Are the Pandora Papers Advocacy Journalism?


November 4, 2021




The Pandora Papers, released by The Washington Post and its collaborators in October. is a prime example of advocacy journalism. Advocacy journalism’s definition can be interpreted in many different ways, however, an Oxford Research article by Ingrid Cáceres loosely defines it as a genre that combines reporting with a point of view. Cáceres mentions in the article that it can be found in varying degrees within every media outlet. 

According to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the Pandora Papers is an ongoing investigation into an offshore financial system that has shown the interworkings of a secret economy that has been benefiting the wealthy for decades. The papers revealed in early October provided the main information of the investigation, which is still ongoing as there are 11.9 million documents to sift through from the original leak. The project is particularly important to U.S. citizens as many of the people included in the documents were wealthy elected officials. Though their names have yet to be revealed, it is extremely important to consider the effect this could have on an already fragile government which was showcased during the Jan. 6 capitol attack.

After the release of the Pandora Papers, the Post and its counterparts answered the financial conspiracy theory that the elite had offshore accounts for suspicious activities. Many world leaders mentioned in the release denied any wrongdoing, while Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, said he would launch an investigation into any citizens of Pakistan mentioned in the document. While the release may have not answered the Illuminati conspiracy, it did show that the elite has kept the public in the dark about their assets. 

According to a letter from the editor by The Washington Post, they expected this investigation would shed light on a hidden world that has “allowed government leaders, a monarch, billionaires and criminals to shield their assets.”

The letter assumes based on the Panama Papers, a prior investigation, that there would likely be public uproar following the release of the Pandora Papers. The Panama Papers were confined to the country of Panama and dove into its offshore system. Within days of the release of the papers, protestors hit the streets and investigators started to see arrests, political action and resignations. These papers are extremely important to the context of the Pandora investigation as Panama served as a sort of “beta test “because they had one provider of offshore account information versus the 14 providers that the Pandora Papers investigation has. 

The Pandora Project is a prime example of advocacy journalism because it was published with the intent to expose the wrongdoings of those in power.

Though this is a developing investigation that will take some time as the news outlets have to sift through 11.9 million records, there will likely be interesting ethical dilemmas introduced as more information is revealed.  For now, one can dissect what information has been released.

One point of interest in the few articles published by The Post is the acknowledgment that similar documents have resulted in public change. This has led to the conclusion that the possible motivation for the investigation is to advocate for transparency among government officials in their finances. 

With this being a possible motivation, it is not a violation of journalism ethics because this is simply the job of the fourth estate:  presenting informed issues to the public and leaving it to the public to take action against the government based on whatever the issue may be. It will, however, be up to the news outlets working on the papers to publish the ‘first rough draft of history’ correctly.

Dissecting the letter from the editor gives a sense as to why The Post joined the investigation in the first place. This is particularly evident in the paragraph where it states the publication attempted to shine a light “on aspects of the international financial system that have operated with little or no oversight.” This is a journalistic instinct, but also an advocate’s instinct, one that tells the reader there is a shady part of the international financial system and explains why it is important. 

It is important to point out that this letter not only demonstrated advocacy journalism, but transparency as well. The transparency that was present in the letter dealt with the fact the publication felt the international financial system needed a “watchdog,” that the public needs to understand what was going on, and that they were “proud to have taken part in reporting that has brought the Pandora Papers to light.”

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