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Letter to Managing Editor of This Day, Tanzania

This letter was sent to the editor of the Tanzanian newspaper This Day on July 9th 2008, regarding the newspapers' way of quoting Norwatch journalist.
Artikkelen er mer enn to år gammel. Ting kan ha endret seg.
This letter was sent to the editor of the Tanzanian newspaper This Day on July 9th 2008, regarding the newspapers' way of quoting Norwatch journalist.

Managing Editor
This Day
Dar es Salaam

Framtiden i våre hender
Fredensborgveien 24g
0192 OSLO

Oslo, Norway, July 9th 2008


Dear editor of This Day
In the extractive industries, the stakes are high, and the possible income is potentially crucial for the national revenues and development. But unluckily, as you know, the mineral and petroleum industry has in many African states created far more problems that it has solved. Norwatch views it as highly important that Tanzanian news papers such as This Day works on getting your government more transparent regarding dealings with foreign multinationals.

We do, however, would like to point to some flaws in the journalistic work when it comes to This Day’s coverage of StatoilHydro’s deals in Tanzania.

Norwatch visited Tanzania in October 2007 to look at a handful Norwegian involvements in your country. After arriving in Tanzania, we were made aware of a recently inked StatoilHydro deal.

One of the last days of his stay, Norwatch journalist Erik Hagen had meeting with a colleague journalist in This Day. During the meeting, a number of hypotheses were discussed as possible research ground for future journalistic cooperation.

In general, when carrying out investigative research on any topic, one starts with a hypothesis, based for instance on previous knowledge, on rumours or a tip. These can, in their turn, show to be true, or not, or they can be impossible to prove, with documents, statements, facts etc.

One does of course never publish a hypothesis unless proven. Serious investigative journalism means to check and double check sources, and to back up statements, rumours or hypotheses with proofs. And then, of course, confront the person/institution/company subjected to the investigation. Norwatch always bases its stories on very thorough research, and never print rumours. And furthermore, we only seldom give statements to the media ourselves, unless we have carried out very extensive research.

When it comes to This Day’s coverage of the StatoilHydro deals, your newspaper has published stories seemingly not backed up with evidence. We know, because we are the ones who have been used as main source.

Since Norwatch never gave an interview to This Day or any other media while in Tanzania, it came as a big surprise to us that we had been quoted in This Day 7th of November 2007 (http://www.thisday.co.tz/News/2965.html). Even the thought of presenting any possible research findings in an interview with a foreign news outlet is very strange to us. If we indeed had been able to fin any possible StatoilHydro mischiefs, we would never have made this public through an interview, but had presented it through our normal journalistic channel: our homesite.

Furthermore, the article contains a number of aspects that were not even said in the meeting.

1. It is untrue that Norwatch had made a revelation to This Day regarding StatoilHydro’s activities in Tanzania. Norwatch simply pointed out to This Day details published by StatoilHydro themselves on their own webpages. We stated that this is something that must be looked into.
2. It is untrue that Norwatch travelled to Tanzania to research StatoilHydro. That has never been said. The journalist travelled to Tanzania of completely different reasons. Norwatch was made aware of the StatoilHydro contract only a day or two before returning to Norway. The journalist never had this as part of the initial assignment.
3. The Norwatch journalist never said he was shocked by the agreement.
4. What is presented as Norwatch allegations against the company were only working hypotheses that needed to be investigated further. The fact that one makes public such research topics without checking their correctness with independent sources is very unfortunate. The same can be said of telling a source that he is being interviewed or quoted.

After writing to This Day, and clearly underlining the surprise of having been quoted and misquoted from an internal working meeting, we received an apologetic reply mail from the journalist, saying that the story was published because it was “necessary to inform the public”.

No further argument was given as to why the contents of an internal strategy meeting with a potential cooperating news service were published in the news paper without further notice. We find this incident rather strange.

We were also told by e-mail by the journalist that “I promise not to write anything discussed with you while here in Tanzania”.

Despite of this, we see that one more story has been published on This Day, on 7th of July 2008, (http://thisday.co.tz/News/4242.html) repeating the supposed allegations from Norwatch, still without any documenting our “allegations” with proof, and still without ever having asked Norwatch for a quote.

Yesterday’s article/comment also says that (quoting the name of the journalist wrong) “Hogan and Norwatch were also pressured at home and had to issue retraction statements that he never spoke to me on the subject; but I stood my ground”.

This is untrue. We have not been “pressured at home”. Nor have we ever denied that a meeting had taken place in which we discussed the StatoilHydro case with This Day.

What has happened is that the unfortunate 7 November article with unfounded “allegations” from Norwatch had been discovered by stakeholders in Norway, and presented in national Norwegian media. We therefore explained that we indeed had a working meeting with This Day, in which we discussed different working hypotheses for future research on StatoilHydro. We also wrote that we had never given an interview, nor presented proven allegations against the Norwegian company.

To the Norwegian national newspaper Dagsavisen on 23rd of November 2007, we concluded the following:
“The only thing Norwatch can regret, is to have been mentioned as a source in an interview that we have never given. Norwatch does not know more details around StatoilHydro’s deal with Tanzania, than what is written on the company’s homepages and what we have been told directly from the company. Whether the deal is fair or negative for Tanzania, is one of the topics that Norwatch intends to investigate further”.

We believe that if This Day wants to be approached by potential partners or sources in the future, and if This Day wants to maintain an image as a serious journalistic product, it must respect and follow the basic rules of journalism. One of them is to separate between interview settings and internal editorial research meetings. Another is to check and double check information received.

We request you to not longer write in This Day that Norwatch has presented allegations or revelations against StatoilHydro, unless it is part of a future journalistic work that you find published on our homepages www.norwatch.no.

We leave it up to you whether you want to publish this letter. We have today published a copy of it on our homepages www.norwatch.no

We are very sorry that a possible cooperation with This Day about investigating Norwegian and other companies now seem practically impossible.

All this said, we would like to underline again that we highly value your important work in putting pressure on the Tanzanian government to become transparent in all aspects when it comes to signing deals with the extractive industries companies. Through such coverage, one can contribute in making sure that Tanzania will not face the same destiny as other African countries where the resources end up as a curse for the nation and its people. If these efforts are to be successful, however, one must strive for a very high degree of precision in the journalistic work.

Your sincerely,
Pia A. Gaarder
Editor, Norwatch

Erik Hagen
Journalist, Norwatch.