In the face of threats, censorship and other attacks on press freedom, journalists around the world now have an additional tool to ensure that their stories are published, no matter how hard others try to silence them.
Forbidden Stories, a global network of journalists that aims to protect and publish the work of reporters facing threats, lawsuits or even assassination, recently launched the SafeBox Network, a tool to deal with threats and attacks against journalists.
The design of the SafeBox Network, which was presented at the World Press Freedom Day Global Conference 2022 in Punta del Este, Uruguay, is simple: journalists who feel threatened upload key information to the platform to safeguard their work. This includes three key elements: the materials they have collected over the course of their investigation (photos, videos, interviews, documents, databases, etc.); evidence of the threats made against them; and instructions on what to do with the materials should Forbidden Stories need to publish the reporting.
Forbidden Stories will not publish reporting simply because information is uploaded to SafeBox. The organization will act only if something happens to the journalist who uploaded the content. Prior to publication, Forbidden Stories will conduct a pre-investigation to determine if there are indeed connections between the threats or attacks the journalist received and the journalist's work. Forbidden Stories will also analyze when it is both relevant and possible for the journalist to continue their work.
In early March, Paraguayan investigative journalist Alfredo Guachiré announced that he had uploaded reporting and audio to SafeBox. The content was related to his investigations of former Paraguayan Congressman Juan Carlos Osorio, whom Guachiré linked to a drug trafficking organization. When this information came to light, Osorio resigned from his seat in the legislature and was charged with money laundering, drug trafficking and criminal association.
Investigaciones y audios sobre el exdiputado Ozorio y su nexo con narcos fueron compartidas desde hoy con una red internacional de periodistas de @FbdnStories, para que en el caso que ya no pueda publicarlas, esta organización pueda hacerlo por mí, con los periodistas del mundo. pic.twitter.com/rDTPaZPQVN— Alfredo Guachiré (@GuachireM) March 9, 2022
Guachiré has received anonymous death threats because of his reporting, and has been harassed on social media by people in Paraguayan politics. This includes those with ties to Paraguay's vice president, Hugo Velázquez, due to Guachiré’s reporting implicating Velázquez’s brother, Carlos Velázquez, in illicit smuggling activities.
"By making it public that I use SafeBox and have shared my ongoing investigations with the Forbidden Stories network, I was able to somewhat deter the criminals who were threatening and harassing me," said Guachiré, who has published more than 300 investigative stories on corruption, drug trafficking, smuggling and money laundering.
Mexican journalist María Teresa Montaño Delgado said that, had she had SafeBox, she would not have lost two investigative reporting projects she was working on when she was kidnapped in August 2021, in Toluca, Mexico. "My case is very illustrative," she told IJNet, explaining how the kidnappers stole her reporting equipment, a physical file and her laptop where she kept documents and in-progress reporting. "I was even afraid to have my reporting saved in my email, and in the end I lost it.”
Montaño Delgado now uses SafeBox during the course of her investigations. "What I have started to do is put together information packets that, as I go along, I send to SafeBox," she explained.
She has resumed work on one of the investigations she lost when she was kidnapped last year. "I know that if I send [SafeBox] this investigation — which is one of the most important ones I will ever work on — if something happens to me I am sure they will understand it and eventually it will be published,” she said. “I fill out some forms explaining what each information bundle consists of, what thread will need to be followed in my reporting, and what sources to go to.”
For Montaño Delgado, all journalists should consider using SafeBox — especially those working in dangerous areas or where corruption is pervasive.
A deterrence tool
"We believe that protecting the reporting of threatened journalists protects their lives," said Clement Le Merlus, a project officer for SafeBox. "When these journalists share their investigative materials with an international network, it is useless for enemies of the press to try to silence one of them as there are dozens of others willing to continue their work.”
SafeBox’s goal, therefore, is to "deter crimes against journalists." Le Merlus clarifies, however, that it cannot by itself guarantee the safety of reporters; it is just one tool journalists can utilize.
The idea to create SafeBox has been around since 2017, when Forbidden Stories first launched. "Before launching the [SafeBox] platform, it was essential to create a strong network of media partners around the world. This powerful community is now the strength of the SafeBox Network," said Le Merlus. In this way, SafeBox complements the Forbidden Stories mission — to take action before the threats journalists receive turn into crimes.
Recent efforts to grow SafeBox have focused on Latin America where journalists are, unfortunately, especially vulnerable. In March, Forbidden Stories held a workshop for journalists across Latin America who had received threats for their reporting, in São Paulo, Brazil, to train them on protecting their information with the SafeBox Network.There is heightened focus, as well, on Africa, Asia and the Middle East — all regions where press freedom has come under fire.
Main image by olieman.eth on Unsplash.
This article was originally published by IJNet in Spanish. It was translated to English by journalist Natalie Van Hoozer.