The European Investigative Journalism Conference

How to use transparency to get access to information

In April 2019 Dutch Platform Authentieke Journalistiek (PAJ) and Follow the Money started the “Shell Papers”: a joint research project into the ties between the Dutch government and Royal Dutch Shell.

At the start of the project PAJ filed a total of 17 FOI requests demanding copies of all Shell-related documents from nine ministries, three provinces and five municipalities. PAJ asked the governing bodies to disclose all their documents related to Shell—the country’s largest multinational—from the past fourteen years.

The journalists developed an innovative digital tool to engage the readers and put pressure on the government  during tough negotiations with the Dutch government. At Dataharvest Digital,  Bas van Beek and Roger Vleugels focus on the use of strategy within politically sensitive FOI procedures.

Bas van Beek, what’s the most interesting point of your presentation?

“Even the most seasoned FOI users are experiencing ever more elaborate legal obstructions from government institutions to stop them from gaining access to sensitive government documents. But instead of countering this on a purely legal basis, journalists can use public transparency as a strategic asset.”

What are you yourself looking forward to bring home from the conference?

“Learn new and exciting ways of how to engage and make the audience part of FOI procedures.”

Dataharvest Digital has 4 weeks of Investigative method sessions. The FOI theme week begins on September 22.