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Portrait on Bastian Obermayer and Frederik Obermaier, Panama Papers
The initiators of the Panama Papers - Bastian Obermayer and Frederik Obermaier.
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JMG meets the initiators of the Panama Papers on the initiative of students in investigative journalism

“The opportunity to listen and have a conversation with two of the biggest stars in contemporary journalism is an opportunity that I don’t get every day. So of course I was a bit starstruck listening to their story”, admits MIJ student, Axel Nurmio.

The lecture was organised and held on the initiative of students in JMG’s Master Programme in Investigative Journalism, MIJ.

On the 9.02.21, JMG had the pleasure of welcoming the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists and initiators of the Panama Papers, Bastian Obermayer and Frederik Obermaier of the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung

The so-called ‘brothers Obermay/ier’ rose to fame in 2016, when they collaborated with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, ICIJ, and more than 400 journalists from 80 countries around the globe to publish 11.5 million documents exposing the offshore tax havens of some of the world’s most powerful people. The story broke simultaneously in the involved news outlets and stirred public discussion as well as legal reactions worldwide.

The largest cross-border collaboration

The idea for this event came about in early November and was initiated by Sarah Pilz, a MIJ student. Seeing as the MIJ group are studying a module in Investigative Journalism Across Borders, it seemed like an opportune time to talk to the initiators of the largest cross-border collaboration in the history of journalism. Bastian Obermayer and Frederik Obermaier took time out of their busy schedule to host a guest lecture for the students of JMG which took place on Zoom with around 100 students and lecturers in attendance.

Creating this event was made possible through the support of the MIJ programme coordinator Ulla Sätereie and course coordinator Brigitte Alfter and the team effort between the MIJ students - Siri Christiansen, Rachel Sheary, and Sarah Pilz, who teamed up to plan aspects such as the moderation and  the organisation of the talk.

Sarah handled the correspondence with Bastian Obermayer and Frederik Obermaier and the lecturers, Siri introduced the speakers and concluded the event, and Rachel moderated the discussion round, where everyone was encouraged to ask a question and participate. This prompted engaging conversations regarding cross-border collaborations, security in the field, source protection and other concerns in investigative journalism.

Insights for their future work

The reactions from the students after the talk were throughout enthusiastic:

“The opportunity to listen and have a conversation with two of the biggest stars in contemporary journalism is an opportunity that I don’t get every day. So of course I was a bit starstruck listening to their story”, admits MIJ student, Axel Nurmio, and explains that “even if I had read all about making the Panama Papers, I learned a lot and the lecture was one of the best I have ever attended.”

Greta Rosén Fondahn, also an MIJ student, found it “inspiring to hear how Obermayer and Obermaier saw the potential of journalistic collaboration from the start, and that they still today think much of the investigation’s impact had come from teaming up across borders.” Insights that will stay with the students for their future work as journalists.    

Prior guest lectures on investigative journalism were organised by MIJ students Leonardo Alexis Peralta and Alina Yanchur who had welcomed Juliana Ruhfus from Al Jazeera, as well as the guest lecture by Elisa Simantke from Investigate Europe, which was facilitated by Sarah Pilz and Juozapas Bagdonas.

By Rachel Sheary, Sarah Pilz & Siri Christiansen

More information

The lecture on Panama Papers was one of several successful student initiative at JMG. The department has long had a series of lectures arranged by students. Earlier this semester a lecture was given on inclusion and exclusion on editorial offices in Sweden.  

The next application period to JMG's Master Programme in Investigative Journalism for students in EU/EEA countries: 15 March-15 April.
Read more about JMG’s MIJ programme: https://www.gu.se/en/study-gothenburg/mij