Journalism & Corporative Communication

Panama’s papers: the biggest filtration of journalism in the history

370 journalists from 76 countries, 109 involved media, 25 languages of work and 2,600 GB of information: so will have conceived roles of Panama, the greatest example of investigative journalism that is remembered.

Early 2015, Munich (Germany). Bastian Obermayer and Frederik Obermaier, journalists of the Süddeustsche Zeitung, receive an anonymous filtration with documents from the firm of lawyers Panamenomossack Fonseca. Among the material they receive there are emails, legal writings, banking certificates, photocopies of passports, sworn statements, invoices… Journalists begin to review the material and relevant names. But they have left more than 11 million documents dated between 1977-2015, an excessive amount for two journalists and even a single medium. “In fact, files that have exceeded the 2.6 terabytes (2,600 gigas): is 2,300 times larger than the documents that received Wikileaks five years ago, when about 200,000 diplomatic cables leaked.”

When we realized that we had found some good international stories, understood that they would be free unless we share data”, explains Bastian Obermayer. Therefore, in April 2015 an ICIJ (international consortium of research journalists) delegation visited the drafting of the Süddeustsche Zeitung to meet with two German journalists and receive multiple disks with information. At that time, launched machinery which, a year later, has given rise to the Panama Papers: greater filtration of the history of journalism.

More than one year of work coordinated from the ICIJ headquarters, located in Washington, DC (United States) it has been necessary to get here. But there are many players and dozens of teams in this story: in Madrid and Costa Rica began to carry out the first review of the data delivered to the ICIJ. Spanish journalist Miguel Fiandor and sea goat, the engineers Rigoberto Carvajal, and the developer Matthew Caruana-Galizia led the task. In parallel, and from Washington, the Deputy Director of the Consortium, Marina Walker Guevara, was meeting with journalists from different media so join the mammoth project.

On June 30, 2015 about 30 journalists from different parts of the world met during two days in Washington to agree on an agenda of work and receive the first documents. For two months they were tracking files in search of names, data, dates and material that could reveal interesting information. But in order to decrypt the content of the documents was necessary to create a structure of data cleaning: the ICIJ launched up to 35 servers to track information and classify it. Later, created a high security web application using Linkurious to upload the information and facilitate the relationship between the various documents automatically, as if it were an Internet search engine. This is where journalists involved would uploading data that clean, creating a gigantic structured database that would allow access to the leaked documents instantly. A work of classification and unprecedented interrelationship in the history of journalism.

However, it was working with very sensitive information, so the ICIJ is fussing with the security measures: whenever a journalist accessing Linkurious, all its movements were reported and they were monitored in real time. In addition, all the platform information was encrypted as well as communication between professionals working on the project.

In September 2015 another meeting, this time in Munich, took 70 journalists to put in common data that had managed to track down. It is here where began to gestate the first stories and where they established working groups with a view to the publication of the filtered content. But release dates were delaying for a simple reason: the Süddeutsche Zeitung was regularly receiving new packages with additional information. In less than a year, the ICIJ updated up to five occasionally database, to add more than one million and a half of documents to those received in the beginning. Is when was the date that writes a new chapter in the history of journalism: April 3, 2016, the day chosen for the simultaneous publication of leaks in the media who have participated, including The Guardian, the BBC, Le Monde, Univision are or the confidential Spaniards and laSexta.Los published documents identify 214.488 entities (companies (, foundations and trusts) and 14.153 clients of the law firm of Mossack Fonseca, a small law firm that has since the 1970s operating in Panama and that, despite being little known, seems to be quite powerful in the country. Data of great importance for the political implications are (there are 12 Presidents from different countries and 61 families associated with them, as well as 128 politicians), economic (up to 29 people appearing on the Forbes list are also in the leaked documents), banking (there could be up to 500 banks involved) and national, because these documents could prove a massive evasion of taxes in some cases , something that justice must be determined.

For the moment, the Panamanian Prosecutor has already opened an investigation to Mossack Fonseca, whose co-founder has already renounced his position as Minister-Counsellor of the President of Panama. In Spain, the Prosecutor’s Office also will investigate ex officio to all nationals appearing in the leaked documents, something that the authorities of Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom also will make, but from the Spanish Association of tax consultants and tax explained that this type of companies are not illegal in themselves, so it is necessary to analyze case-by-case basis to determine if their owners or participants paid previously in their countries of origin. In any case, all this is only the beginning: in the coming weeks, filtration media participants unravel new names and more documents published.

This massive filtration thanks to the coordinated hundreds of journalists work highlights the value of journalism research as a tool to learn about the reality that is hidden behind a complicated walls erected by businesses, Governments and institutions. At a time in which most Western capitals are under minimum (with the damage that causes to research, which requires effort, time and money), these coordinated works demonstrate the importance of investing in this type of thing necessary which continue to be journalists and the media as guarantors of freedom of information and information products. You may change the model and that a global media Coalition is now required towards issues that a few years ago might have performed a single medium, but even with that model, the press becomes more powerful and win tools for further research and publishing what many want to cover.

Welcome to the journalism of the 21st century.

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