“A story is not worth a reporter’s life,” said Anas Aremeyaw Anas, a Ghanaian investigative journalist who famously wears a curtain of beads to hide his face. In a global journalism seminar series hosted by the Reuters Institute, Anas detailed his experiences with investigative journalism and how he uses his anonymity as a tool in his investigative journalism work.

Anas who has been wearing the beads for over 20 years said: “The power of keeping yourself anonymous, gives you the power to tell a different story”. Adding that “my work is about naming, shaming, jailing. And the power of anonymity gives you the capacity to still do investigative journalism and be able to move freely in certain areas without being recognised because some people become bitter and can be very diabolic.” Anas said that many journalists have been jailed and killed because they are easily identified and that it is up to a journalist to determine where and when they want anonymity.

He has gained international attention for his investigations into human rights abuses and corruption in Ghana and other African countries said he has received numerous death threats for his work and that he has become used to the attacks. “I’m so used to it that when I do a story and I don’t get threats, it sometimes feels like the story has not been properly done,” said Anas. “Many of our colleagues on the continent also face similar threats. There are countless examples such as my colleague Ahmed Salim, who was shot and killed. He was shot three times in the heart and twice in the neck at close range and Martinez Zogo, who was also killed.” 

“Many African journalists get killed every day, and that’s the reality of trying to enhance our democracy,” said Anas, stressing the importance of safety measures for African journalists. He also noted the importance of journalist taking precautions to ensure their safety, “there’s no point in wanting to tell a story that will end up killing you because we end up losing much more because you won’t get the chance to tell the story”. Journalists should have strict protocols they follow, backup plans, and be discreet about their investigations, said Anas. 

Anas is one of the founding members of the Network of African Investigative Reporters and Editors (NAIRE), which includes 19 African investigative journalists from 14 countries who came together to form the network. They aim to establish in the investigative journalism profession in Africa a more systemic focus, moving away from the focus on corrupt events and corrupt individuals towards questioning the institutions of the African state. NAIRE also aims to increase its focus on, and solidarity with, the victims of bad governance and bad public service by linking with communities, civil society and academia, while investigating political elites and kleptocracies in African countries.

“Collaboration has always been the bedrock of proper investigation. No journalist knows a story better than the journalist who lives within that story,” said Anas. He continued: “There have been countless examples of stories that are misinterpreted in the West because people are not in it, and the days of parachute journalism are over where a Western journalist comes into a country and reports on a story without liaising with local journalists to better understand a story”.  Anas said it is important for African journalists to work together and find solutions, “we thought how can we intervene when our colleagues are being tortured and killed, this is a pivotal time to stand together”.  Anas said as NAIRE, it was important to consider “how can we as African journalists on our own mobilise resources?” 

He pointed out the importance of evidence-based journalism. “If I say you’ve committed a crime, I show you the hardcore evidence, and I prove to you that you did it. Even then, people still deny it. But your best medicine for people coming after you is your evidence.”

Watch the full seminar here. 

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