The EU border agency Frontex has the largest budget of any EU agency. “We don’t meet with lobbyists,” they claim – an investigative team proved them wrong. Hear how to find your own story in their data.

If a public institution is reluctant to share information with the public, how can we use our right to file freedom of information (FOI) requests to obtain documents from them – and push them towards more transparency? Luisa Izuzquiza, researcher and campaigner with FragDenStaat, and Vera Deleja-Hotko, investigative journalist, will share with us how they used FOIs to build the first lobbying transparency register of Frontex.

This happens on the very first day of Dataharvest 2021, Tuesday, May 18, at 11am.

See the full Dataharvest program and buy your ticket

“Frontex is the golden standard of opacity,” says Luisa Izuzquiza.

Among journalists and researchers, Frontex has the reputation of being a secretive institution, from which it is difficult to get information and documents.

“EU institutions are not FOI user friendly, but Frontex is the golden standard of opacity. It is remarkable how difficult they make it to request information,” explains Luisa Izuzquiza.

For instance, the agency will usually ask repeatedly for a request to be narrowed down, will then ask you to pay for the documents, might require multiple clarifications while using “scary bureaucratic language,” and will, basically, stall you for as long as they can.

In June 2020, Izuzquiza, Deleja-Hotko and a couple of their colleagues decided to start researching Frontex.

“When we published, we got 1,8 million hits in the first 5 minutes, and our website crashed,” says Vera Deleja-Hotko.

“We thought it was weird that the EU border was being surveilled with military technology. But we weren’t searching to get the answer we eventually got. We initially didn’t know what we were expecting to find. Everything happened organically,” explains Deleja-Hotko.

The European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex, does not meet with lobbyists from the weapons and surveillance industry. Or that is what they repeatedly claimed. On its website, Frontex includes only partial information about invitations to their meetings and does not reveal who was invited or what was presented. The team has revealed that Frontex holds special events for security industry lobbyists who seek to promote “solutions based on techno-fixes, from biometric surveillance to firepower.” The same lobbyists seek to shape Frontex’s approach to border control and benefit from the contracts.

In 2020 Frontex was granted a €5.6 billion budget, the largest of any EU agency. They have an army of 10,000 border guards; they got an extension of its powers and mandate, and the ability to acquire and lease its own equipment (vessels, vehicles, airplanes, drones, radars etc.).

The research team, of which Izuzquiza was part, requested the documents and analysed them; the journalistic team, of which Deleja-Hotko was part, analysed the documents and looked for the story in them.

“We used small bits of information to make people interested. And people were interested! When we published the story, we got 1,8 million hits in the first 5 minutes, and our website crashed…,” Deleja-Hotko says.

Izuzquiza and Deleja-Hotko’s team published the original documents in their entirety. They say that there are more stories to discover and delve into in the data they made available. Join the presentation – and maybe find your next big story!

See Corporate Europe Observatory Lobbying Fortress Europe report

See Frontex Files (ZDF)

 

Photo: Christina Victoria Craft

Doctors on four continents, supported by US Christian right activists, are providing women with “dangerous” and unproven treatments that claim to ‘reverse’ medical abortions. This was proven in late March by reporters from OpenDemocracy.

How did they research such a personal and delicate matter? And how big is this problem in Europe? Find out in the second Dataharvest Pop-Up, taking place on April 21 at 2 pm CET.

Register here!

Undercover reporters contacted a hotline run by US Christian right activists and were connected to local doctors in their own countries who were willing to prescribe so-called ‘abortion pill reversal’ by phone or email.

‘Abortion pill reversal’ (APR) involves taking high doses of progesterone, a hormone, following the first of two pills used for a medical abortion. Health experts say it is unlikely to ‘reverse’ a medical abortion, and there are also concerns about using progesterone (in itself not dangerous) for this ‘treatment’. A US medical trial into APR was halted in 2019 after some participants were sent to hospital with severe haemorrhaging. The trial’s lead researcher said it was stopped because “It wasn’t safe for me to expose women to this treatment.” 

However, the US hotline connected reporters to local doctors who were willing to provide prescriptions in 12 countries, in Europe and beyond. Only in two countries  were local contacts unwilling to help women take this ‘treatment’, calling it unproven and possibly unsafe.

Join us for a session with Claire Provost, Tatev Hovhannisyan and Zeynep Sentek to learn how they followed the lead from the US hotline to specific countries and doctors around the world. They will share tips on how to go undercover while reporting (including how to prepare a good cover story), and how to combine this method with a data-driven investigation approach.

In the past, openDemocracy revealed Heartbeat’s links to anti-abortion projects around the world that use misinformation in their efforts to discourage women from ending pregnancies under any circumstances and established that groups linked to US Christian right groups have poured millions of dollars into activities of conservative groups globally, for example groups fighting LGBTQ rights.

Register here!

INSTANT INSPIRATION is a new concept at Dataharvest 2021 – an investigation that you can use for inspiration or just plainly copy in your own country. First, we follow the journeys that our clothes make – both the used clothes donated to charity and the clothes bought online and then returned to the vendors. Finnish reporters Minna Knus-Galán and Jessica Stolzmann followed the clothes with hidden gps trackers, and their findings were not pretty.

Minna Knus-Galán checking used clothed that go into a secretive global business. Photo: Jouni Soikkeli

Minna Knus-Galán tracked 6 pieces of used clothes, given to charity organisations, presumably with the expectation of helping the poor or recycling textile to new material. Most of the clothes were worn out, even ragged. All 6 pieces went abroad from Finland, and as the trackers beeped away, the reporters proved that we outsource a waste problem to Africa and Asia, and that used clothes are a secretive, global business.

The final destination of our used clothes is not known to experts or even the charity organisations themselves. 

“Oops! That didn’t go according to our script”, the director of Fida, one of the biggest charity organisation in Finland commented. “Our clothes are supposed to stay in Europe. I’m really sorry the sweater went all the way to Nigeria.” 

After the publication, Fida terminated its agreement with some of its partners in Europe in order to secure that the clothes don’t travel outside Europe.   

Too big, too small, wrong colour – Jessica Stolzmann checked where returned clothes from online stores end up.

Jessica Stolzmann followed what happens to the clothes that we buy online and send back. Online shopping has increased during the pandemic and so has serial returners, people who buy items and then return them. The reporters used trackers to find out that many of our returned clothes travel many extra miles to countries like Estonia where a large industry has been built up to handle and repack returned clothes.

Sometimes the clothes cannot be sold again, and the reporters could follow the returned clothes to Iraq where they were sold or ended up in a garbage dump – again exporting the European waste problem to other parts of the world.

What did the reporters learn? Which conclusions could they draw, and what happened afterwards? And how can you use their ideas and experiences for your own investigations? This is what Instant Inspiration is all about! Come and meet Minna Knus-Galán and Jessica Stolzmann in the very first on Wednesday May 19 at 17 pm CET.

See Jessica Stolzmann’s web story (in Swedish, but easy to understand by following the pictures)

See Minna Knus-Galán’s tv program (English subtitles can be activated)

Buy your ticket for Dataharvest – the European Investigative Journalism conference

The program for Dataharvest 2021 has just been published!

The 2021 conference will be an online event again – and we will meet for 3 weeks of conference and data skills training, followed by a number of masterclasses during the autumn months.

The conference weeks have overall themes: 1) Investigative methods, 2) Data journalism and 3) Crossborder journalism. These themes of course overlap, but they still define a focus for the discussions. Come and join in!

Every conference day has the same structure (except the last):

  • At 10 am we start out with a “Morning booster” – a short session, introducing a specific tool or area of knowledge. These session will last from 30-50 minutes.
  • At 11, we have the main session of the day, sharing experiences and working methods from recent investigations.
  • At 2 pm, a data skills-oriented session begins, typically a demonstration rather than hands-on. You will learn tools and get inspiration to your work on data sets.
  • At 5 pm, you are invited to an interactive session, where you are invited to participate with your thoughts and experiences. A “data sprint“ continues from week to week, and there are sessions called “Instant inspiration” where you can hear about an investigation and learn how you can make something similar in your own country.

And the very last day, on Wednesday June 3, we are proud to present a partnership with the European Press Prize, that will announce the winners of the annual prize at the Dataharvest Conference. The award ceremony will be in the late morning, after which the winners will present their projects. Save the date!

And the “grande finale” of Dataharvest 2021 is laid in the able hands of Quiztime, the international research group that posts an OSINT conundrum every day on Twitter. Can you find the answers to their questions? Find other Dataharvest participants from your city or country, get together physically or online and test yourselves against other groups!

After the summer holiday, we meet again for at least 5 masterclasses (more may be planned as we move along). Here you can go into more depth with different tools and areas. They will be:

We look forward to seeing you at Dataharvest 2021! Your ticket covers both conference and master classes – buy it here!