Data journalism is a new form of investigative journalism that requires a journalist to mine through gigabytes of data as part of the research. The need for this particular skill has shot up recently, with successive data leaks that greatly impacted the world.
Here are the 5 most prominent examples where data journalism gave us breaking news:
1. U.S. Military War Logs
The U.S. War Logs leak of 2010 is 1 of the 1st data leaks to have a significant impact. Bradley Manning, a soldier in United States Army, leaked the documents to WikiLeaks, which is a non-profit organisation that aims to make secret information public. The leaked information came from the U.S. Military’s private records of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars from 2004 to 2009.
Americans were shocked to find out that the US Government had knowingly ignored and suppressed evidence of civilian casualties, torture and abuse. Despite public calls for an investigation, no such decision was ever taken and the authorities refused to elaborate on the possible atrocities committed by US and allied forces. Bradley Manning was arrested for leaking classified information and is now serving a prison sentence.
The United States diplomatic cables leak, also known as Cablegate, became public knowledge in November 2010, when the documents were published on WikiLeaks. The leak covered matters significant to diplomatic relations between countries and also included private observations, comments and discussions on the various tensions and threats in the world
This leak was a huge embarrassment to the U.S. diplomatic community as it revealed their own (secret) views on matters of international significance. Even though it was welcomed by supporters of information freedom, others criticised it for revealing information that damaged US diplomatic relations without yielding much public benefit.
3. NSA Documents Leak
Former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden shocked the world by publicly releasing classified NSA documents. These records revealed a systematic NSA surveillance operation that targeted everyone in the United States and many outside, including the leaders of friendly and not-so-friendly nations. The revelations brought public attention to the issue of government surveillance and highlighted the inherent conflict between maintaining security and upholding an individual’s right to privacy.
The effects were felt all around the world. Diplomatic relations between the U.S. and their allies were damaged after the surveillance of foreign leaders was revealed, and people started to question their own government’s attitude towards surveillance. It also set the stage for the conflict between the U.S. Government and the technology industry, which prefers to maintain consumers’ security. This conflict is now in the public eye with the much-publicised court battle between the FBI and Apple over gaining access to a locked iPhone.
The newest entrant on this list, the Panama Papers are by far the biggest collection of data leaks, weighing in at an astounding 2.6 TB (terabytes). For a point of reference, the Cablegate files measured only 1.7 GB in size. The Panama Papers came from the private files of a law firm called Mossack Fonseca, which is based in Panama (hence the name).
These documents revealed how Mossack Fonseca helped people hide black money in offshore companies, where the holders of the undeclared assets can be protected by layers of secrecy. Prominent individuals from all over the world were named in these files, including leading government figures, industrialists, artists and sportsmen. These revelations have resulted in the resignation of the Prime Minister of Iceland, disqualification of then Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from holding public office and placed other world leaders under pressure. The fallout from this leak is still underway and is sure to throw up many more surprises before it is over.
Almost a year after the Panama papers leak, the new Paradise paper data leaks reveal the secrets of how high profile individuals and corporates avoid paying taxes by setting offshore companies. The Paradise Papers are a set of 13.4 million financial documents which were leaked to the public on 5th November 2017. The documents originate from the offshore law firm Appleby in Bermuda and Asiaciti Trust in Singapore.
The list includes various politicians, celebrities, sports stars and multinationals from around the world. Some of the popular and biggest names include Queen Elizabeth II, former Pakistan PM Shaukat Aziz, President of Columbia, Juan Manuel Santos. Where does India stand in the list? Well, India ranks 19th out of 180 companies and in all there are names of 714 Indians mentioned in the list. A few names include Amitabh Bachchan, Jayant Sinha, Vijay Mallya, Nira Radia and so on.