The "Panama Papers" – The Pros and Cons of Transparency


One of the panelists, Renata Avila

Finding the balance between protection of sources and the obligation to inform is the main challenge for investigative journalism. The views on which side is more important varied considerably in Frederik Obermaier and Renata Avila's discussion on the "Panama Papers: Investigative Journalism and the 'Lügenpresse' in the age of Big Leaks" on Stage 2.

"The source has to be protected" – Frederik Obermaier's position is clear. The publishing of the complete "Panama Papers" data set is out of the question for the journalist from the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ). Since April 3, 2016, he and his colleagues have been continuously publishing new articles, featuring the names of politicians, athletes and other famous people who appear in the documents. "I don't accept the 'protection of sources' argument" lawyer Renata Avila from the "Web We Want" initiative responds. More rights for internet users, that's her goal. She lamented the fact that journalists put themselves above the common internet users through their withholding of information, thereby creating their own right to interpretation.

The two guests at the talk are wholly at odds. Avila already tweeted her demand "full docs or it didn't happen" on the day the first article was published, calling for the complete disclosure of the documents. "We would never be able to completely ensure that there wasn't some clue to who the source is" Obermaier answered. Numerous experts and lawyers had advised the SZ and, in the end, the protection of the source had presented itself as the key issue. "I'm definitely in two minds about it" he said and emphasised that the decision had been a hard one to make. Because of that, it was now important for them to keep the readers informed about all the steps and decisions made along the way.

The lawyer isn't able to share the journalist's opinion. Far too much data has not been assessed and too many readers have been kept in the dark, Avila said and demanded: "We need a good institutional protection of sources." That way, revelations like the "Panama Papers" could be made available to everyone in the future.

Photo credit: re:publica/Jan Zappner (CC BY 2.0)