owned by a company chartered in the Bahamas in order to cut its corporate taxes.

“The question,” the authors ask, “is whether such set-ups for tax minimization purposes are…acceptable for major recipients of Australian government contracts?”

The authors, led by Wendy Bacon, director of the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism, headquartered at the University of Technology in Sydney, probed deep into government databases to reveal the privatization of the country’s foreign aid. They claim that there has been an overall shift over the past ten years — started by the conservative Howard administration and continued for the most part by the current Labour government — from channeling aid funds through development-oriented NGO’s to private companies, which now account for 85% of all Australian aid contracts.

This shift, they claim, has led to a dramatic decline in transparency, making it difficult to assess the performance of Australia’s foreign aid.

 

Mark Schapiro | Update: Carbon Watch | September 27, 2010

Crime in the carbon markets

Undercover wildlife agents met financial sleuths for the first time last week in Lyon, France at a conference sponsored by Interpol intended to highlight the increasing complexity of environmental crimes and the tightening of environmental regulations in developing as well as developed countries. “Governments,” said Bakary Kante, in charge of the United Nations Environment Programme environmental law division, “should start preparing for an onslaught of environmental court cases.” Two hundred agents who will be investigating those cases came here from some thirty countries for the week-long conference to coordinate strategies around global environmental crime networks.

Inside the high security Interpol compound, located just blocks off the River Rhone, the only visual reminder of ‘the environment’ was a heap of discarded computer parts assembled like an art installation in a corner of the marble and stone atrium. Emile Lindemulder, a Criminal Intelligence Officer with the Interpol Environmental Crime Unit, assembled the e-waste heap as a reminder of one of the agency’s chief responsibilities: helping national police agencies to enforce a global treaty, the Basel Convention, which restricts the international trade in hazardous electronic waste, which contain highly toxic chemicals and minerals.

The world inside Interpol’s global headquarters seemed somehow inverted, with police talking like environmental ngo’s about the need for vigilance and intelligence sharing to establish liability for environmental abuses—albeit dispassionately, and with a ‘get the job done’ directness. “We have to prove, and prevent, murder in the future,” is how M.C. van Leeuwen, an investigator with the Netherlands National Police, put to me the unique challenges of environmental policing. Following the evidence to prove liability can be challenging, he said, and it gets down to some of the unique characteristics of environmental crime: A polluter’s fingerprints may have been laid down decades before, a system of corporate trap-doors—front companies, foreign registries and the like—tend to obscure liability, and the uncertainties surrounding the science of toxicology can make establishing clear cause and effect difficult.

Now Emile Lindemulder and others at the agency want to expand Interpol’s mandate into an entirely new terrain: criminality in the global carbon markets. Those markets, operating in countries subject to the emission restrictions of the Kyoto Protocol, have grown exponentially over the past five years, churning through more than $300 billion worth of transactions over the past five years. “When there’s this amount of money involved,” Lindemulder commented, “criminals get interested.” Wildlife and e-waste police were encouraged to meet financial fraud experts—including agents from British, German and other securities police agencies monitoring financial crimes. Lindemulder explained that police from traditional realms of environmental enforcement are now compelled to understand the complexities of global finance. “The carbon markets involve so many parties, so many new instruments and forms of vulnerability that we haven’t been aware of before.” (I was invited to present my findings at the gathering, published in Harpers Magazine and aired on PBS FRONTLINE/World, exposing the difficulties in measuring the veracity of carbon offset promises, and the many uncertainties involved in turning tropical forests into carbon offsets).

The complexity of the carbon markets, operating with ambiguous oversight, present an array of new opportunities for fraud, commented Peter Younger, a veteran with Interpol and now in charge of the agency’s enforcement of wildlife and forest protection in Africa. “You’re talking about an international financial trade mechanism and the question is still evolving, where does the liability lie? We’re still filling in our knowledge gap.” The carbon commodities being traded, he said, are unlike any others. “You’re obtaining not a physical entity or asset but a piece of paper.” He cited as an example the rapid growth of interest in tropical forests serving as ‘offsets’ to companies’ carbon emissions. In countries where matters of land ownership are often disputed and unclear, the possibility for fraud is considerable, he said. “In effect, you could be falsifying ownership in something you can see in order to sell something that you can’t. And then inserting that into the carbon markets and selling it to people.”

Such a scenario is not as far-fetched as it sounds. The Overseas Anti-Corruption Unit in the City of London Police force is currently investigating allegations that a London-based offset developer, Carbon Harvesting Company, may have improperly claimed access to the forests of Liberia in order to sell the carbon rights to European and other companies. In other instances, traders have generated hundreds of millions of euros in illicit profits by pocketing unpaid taxes—a case which revealed that ninety percent of the carbon trading houses in Denmark were fronts for tax fraud.

The UK’s new Minister of Environment, Lord Christopher Smith, gave a keynote address, where he stressed his government’s commitment to cooperate with international law enforcement to tighten oversight of global environmental agreements. That includes the Kyoto Protocol, governing greenhouse gas emissions, which gave birth to the now multi-billion dollar carbon markets. “As the price of carbon increases, we know that the more lucrative it becomes, the more criminals will be attracted to the market,” he commented after his speech. “Being here at Interpol suggests how we need to be way ahead of the criminals in thinking about what they’re likely to do—whether trafficking in endangered species, in ewaste, or what might happen in carbon trading as it becomes an increasingly valuable commodity.”

 

Colombian journalist denied a U.S. visa

One of Colombia’s foremost journalists, Hollman Morris, has been denied a visa by the U.S. State Department to pursue a year as a Nieman fellow at Harvard University.

The visa denial comes after several years of highly critical reporting on the ties of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's administration to right-wing paramilitary squads. He and his brother, Juan Pablo, a producer, created a television show, Contravia, which airs on Bogota’s independent television channel. CIR interviewed them last year by Skype from their studio in Bogota about their reporting, in which over the course of several years they revealed the largely untold story of massacres and human rights abuses by the paramilitaries. Partly as a result of Morris’ reporting, one-third of the members of Colombia’s Congress has been under investigation for having financial ties to the paramilitary units.

In February, Morris discovered he was under surveillance by Colombia’s intelligence service, the DAS—a revelation that spurred an independent prosecutor’s ongoing investigation. The unearthed DAS documents have been collected and published by the Center for International Policy. At least a dozen DAS agents are now awaiting trial for the illegal surveillance, according to the Associated Press.

In March last year, attorneys with the Committee for a Free Press in Colombia publicly complained to the Inter American Press Association of the Organization of American States about the government’s harassment of Morris and other journalists. The OAS followed with a statement highly critical of the government’s threats against Morris and other journalists.

Morris has been widely recognized for his work—including by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas. CIR helped him obtain an invitation to the Global Investigative Journalism Network conference in Geneva last April, but he was prevented from traveling to Switzerland at that time due to the eruption of the Icelandic volcano.

The outgoing Uribe administration has accused Morris of being part of the “intellectual bloc” of the left-wing FARC guerrillas, who have been on the other side of the Colombian civil war for much of the past two decades. President George W. Bush placed the FARC on the U.S. terrorist list, which empowers the government to deny those on the list travel to the United States as well as other privileges. The Uribe administration’s charges against Morris are based on having found email correspondence between Morris and a FARC commander suggesting that Morris played an intermediary role in trying to negotiate the release of former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Bettencourt. The government also accuses him of being inexplicably present at a FARC redoubt where the guerrillas turned four hostages over to the Colombian military. Morris denies all the charges. He told CIR that he was present at the hostage release on a journalistic assignment for the Latin American History Channel.

Just over a week after Morris was informed of the visa denial, he was honored at the Universidead Javieriena, one of Colombia’s leading universities for his journalistic courage in the face of death threats and government harassment.

Watch the CIR interview with the Morris brothers:

Mark Schapiro | Update: Carbon Watch | June 22, 2010

Tracking BP: The Climate Desk

As the fast-motion oil catastrophe unfolds in the Gulf, check out some great reporting from a new media consortium, The Climate Desk . The desk is an innovative cooperative approach to in-depth reporting into climate change and energy. Participants range across all media, including Mother Jones, The Atlantic, Wired, Slate, Grist, WNET’s news show Need to Know, and CIR. They sent a team down to the Gulf which is producing some insightful revelations, analysis and news. Here is some of the latest:

Conflict of Interest for Judge Who Decided Against Offshore Moratorium?

License to Drill: New Leases in the Gulf of Mexico

How Will Distributing Money from the $20 Billion Claims Fund Work?

Why Won’t BP Measure the Oil Spill?

Why Did BP Take the Risks That it Did?

Should I Boycott BP?

Uncharted Waters: The Spill and Human Health

How do you put a dollar value on something like a coral reef?

Uncharted Waters: The Spill and Human Health