An alarming number of journalists are being silenced around the world for their investigations ranging in topics from the environment and health to human rights and corruption. But a new platform called Forbidden Stories aims to combat censorship by continuing journalists’ work that have been threatened, imprisoned or assassinated. Forbidden Stories is a non-profit project founded by Freedom Voices Network and is led by Laurent Richard, a French investigative journalist.
Forbidden Stories was created in 2017 after journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed for investigating corruption and organized crime in Malta. For five months, 45 journalists from 15 countries collaborated to keep her stories alive. You can explore the stories in the Daphne Project at forbiddenstories.org.
“Collaboration is the biggest form of protection,” said Richard. “We want to send this message to (enemies of the press) that they can silence the messenger, but they can’t stop the message. The journalist has already backed up their story, and it’s already in the hands of other reporters ready to follow it up.”
The Forbidden Stories team conducts one or two collaborative investigations with a network of international partner media outlets. When choosing media partners and journalists that will be part of the team, they consider the journalist’s credentials, the content of stories they’ve published, their enthusiasm for collaboration and the time they can devote to the project, and their quantitative and qualitative impact.
Remi Labed is one of two full-time journalists and the digital security officer working for Forbidden Stories.
“We consider how documented the stories are already, and whether or not they are likely to lead to high-impact revelations and on which scale,” he said. “We also assess the added value we can bring to the stories, either through our (or our partners’) pre-existing knowledge, skills or potential impact.”
Labed believes even very local issues can be of great interest. “They are often relevant in the context of the global public debate. Tackling them is a way of tackling broader issues like corruption, environmental issues, or human rights. This global relevance also helps in bringing together news organizations across the world on a project.”
Forbidden Stories provides three outlets for journalists to securely send messages and documents to: Signal, SecureDrop or by encrypted email. Along with the investigative reports, journalists are asked to send instructions for the team to follow, explaining when and how they want their investigation continued or disseminated. And if something happens to the journalist, Forbidden Stories will be in a position to finish and publish their investigative stories.
After choosing which stories to follow up with, the team fact-checks everything and must analyze and understand thousands of documents— to make sure they haven’t been tampered with.
“We are very cautious and well-trained with our communications,” said Richard. “The safety of our platform and our journalists is very important to us.”