Interview with Oliver Zhilmann

What has changed in investigative journalism over the last 30 years and how will this profession continue to develop over the next 30 years?

Investigative journalism has experienced a major boost in terms of sources. On the one hand, thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, we now have access to far more documents from the administration - even if there are still too few. On the other hand, documents from the courts or the financial sector are now much easier to access. Articles on money laundering or corruption used to be almost impossible. Today they are feasible. At the same time, the crisis in journalism is hitting investigations particularly hard. As a rule, considerably more effort is required per article than for interviews or features. In addition, resistance to revelations from lawyers and PR companies has increased significantly. Both of these factors mean that investigative journalism in Switzerland is coming under increasing pressure despite excellent sources. This will intensify in the future. Only large players, such as the public broadcasters or major publishers, will still be able to afford very costly research. This will probably lead to an increase in third-party financed and specialized research offices stepping into the breach, as is already the case in some foreign countries.

What dangers is an investigative journalist exposed to?

Resistance from lawyers and PR companies has increased significantly. Increasingly, there is also the threat of slapped suits - i.e. exaggerated lawsuits aimed at silencing the media. In autocracies and even in some democracies, there have also been many attacks on journalists in recent years.

To what extent are the media competing today for the authority to interpret social media channels such as TikTok and how can propaganda and disinformation from these channels be combated?

The problem is that the threshold for dubious or false information on social media is far too low. However, most people now realize this, which is why it is often no longer enough for a disinformation campaign to simply flood X or TikTok with posts that are easy to expose as one-sided or false. It is crucial to protect the editorial offices of the quality media from infiltration. They are the bastions. If they fall, the door is open to disinformation.

Oliver Zihlmann

Co-Head of Research Desk, Tamedia

the Swiss Cyber Security Days
20 - 21 February 2024

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