When journalist Gauri Lankesh was shot dead in 2017, while investigating the spread of disinformation in Indian politics, her killers assumed that would be the end of the story.
But, a network of journalists with the French non-profit project Forbidden Stories was determined to prove them wrong – by finishing what she started.
A grant from the Global Media Defence Fund (GMDF) – a fund that was initiated and continues to be supported by members of the Media Freedom Coalition – not only enabled Lankesh’s work to be published, but also to reach a wider audience and gain mainstream attention.
Forbidden Stories is committed to protecting, pursuing, and publishing the work of other journalists facing threats, prison or murder. The project was launched five years ago by journalist and filmmaker Laurent Richard, who worked in the same building as the staff of Charlie Hebdo and witnessed the immediate aftermath of the attack in 2015 that killed 12 people.
Laurent said: “The support from the Media Freedom Coalition is helping us continue the work of journalists who are killed – it’s crucial in sending a strong signal that we are a global organisation focusing on the world’s most dangerous stories, and that if you kill the messenger, you will never kill the message. We need to use journalism to defend journalism.
“I think that the future of journalism is collaborative. I really believe that by continuing the investigations of journalists who have been killed we will change the mindset of the killers, because they care about being exposed.
“Wherever someone is killed because of their journalism, it is not just a local crime but a global crime against democracy, a global crime against access to critical information,” he said.
Lankesh was planning to publish an editorial titled “In the Age of False News” in her newspaper Gauri Lankesh Patrike, in which she denounced India’s “lie-factories”.
The piece revealed how a local news outlet had spread an unfounded rumour, which was then disseminated further. But two days before it was due to be published, she was hit by four bullets fired by men on motorcycles as she returned to her home in Bangalore.
However, Lankesh’s death would not be in vain, thanks to a consortium of journalists from Forbidden Stories and the French national newspaper Le Monde. They spent months investigating the people and companies who provide their services to the highest bidder to manipulate public debate, attack dissident voices and discredit media and journalists.
The Forbidden Stories project has had other notable successes, shining a light on wrongdoing all over the globe – including coordinating the work of 45 journalists from 18 news organizations after the assassination of Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, and investigating the use of the spyware tool Pegasus against hundreds of journalists.
Laurent says that as the reputation of the Forbidden Stories project grows, the organization is receiving more calls for help – from journalists who feel threatened or family members of journalists silenced by their murderers, leaving behind unfinished investigations.
“They are reaching out to us,” said Laurent. “The funding is vital in achieving our mission step-by-step, we want to continue more investigations and be more reactive.”
The Global Media Defence Fund, administered by UNESCO, has supported more than 80 projects globally, and directly benefitted over 3,000 journalists, 600 lawyers and 100 NGOs.