March 5, 2014

Covering the Extractives Industry: Big Data, New Tools, and Journalism

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This paper was presented during the professor’s track at the Global Investigative Journalism Conference in October 2013 in Rio De Janeiro. For more on educators and investigative reporting, see the Investigative Journalism Education Consortium.


Pay No Mind in Flickr (CC License)

The one thing we know is that our efforts have empowered journalists, if only they take advantage of it. Our most effective efforts in the struggle against the resource curse have been those aimed at transparency. There is information available now of a quality and detail that traditional civil society organizations are not used to dealing with. And more is on the way.

       — Law Prof. Peter Rosenblum, who specializes in extractives and human rights


The extractives sector (oil, gas, and mining) continues to be an important subject for journalists, particularly in developing countries. Revenues from oil, gas and mining contribute substantially to GDP and in many cases make up the bulk of government revenue.

Indeed, among 29 nations that in 2011 were implementing the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative [1] (EITI), 10 reported extractives revenues totaling over one-quarter of their respective government budgets (six of which were actually over 50%)[2]. Among the broader global community, 30 countries reported natural resource rents representing over one-fifth of their entire national economies, with six whose natural resource rents constituted more than half of their GDP (Iraq, the Republic of Congo, Saudi Arabia, Mauritania, Kuwait, and Gabon).

The companies in the extractive sector are large and influential. The estimated global market capitalization of publicly-traded oil, gas, and mining companies currently stands at €6.1 trillion. Extractives companies traded on the three primary American exchanges (NYSE, NASDAQ, and AMEX) are collectively worth €3.7 trillion alone.

How the revenues from the extraction of natural resources are spent affects economic growth, domestic security, and social well-being. However in many countries, revenues are wasted or lost due to corruption and/ or financial mismanagement. Managing large and sudden inflows of resource wealth is notoriously difficult as it can create high inflation from increased spending, overvalued currencies and an unbalanced economy, as investment and skilled labor is often attracted away from other economic sectors.  Resource rich countries are often marked by instability and high unemployment, because although the extractive sector can create some jobs, the “job destruction” elsewhere, for instance as a result of the overvalued currency hurting exports, is greater.[3] The process of extraction can also create severe environmental damage, hurting the lives and livelihoods of the people living in the areas where extraction takes place. A resource boom can tear at the social and moral fabric of societies, causing increased tensions, between ethnic groups and/ or classes (which sometimes escalates or prolongs conflicts and civil wars). The influx of job- and opportunities-seekers to regions where extraction takes place can lead to conflict over land and resources as well as an increase in illicit activities, such as use of drugs and contraband and prostitution, and other crimes.  Surprisingly, the abundance of natural resources often leads not only to a lack of growth but an increase in economic and social inequality and to societies marked by poverty and underdevelopment.[4]

There is a great deal of scope for journalists to do investigative reporting on the extractive sector. There are innumerable instances of outright corruption as well as bad practices, where countries fail, for instance, to garner for themselves the full value of their resources and/or when the revenues raised are not used for public purposes in ways they should. There are more complex stories, exposing how well-intentioned actions can have unintended adverse effects (as in the case of the Dutch disease noted earlier). Such reporting is necessary if the media is to fulfill the role of the watchdog, particularly needed in this complex and often opaque industry.

The last few years have seen a general trend towards transparency in the sector so there is now far more data available than ever before, including data produced by members of the EITI and companies affected by the Dodd Frank Act.  There has also been a push from the international community, including from the United Nations and the European Union in the areas of transparency, open contracts and tax evasion. Indeed, the challenge will be for journalists to find this data and figure out how to make sense of it so it can be used for reporting in depth stories.

Assisting journalists with covering the extractives are a host of new tools that enable journalists and bloggers to obtain and verify information, draw on citizen networks, work with NGOs and civil society organizations and crunch big data sets.

This paper will look at some of the new initiatives and tools, highlight some of the successes and failures in covering the sector and map out possible areas of coverage.  We will consider how technology can help journalists overcome some of the standard barriers to exposure reporting.  Technology, of course, is not a cure-all but can help counter the geographical barriers, resource constraints, pressure from government and advertisers and lack of knowledge and sources that have in the past impeded exposure journalism on the extractives. New technologies can both increase the effectiveness of coverage and the ability to disseminate information once it has been gathered.  This paper will also briefly touch on the role international non-governmental organizations play in disseminating information and the impact of donor-funded networks.

In this paper, we draw on extensive and ongoing research done at Columbia University and make use of fieldwork carried out by the authors in Uganda and Mozambique, as well as research done on Vietnam and Angola.

Combating the resource curse (originally named by Stanford professor Terry Karl) entails actions on many fronts: for instance, citizens in the resource rich countries putting pressure on their governments to be more accountable; and those in the countries that are home to the extractive companies putting pressure on their governments to curb exploitive and corrupt practices.  Thus, coverage has to be targeted at multiple audiences. New technologies have played an important role in helping bridge the gaps between audiences so it is now easier for journalists to develop cross national investigations, sources and audiences.

Reasons for Weakness in Coverage of Extractives

Inside the Newsroom

There are today many reasons why the extractive sector is not covered as comprehensively as it could be (Canonge and Purcell 2009). These include lack of resources to spend on developing experienced beat reporters who can cover a subject in depth, lack of funding to send reporters out on stories and lack of access to the far-flung places where, often, extraction takes place. Covering oil, gas and mining can be far more complex than other kinds of business reporting as journalists on the beat need to track a range of companies and players with different kinds of tax regimes, labor conditions, and environmental and contractual agreements. Moreover, although transparency has been increasing in the last decades, the sector remains obscured by the interests of many players who want to exploit it away from the public eye.

Especially in developing countries and emerging markets (within which a large part of the natural resources reside) poorly-funded news outlets with overstretched editorial staff simply don’t have the time, money, will or expertise to cover these stories in sufficient detail. Because the challenges to good reporting are so well known to anyone working in the world of journalism we will not detail them further here. We will just give one example from our research on press coverage of the extractives found in Ghanaian, Nigerian and Ugandan newspapers in 2009. Having multiple sources is a tenet of good journalism as a diversity of sources can provide balance and perspectives to reporting.  The Project for Excellence in Journalism found that national newspapers in the US had three or more sources 90% of the time (2006) and four or more sources 48% of the time (PEJ 2005 and 2006). By contrast, a 2009 study of African newspapers found that only 21.45% of the African newspaper articles surveyed had three or more unique sources. Nearly 50% of articles had one unique source or less. By far the most prevalent types of sources were those from government or business outlets.

This sort of problem is precisely the kind that tools like Twitter and Facebook should theoretically be able to help solve. By facilitating an unprecedented level of connectivity in real time and enabling a vast range of people (or at least people with Internet access) to communicate, journalists should be able to dramatically broaden the number of sources that they reach, communicate with and cite.

Soft and Hard Pressures

As well as the constraints inside the newsroom, there are the problems of the larger media ecosystem. The oil, gas and mining companies tend to be rich and well connected. They have friends and allies in government and in business and are able to shape and control the character of the stories that appear about them. Typically these companies are able to outspend media outlets and so can put pressure on journalists in many ways including soft pressure, smear campaigns, threats to withdraw advertising and, of course, costly and drawn-out lawsuits.  An extreme example is the current lawsuit apparently brought by Canadian company Infinito Gold against two Costa Rican professors who criticized its actions.[5]

Further, because in many countries, the extractive sector is the major source of revenue there is at times widespread support for companies benefiting from the sector or from their governments.[6] Non-governmental organizations, civil society and journalists who question their practices are viewed as marginal and find it hard to be heard. Or they may face litigation, and, in more severe (but not uncommon) cases, attacked or or killed.  Another problem, activists note, is that when corruption is pervasive –Nigeria and Angola come to mind — media reports lose their novelty and so the journalism that does appear has little impact.[7] [8]

The “naming and shaming” approach to covering companies can have an effect (Dyck 2002) but only when the company or government being criticized is sensitive to criticism of its reputation. When a government or company is impervious, then journalism is naturally less effective unless the international community takes on the cause.

Examples of Watchdog Reporting on Extractives

Despite these obstacles there are, of course, many cases of journalists around the world exposing problems associated with the extractives sector. Maka Angola [9], an Angolan website founded in 2008, publishes articles, cartoons, radio programming and videos, in Portuguese and some in English, denouncing corruption, power abuses, socio-economic exclusion and human rights violations in the country on the part of the government. The website also receives and publishes investigations and denunciations from Angolan citizens. Gruesome cases of torture of workers in the Angolan diamond mines and the acquisitiveness of the President and his family and associates, who have benefited from the extractive sector, have been exposed relentlessly by journalists at Maka Angola.

In Uganda, the Kampala-based African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME), committed to improving journalism in the country and continent, trains journalists to cover the recently booming oil sector and assist civil society in effectively regulating the sector.[10] However, Executive Director Dr. Peter Mwesige, notes that there is still much to be done: “despite some progress, there is too little serious investigation and too much reporting without supporting evidence (especially about land issues). Some downright misinformation continues to reach the public—notably from influential, local radio broadcasters.  Greater efforts should be made to reach and inform these important opinion-makers”. [11]

Legal pressures on journalists

But these exposures of corruption and other forms of malfeasance can have consequences. Rafael Marques de Morais, the founder and executive director of Maka Angola, and a fearless investigative journalist and human rights defender, has been imprisoned and sued several times throughout his career and has had his computer and email accounts hacked.[12]

In Uganda, media houses that publish stories inconvenient to senior public officials have  had publication suspended since multi-politics were restored in 2005.[13] At this writing, the most recent closing was in May 2013.[14]

Legalized threats to the press happen everywhere.  The July 2013 article in the New Yorker, by Patrick Radden Keefe, about corruption in the allocation of mineral rights in Guinea describes a series of angry letters and lawsuits from B.S.G.R. group, the shadowy company run by the notoriously litigious and aggressive Benny Steinmetz.[15] The article itself provoked an aggressive response from the B.S.Gr. group although not a lawsuit or threat of lawsuit.[16]

Impact on Policy

Despite the pressures and challenges, in some cases, crusading journalists and bloggers have had a discernible effect on government policy.

In Mozambique, which has vast coal and natural gas reserves and is in the early stages of a significant natural resource boom, press coverage of protests against resettlements of farming communities in the mining areas helped spur government to issue new legislation on resettlements[17].  Civil society organizations pushed Mozambique to join the EITI, holding EITI workshops for government officials at the beginning of 2011[18]. After a number of ups and downs and a great deal of  back- and forth about what conditions Mozambique had to fulfill it finally became compliant on October 26th, 2012.

In Uganda in June 2013, the government disclosed information contained in the oil contracts, purportedly due to the pressure also from various civil society organizations and the non-state-owned media. Nonetheless, civil society groups still argued that only limited information on petroleum royalty rates had been released and that it was not enough. Several details of the agreements remained confidential due to “commercial interests” sparking speculation that Uganda may have gotten a raw deal.[19]

Even the imprisonment of Rafael Marques had an effect. One of Marques’ various incarcerations, in 1999, although an immediate setback, eventually resulted in positive changes to Angola’s Press Law after a long process which included lobbying from international organizations concerned with press freedom including Interights, Open Society Institute and the Committee to Protect Journalists.[20]

Often however, government and companies continue with their plans, in the face of critical press coverage, leading to frustration from journalists and activists who wonder why their work has not had more impact. The question of how journalists can have more impact and how to measure this impact is a constant preoccupation for investigative journalists especially those who receive funding from donors. For space reasons, we won’t delve into this topic here but it’s obvious that journalism usually makes a difference when there are a host of other pressures happening at the same time, including political transitions, internal political conflicts and external pressure.

Opening Up the Debate

There is, of course, a grey area between not having any impact and having a measurable and immediate impact on policy and outcomes and, as with most journalism, the effect of much of the exposure coverage of the extractives falls in between. In countries where heavy-handed governments try to control the media, the blogosphere and social media can open up discussion about policy options in a way that legacy media are often unable to do so.  In the case of the controversy over a planned bauxite mine in Vietnam in 2007, well-placed bloggers forced an unprecedented level of transparency in a country with a classically closed media system. There was popular opposition to the project and the blogging community largely amplified and reinforced the opposition in much of the state-run media, but the bloggers were able to point fingers at high-level officials, something the state-run media was not allowed to do. It is worth noting, that the opposition to the mine was not over the environmental impact but over the feeling that the profits would go to a Chinese company rather than to the people of Vietnam. Coverage of the extractive sector is often tied in with feelings of sovereignty or national interest – also known as “resource nationalism” – and journalists often feel their job is to be advocates for better deals for their country.

When bloggers/journalists are effective there can be several reasons. One is the amplification effect, that bloggers and traditional media can provide new information and then reinforce each other’s points, by broadcasting this information so that it becomes known by larger groups. Bloggers and the media (including social media) can also draw attention to criticism of, say, government policies and help reframe how the debate is cast. There is of course a tremendous fluidity between different platforms. The reporter who writes for state-owned media by day may blog anonymously by night and report the information s/he could not reveal in the official media. Journalists everywhere use Twitter and Facebook to gather and impart information. Sahara Reporters also has its own Youtube channel. It goes without saying that these tools have transformed how journalists engage with their readers and sources as well as how information is collected and disseminated.

This is perhaps the promise of the web: that it can help connect different people and organizations that had not previously been connected. The tremendous asymmetry of information and of power present in the extractives sector is part of the reason the coverage is so often lacking. Powerful players (the extractive companies and governments) hold on to information and so tracking and monitoring of oil revenues and government/corporate expenditure can be difficult. When numbers are shared, it’s often not in a consistent way.  Companies and governments release incomplete information or information that is wrong, or information that is not easily comparable or in the same format as other kinds of information. They can also disclose overwhelming amounts of unusable data (a data dump). Different institutions or countries publish different things at different times and in different ways. Often, this is not an accident:  the intent is to limit access of information that might shed light on what companies are doing or the terms at which they have been able to obtain the resources.

In short, obtaining complete data sets that can be analyzed is still a tremendous challenge for journalists and activists who want to analyze the data to see whether there has been corruption or mismanagement or even how much was paid or spent.  “Opening up the process has been a great achievement but we realized last year, for example, that the EITI data sets” are not yet standardized, cautions Johnny West the founder of, a specialist publisher on extractives using open data models.  He notes however that it’s already possible to find many contracts online and that Dodd Frank “will create volumes of data”. “The amount of information will change fast and radically in the next three to five years,” West predicts.

Asymmetries of Information and of Power

When there is accurate information to be found, the teaming up with other voices and the unblocking of information flows can lead to far more comprehensive reporting. The journalist working in isolation does not necessarily know what is happening in other parts of the world. The hope of ICT is that it will facilitate the communication between different entities across time and place, connecting the reporter in Angola to the reporter in New York with the NGO in London or the Petrobras employee in Brazil. As Chinese media develops, there will be more in-depth reporting from outlets like Caixin.

Activists have long assumed that globalized knowledge can contribute to the raising of global standards and so circumvent national blockages, even in the face of local resistance (Keck and Sikkink 1998). As a broad global consensus forms that supports ideas of accountability and transparency, national governments can be forced to change their behavior.

Consider the case of Mexico which is debating opening up its hydrocarbon sector to foreign companies.  The global campaigns on contract transparency have made Mexicans aware of abuses that have occurred elsewhere, and this may cause the Mexican government to require more transparent contracts even without the media reporting in Mexico calling for more transparency in contracts. Or another example that we will discuss in greater detail later in this paper: the Dodd-Fran k Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act that was passed in the US in 2010. It includes transparency provisions that, if upheld, will affect governments around the world even if they don’t have equivalent laws on their books.

There is also a cascading effect. Good reporting in one place can raise standards for other journalists and encourage hesitant news editors or proprietors to keep up with the competition by releasing more news. Ory Okolloh from philanthropic investment firm Omidyar Network notes that investigative outlets like Nigeria’s Sahara or Next234 (no longer in print) helped create the next generation of reporters interested in scrutinizing the extractive sector. According to Bard law professor Peter Rosenblum, the opening up of contracts (available on sites like documentcloud) has already led national governments to negotiate far better deals.  By seeing what kinds of environmental protections countries are negotiating other governments learn what to ask for. “Governments are getting better at renegotiating opportunities,” says Rosenblum.

For this reason, activists understand that sometimes pressuring a few key players can bring about change. Persuading just a few governments or companies to do reforms can bring about a change to global standards. This is part of why journalists keep an eye on international trends; eventually they will come home to their own beat and these stories will need to be covered locally. Organizations like GJIN are essential because they connect different groups to each other and help journalists report stories across international borders.

The kinds of campaigns that can affect global standards (and therefore produce material for stories for journalists) can be mass campaigns that are public or even campaigns that take place with quiet behind-the-scenes pressure and are not widely broadcast. A mass campaign based on public name and shame can take place on a blog like Sahara Reporters or on social media Twitter or Weibo or can result in petitions and civil disobedience of the kind organized by the international environmental NGO Greenpeace International. These large campaigns stir up outrage and encourage public pressure.

Then there are more targeted campaigns such as the work done by Human Rights Watch on the resettlement problems from mining operations in Mozambique. In this case,  their 2013 report and video focused on the communities that were displaced by mining companies, Vale and Tinto, facing food insecurity as a result. [21] The campaign forced the two main companies – Vale and Rio Tinto – to respond to Human Rights Watch’s accusations .

A private campaign is one in which an NGO tries to target an influential government  agency such as the State Department, or lobby a corporate sponsor behind the scenes with the veiled threat of exposure serving as a stick, and so causes a change in policy or brings about an investigation that forces a company to stop doing something.  The Radden Keefe piece in The New Yorker, mentioned earlier, is an example of a story that was aimed at a limited audience, but an influential one.

The history of journalism is filled with examples of journalists who worked over many years to draw attention to injustices. Benjamin Saldana Rocca founded the newspaper, La Sanccion, in Iquitos in 1907, in order to expose the terrible conditions of the rubber workers in the Amazon. ED Morel launched The West African Mail in 1903 in order to expose the brutal conditions in the gathering of rubber in King Leopold’s Congo.  These crusaders-turned-reporters spent years tracking down witnesses and forming alliances, in particular with the Irish nationalist hero, Rodger Casement who was then the British consul. Just as they do today, the businesses and governments committing the abuses fought back hard and did everything they could to stop the reporting. Tactics include lawsuits, threats of violence, bribes to journalists, planting favorable stories and hiring lobbyists [22]. Historically the lines between exposure journalism and crusading journalism and advocacy have often been blurred. In some ways, the lone crusading journalist of  100 years ago resembles the blogger  of today more than the staff reporter of  The New York Times who is determined not to express his/her opinions on the news pages.

Risks of Surveillance

We noted earlier that those engaged in investigative reporting have always been at risk whether from litigation, imprisonment or violence.  One thing that has changed is the risk of surveillance.  In the 19th and 20th century, governments read the snail mail of those under surveillance. Today governments target the internet. They can both identify the sources of opposition and act to curtail the dissemination of information. One example: in 2010, coordinated attacks originating from various parts of the globe made Maka Angola’s website inactive for 6 months, limiting their ability to report and costing them significant funding.[23]

Technology has opened many doors for journalists and helps overcome several traditional obstacles to reporting, but has also made it easier for governments and others opposed to their investigations and interested in their silence, to have access to their identities and what they are doing, and, once again, stop them.  In a post titled “Democratic technology  and unintended consequences”  blogger Joshua Ross argues that:

So while more of us are capable of holding an open, peer-to-peer discussion, we are doing so with the consent and under the watchful (or subpoena-able) eye of just a handful of corporations or governments. And when citizen calls-to-action conflict with government calls for quiet, the government holds more of the cards.[24]

With this caveat, we have laid out the case for why ICT should theoretically be able to help solve some of the problems journalists have when investigating the extractive sector.  By connecting journalists with people involved in the story and new sources of data and information, technology may help address some of the information blockages so prevalent in this area and help unite disparate groups working on the same issues.

Now let’s turn to some of the tools and websites that may be of use.


Bernard Durfee in Flickr (CC License)

Tools/Places to Get Information [25]

In our research we found a wide range of websites that can be of use to journalists covering oil, gas and mining.

Sites Aimed at Journalism

  • The Guardian Data Store / Data Blog: Articles and data resources (including applications, a searchable database of datasets, and an open platform for enabling aspiring data journalists)
  • DocumentCloud: “A tool for journalists, a document catalog, [or] both” that allows users to upload source documents and annotate them.

Sites with an Extractives Focus

  • The Global Investigative Journalism Network has a useful data journalism resource page.
  • EI Source Book: An exhaustive primer on the oil, gas, and mining industries; affiliated with Goxi, the World Bank, and the University of Dundee.
  • Revenue Watch Institute
  • Open Corporates: “The open database of the corporate world,” containing information on over 60 million companies worldwide. Check out their Maps of some the connections between companies.
  • OpenOil: An organization that fosters “progressive policy making” in the areas of oil and gas. Includes blogs, research, wiki-guides, etc.
  • For academic work on the effect that oil wealth has on development please see the website of UCLA political science professor Michael Ross.
  • A book Professor Schiffrin helped edit in 2005 is aimed at helping journalists write about oil and has been translated into several languages. It’s is available at no charge on the Revenue Watch website: Covering Oil
  •  Another useful publication is the IMF guide to Resource Revenue Transparency .
  • Global Witness has published a number of reports on the extractives, particularly in Africa. A few that are worth looking at include a report on the unfair Mineral Development Agreement between Liberia and Mittal which helped push the two sides to renegotiate. Another of GW’s reports worth looking at is this one on offshore companies .
  • Several groups have come up with recommendations on how countries can better manage their extractive sector. This report is from the Africa Progress panel, chaired by Kofi Annan and theNatural Resource Charter is a set of principles that was the original brainchild of Oxford economistPaul Collier .

1)   Regional and National Sites

  • Sahara Reporters: “An online community of international reporters and social advocates dedicated to bringing you commentaries, features, news reports from a Nigerian-African perspective.”
  • Guinée News: “Interested primarily in news and information concerning the Republic of Guinea. Also covers African and international issues”.[26]
  • Soul Beat Africa: “A knowledge management initiative focusing on communication and media for social change in Africa.”
  • @Verdade: “A high quality, full color newspaper distributed weekly to the Mozambican population, with an estimated print readership of 400,000.”
  • Oil in Uganda: a website owned by Action Aid International Uganda, operating with funding support from Ford Foundation, with news and detailed information about the social, economic, governance and environmental dimensions of the oil and gas sector in Uganda. A quarterly print edition excerpts major content of the site, with some additional features.
  • BudgIT: a website with “simple infographics that helped citizens to understand the new fuel subsidy payment and oil revenue share in Nigeria. The team has since produced a whole series of images that break down the country’s budget by state and sector and utilize the power of social media to enable citizens to take part in more informed debates around public expenditure.” [27]

2)   Sites that Provide Data about Oil, Gas, Mining

  • Energy Infrastructure and Flows
    • Joint Organizations Data Initiative (United Nations): A database measuring 13 product categories (crude oil, NGL, LPG, etc.) and 14 flows (production, direct use, stock change, refinery output, etc.) across over 90 participating countries, with data from 2002 to present
    • BP Statistical Review of World Energy: Contains annual price, consumption, and production totals on oil, natural gas, coal, and other resources; updated yearly with statistics going back decades in some cases
      • Data visualization tool here
  • U.S. Energy Information Administration: A variety of tools for viewing historical, international energy data including production, consumption, imports, exports, capacity, stocks, emissions, etc. for all fuels and countries
  • International Energy Agency Statistics: A comprehensive set of maps, graphs, and charts displaying energy production, consumption, imports, flows, etc. in a variety of interactive graphical formats on an individual country level
  • Revenue Management and Transparency
    • EITI Country Reports: Contains data on revenues reported as paid by the companies, and as received by the governments, for the 37 countries that are part of the EITI
    • Promoting Revenue Transparency: 2011 Report on Oil and Gas Companies (Revenue Watch / Transparency International): A report on transparency and anti-corruption efforts of 44 oil and natural gas companies from 30 countries (including country-level disclosures for all nations within their upstream production line, totaling 73 countries in all)
    • Resource Governance Index (Revenue Watch): Data tool that facilitates country-by-country comparisons in transparency and accountability in the energy sectors of 58 nations, with sections on disclosure procedures for individual countries
      • Similar comparative tool found here for EITI nations
  • Oil and Gas Tax Guide for Africa 2013 (PricewaterhouseCoopers): Self-described as a “quick guide to oil and gas tax regimes” in Africa, this report includes tax and regulatory information on 14 African countries’ oil and gas industries
  • Beyond the Rhetoric – Measuring revenue transparency: company performance in the oil and gas industries (Save the Children UK): An overview of transparency in the oil and gas sector, including a scoring system for revenue transparency and anti-corruption efforts for all major global oil/gas companies (and several smaller and/or state-owned ones) for a total of 52 country-specific operations
  • Contract Transparency (Publish What You Pay): An interactive map showing countries that have published their contracts with extractive companies, accompanied by links to the contracts
  • Contribution of natural resources to gross domestic product (World Bank): Table listing the percentage of GDP comprised of rents for oil, natural gas, coal, mineral, and forests
  • Financial & Private Sector Development: Privatization (World Bank): Tables listing historical privatization transactions of at least $1MM from 1988-2008, including 215 in the energy sector (with fields for company name, country, year, deal type, and proceeds)
  • Oil and Mining Contracts (GEI Program / Revenue Watch): A database of contracts, agreements, and key terms containing 120 documents from 7 countries
  • Payments to Governments (Shell Global): Contains data on income taxes, sales taxes, and royalties paid to host governments by Shell Global in 2011 and 2012
  • Chad/Cameroon Development Project: Year-End Report 2012 (Esso Exploration and Production Chad Inc.): Reports on compensation paid to local actors (chapter 7) as well as revenues paid to the host country and what the money was spent on within the country (chapter 13)
  • Mapping the Extractive Industries – Ghana, Extractives in Africa: An interactive map and accompanying table, piloted for Ghana but with plans to expand to the rest of Africa, displaying various extractives projects throughout the country, as well as their reported payments to Ghana and the government’s reported receipts
  • GlobeScan: assesses industries based on perceptions and reputation

3)   Sites with Information on Arbitration Processes and Outcomes

  • Luke Eric Peterson is a journalist who is passionate about international arbitration and has been writing about the subject for years. He is also interested in bilateral investment treaties and human rights. Here is his blog.
  • This website run by Professor Andrew Newcombe, which houses all publicly available notices of arbitration, pleadings, and awards, sortable by company claimant and respondent state.
    • This website by the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, which identifies the relevant sector/industry at issue in the investor-State dispute
    • UNCITRAL – which recently adopted rules that will mandate transparency in investor-State arbitrations. The new rules are available here. They also did a write-up of these new transparency rules, explaining what they mean and when they will apply, available here.

4)   Sites To Connect People

  • Ulula: “a mobile phone platform that uses SMS, interactive voice response and other features to create a feedback loop between citizens, government and businesses for social good.” The platform generates real-time data that enables dialogue between businesses and citizens and new insights for public policy and corporate decision making to minimize risks and maximize shared value.
  • HunchWorks: “The world’s first social network for hypothesis formation, evidence collection, and collective decision-making.” Members submit a hypothesis and then collaborate in collecting supporting materials and analyzing the results in order to take action quickly
  • Goxi: A collaborative network inspired by the World Bank Institute and the African Development Bank that is designed specifically for extractives-related governance projects. Includes discussion of research, job searching, and task sharing for members in academia, business, government, nonprofits, and the media
  • Investigative Dashboard: “Detailed methodologies, resources, and links for journalists to track money, shareholders, and company ownership across international borders,” with plans to include “more advanced collaborative workspaces, data-archives, and discounted…access to expensive or proprietary research services.”
  • Ureport: similar to LabourVoices
  • Ushahidi: the largest and most useful crowdsourcing tool.  Founded in Kenya and used, for example, during the Haiti hurricane to map incidents and help rescuers find victims.
  • Mashable: this well-known site that brings all sorts of articles together also has some information on oil, mining and gas.

5)   Sites that Help Journalists Present What They Find

  • Resources and Inspiration
    • FlowingData: A blog dedicated to the visualization and digestion of data in aesthetically pleasing and easily comprehensible formats
    • Visualizing: “A community of creative people making sense of complex issues through data and design”
    • Information is Beautiful: Similar to Flowing Data, this blog includes a variety of data visualizations with accompanying commentary
    • Mapping/Visualization Tools
      • A site dedicated to data visualization tools across a broad array of purposes, from infographics to presentations and even videos
      • Google Charts: Display and embed Google’s charts and infographics (in various formats) on external web sites
      • Google Maps: Free, embeddable maps that can be customized and saved
      • Gephi: “An interactive visualization and exploration platform for all kinds of networks and complex systems.”
      • OpenStreetMap: A free, open-source street map of the entire world that can be exported in part or as a whole
      • OpenLayers: Easily embeddable maps for any web page (also open-source and free)
      • Datawrapper: “An open source tool helping anyone to create simple, correct and embeddable charts in minutes.”
      • Spatial Dimension: a company that helps countries cadaster extractive projects on maps and have them online.

Ideas for Future Stories

The number of stories that can be written about the extractive sector is infinite. Based on our reading and interviews with experts, activists and journalists here are a few:

1)   The Dodd-Frank Act

The effect of Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act on the transparency of extractive companies. Section 1504 and the rules associated with it would require oil, gas and mining companies to make detailed reports of the payments they make to governments around the world.

  • According to the Revenue Watch Institute, “Under the SEC’s final rules, companies must disclose taxes, royalties, fees, production entitlements, bonuses, dividends and payments for infrastructure improvements. Fees to be reported include rental fees, entry fees and concession fees; bonus payments are specified to include signature, discovery and production bonuses.”  In July 2013, the rule that would implement 1504 was vacated by a Washington DC District Court but this was appealed so at this writing, we are still waiting for the SEC to issue a new version of the rule. A number of groups have called on the SEC to come back with a stronger set of rules.

What effect Dodd Frank will and will not have around the world will be an important subject for reporters. For example by looking to see what payments companies do not report it may become clearer what companies are paying in taxes or not paying and to compare the corporate tax regimes of different countries. These subjects will lend themselves to data visualization.

It is worth noting that the oil companies that have opposed the bill do not object to reporting overall payments.  They simply resist reporting payments with the kind of detailed breakdown that would make such information useful, especially for purposes of investigative reporting.

  • Section 1502 of Dodd Frank was upheld by the US district court in July 2013. This is the provision that relates to conflict diamonds. To quote a PWC report

“On May 31, 2014, public companies will have to comply for the first time with the SEC’s Conflict Minerals Rule (“the rule”) filing requirement. The rule is one of several SEC rules mandated by the Dodd-Frank Act that are intended to provide transparency into corporate practices. Specifically for the conflict minerals rule, the ultimate intent is to reduce funding for armed groups involved in human rights violations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and surrounding countries (collectively, “covered countries”). The rule compels corporate disclosures around whether the conflict minerals used in a company’s products originated in the covered countries, and whether the conflict minerals are “conflict-free” or not.[28]

  • Law professor Peter Rosenblum notes that Dodd Frank only requires transparency on financial dealings but not environmental damage. Again, another subject for investigation.

2)   Corporate Spending

There is a tremendous need for follow up stories about the questions of what the extractive sector companies are actually spending in the countries where they work. Extractive sector companies pledge to spend a certain amount on, say, community projects but there is little analysis of whether this actually happens.

Related to this is the Lough Erne declaration released at the G-8 meeting in June 2013, which read in part “Governments should publish information on laws, budgets, spending, national statistics, elections and government contracts in a way that is easy to use and re-use, so that citizens can hold them to account.” [29]

  • Open data charter –This is a g-8 policy paper which endorses many key principles of transparency and of the open data movement.

3)   Arbitration

A second set of possible set of story ideas has to do with the international and national arrangements on arbitration.

  • Tension over whether bilateral investment treaties are undermining national sovereignty. South Africa under pressure from the EU.
  • Another source is the Third World Network. This paper includes a discussion on how Canada’s bilateral investment treaties (BIT) maintain an “existing imbalance of bilateral and global economic and political relations between the north and the south, particularly Africa.” This paper here, from Emory Law Journal, is less critical of BITs and suggests about some of the sub-Saharan treaties should be formulated.
  • The unfairness of international arbitration and the way companies use the threat of arbitration to do what they want. Local groups in, say, land disputes have nowhere to appeal if their home court rules against them. Large corporates have the option of   international arbitration—a process that has always been shrouded in secrecy—is expensive and drags on for years.
  • Increasing transparency in the rules governing arbitration will continue to provide fodder for journalists seeking information.  Ongoing changes to arbitration rules will affect treaty based investor-state arbitration. This will, in turn, affect companies in the extractive sector as so many of them use arbitration proceedings that have, in the past, been completely closed to public scrutiny.
  • A source who researches arbitration outcomes and can speak with journalists about investor-state disputes and arbitration is Lise Johnson at the Vale Center at Columbia University’s Law School.

4)   Other Story Ideas 

  • Mexico and the opening up of Pemex to foreign investment.  Mexico is one country that has not allowed foreign companies in the hydrocarbon sector.  But the inability of the national oil company to develop the countries oil and gas fields combined with dwindling output from existing fields has put pressure on the country to open up the sector.  At the same time, abuses elsewhere are putting pressure on the government to make sure it sets up a legal framework that will ensure that such problems do not occur in Mexico. Ideally, the framework should ensure that Mexico get the full value of the resources and that the resource rents are used for public purposes.
  • How the campaign being led by Chris Taggart from Open Corporates will affect extractive sector companies in the regions where you report. As well as giving each company an identifier, Taggart is mapping networks between the companies.
  • Countries such as Azerbaijan are marking the anniversary of their joining or complying with EITI standards. This provides a great peg for stories that go beyond the rhetoric to look at the facts of what has been accomplished and what has truly changed.
  • Forward looking pieces – Countries such as Azerbaijan are drawing down their reserves and saddling future generations with enormous costly building projects. Once the resources have been used up and the money spent what will the economies of these countries looks like? What are the prospects for future generations?
  • Afghanistan and South Sudan and how the extractive sector will be developed there. 

5)   Perennial Story Ideas

As well as the above story ideas with more timely news pegs there are the perennial stories that are often neglected because the sites of extraction are remote and often closed to visitors. These include:

  • Economic consequences in remote, underdeveloped areas that lead to even more severe poverty – inflation; capital-based big businesses coming to compete with small local businesses; companies bringing in foreign services and goods to the detriment of local and national economy; high influxes of population.
  • Resettlement of populations living near sites of extraction to poor areas with no access to infrastructure, water, schools, health centers, and jobs.
  • Effects on social fabric – such as increased tensions, crime, prostitution because of high influx of foreigners, drugs, etc.


The tide in the war against the Resource Curse is turning.  Thirty years ago, it was simply assumed that the discovery of natural resources would be a blessing.  The “Dutch Disease” showed that that might not be the case, and the analysis of this malady enhanced understanding of the macro-economic consequences of natural resource abundance.  In subsequent years, there has been a greater understanding of other aspects of the resource curse, the low growth, high inequality, and weak institutions systematically associated with resource abundance.  In many countries, domestic and international NGOs and the press have raised public awareness of the issues, and many countries have enacted legal frameworks that attempt to mitigate the risk of the resource curse.  In heavily fought battles, some developed countries, not wanting to be accused of aiding and abetting corruption, have passed legislation facilitating transparency.

But these are ongoing struggles.  There are those whose interests are served by lack of transparency. Extractive industries make more profit if they pay less for obtaining resources; and paying even a large bribe is a cost effective way of reducing overall payments–if they can get away with it. Sometimes paying a fine is cheaper than following the rules. Those in the industry have systematically fought against legal frameworks that would ensure transparency, and have fought against regulations that would effectively implement the legislation that has been passed.

Moreover, transparency in itself has proved insufficient in recent years as it has not been accompanied by greater accountability from governments and companies. According to Human Rights Watch, although transparency initiatives such as the EITI have pushed successfully for more availability of data, they need to be complemented by a push for human rights to improve governance: “Transparency can be transformative in an environment when freedoms are respected because the combination of the two is what provided accountability”.[30]

Journalists on their own cannot transform corporate structures or solve the many problems of countries developing their extractive sector. It has become a bit of a cliché to say that what is needed for good journalism to have an effect is an ecosystem of which strong media outlets are just one part.  A story like the Keefe piece in the New Yorker can have impact because Revenue Watch and other organizations are working on the problems in Guinea and have funding and legal support.  The media provides the most effective counterweight to the pressures from industry:  investigative journalism into acts of corruption and poorly designed auctions and contracts; stories of what has happened in other countries, and analyses of the adverse role that the extractive sector has so often played as well as the positive role it plays in the few that have managed to tame the resource curse.

There are ample opportunities for investigative reporters to use the new tools and data to deepen their reporting.  New technology has dramatically changed how reporting is being done around the world and can help journalists overcome some of the difficulties they face in getting access to sources and seeing the places where mining and other kinds of extraction takes place. However, many of these new tools are in the start-up phase and are not fully developed. Even when they are developed, journalists often don’t use them.

Vast amounts of data are being published online but it will take some time for newsrooms to understand how to use it. In the course of our interviews, we were told that in order for the technology to make a difference it has to be easy to use, fit with current newsroom practices, make the work of journalism simpler and directly relevant.  “In short, it needs to answer the “What’s in it for me?” question,” as journalist Nicholas Phythian put it.

Further, it’s encouraging to see that, for the moment, donors and a range of media development and civil society organizations are interested in helping reporters do serious work on oil, gas and mining.

Craig Hammer, from the World Bank which along with partners such as the African Media Initiative and the International Center for Journalism is sponsoring ‘Data Literacy Bootcamps’ in a number of countries, notes that in Ghana there is already a strong local community (partly supported by google) interested in data, and a growing chorus of voices calling for greater government transparency, including release of data through the Ghana Open Data Initiative, particularly concerning government-mandated royalty payments for communities, arising from extractives sales.  Part of his job is to support and amplify data-driven work that is already being done. “There are ways for the international donor community to leverage each other’s technical and financial resources for improved coordination and complementarity, to achieve more meaningful and lasting impact.”  Hammer says.



We’d like to thank Jay Pinho for his research on new tools and apps and acknowledge the help of Karen Attiah, Sheila Coronel, Tom Glaisyer, Misha Glenny, Eliza Griswold, Rob Howse, Lisa Sachs, Joseph E. Stiglitz, Michael Vachon and Jo Weir.

Thanks too to our interviewees who kindly and generously gave us their time over skype, on the phone, by email and in person: Adérito Caldeira (@verdade), Nelson Charifo (E-magazine: Energia e Indústria Extractiva em Moçambique),  Tom Glaisyer,  Craig Hammer,  Gavin Hayman, Antoine Heuty (Ulula), George Lugalambi,  Nicholas Koch, Lise Johnson, Lisa Misol, Peter Mwesige (ACME),  Dayo Olopade, Orly Okolloh, Katharina Pistor,  Nicholas Phythian,  Jenik Radon, Peter Rosenblum, David Sasaki, Nisha Varia (HRW), Dionisio Nombora (CIP), Arild Drivdal (IREX Mozambique).


Colmery, Ben, Diaz, Adriana, Gann, Emily, Heacock, Rebekah, Hulland, Jonathan and Kircher-Allen, Eamon. 2009. There Will Be Ink: A Study of Journalism Training and the Extractive Industries in Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda, New York. Revenue Watch Institute and Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, Available: Accessed September 15, 2013.

Dyck, Alexander and Luigi Zingales. 2002. “The Corporate Governance Role  of the Media. In The Right to Tell: The Role of Mass Media in Economic Development, ed. Roumeen Islam. Washington, D.C.: World Bank.

Human Rights Watch.  2013. What is a House without Food: Mozambique’s Coal Mining Boom and Resettlements. Available: Accessed September 25th, 2013.

Human Rights Watch. 2013. A New Accountability Agenda: Human Rights and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. Available: November 16, 2013.

James Canonge, Matthew Purcell. “Watchdog or Lapdog: Limits of African Media Coverage of the Extractive Sector”. In Initiative for Policy Dialogue. Accessed September 14, 2013.

Keck, M. E. and Sikkink, K. 1998. Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics. Ithaca and London: Cornell Univiersity Press. Pp 19-21.

Keefe Radden, Patrick. 2013.  “Buried Secrets”. In The New Yorker. July 8th and 15th: pp 50-63.

Nombora, D. 2012. Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative: Mozambique moves towards Compliant Status. Available: Accessed September 28th, 2013.

Project for Excellence in Journalism. 2005. The State of the News Media 2005: An Annual Report on American Journalism.

Project for Excellence in Journalism. 2006. The State of the News Media 2006: An Annual Report on American Journalism.

Anya Schiffrin is the director of the media specialization at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. She serves on the sub-board of the Open Society Foundation’s media programme and, among other topics, she writes on media in Africa and the extractives. Her forthcoming book Global Muckraking 100 Years of Investigative Journalism from Around the World will be published by New Press in spring 2014.

Erika Rodrigues comes from Mozambique and holds a Master degree in Social Anthropology from Columbia University, with a focus on Development Practice and Resource Management in Africa. Erika has researched extensively on the socio-economic and political opportunities and challenges of the development of the extractive industry in resource-rich countries as well as on the role of the media in increasing the chance of those opportunities rather than the challenges. She is currently working in improving communication between mining, oil and gas companies and affected local communities through mobile phone solutions (see Ulula).

[1] The EITI is a global standard that countries apply to that requires them to report on company payments and government revenues from oil, gas and mining, to become EITI Compliant, Its goal is to promote revenue transparency and accountability in the extractive sector.

[2] Citing a 2007 IMF publication, Gavin Hayman, director global campaigns notes that pp 62-63 has the list of hydrocarbon and mining ‘rich’ countries. Rich is defined as (i) an average share of hydrocarbon and/or mineral fiscal revenues in total fiscal revenue of at least 25 percent during the period 2000-2005 or (ii) an average share of hydrocarbon and/or mineral export proceeds in total export proceeds of at least 25 percent.

[3] Also known as the Dutch Disease, a theory that stemmed from the Netherlands example in the 1960s when the manufacturing sector withered as the gas industry grew (The Economist. 1977. “The Dutch Disease”, November 26, 1977. Pp. 82-88.)

[4] These perverse results have collectively been referred to as “the resource curse” or the “paradox of plenty”.

[6] Note the “diplomatic apology” in fall 2013 from the Portuguese Foreign Relations Minister, Rui Machete, to the Angolan President, government and family for the ongoing investigations by the Portuguese Attorney general in response to several accusations by renowned investigative journalist Rafael Marques and others.

[8] Articles questioning and investigating the wealth of Isabel dos Santos, the daughter of Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos for the last 34 years, alsodeclared the richest woman in Africa, have appeared several times in the Angolan newspapers and blogosphere in the past five years – for example in Folha 8, Semanário Angolense, Maka Angola. However, these articles never received much attention from the wider Angolan community, the international community or media nor attention from Isabel dos Santos herself.  That was the case until an article was published in Forbes, investigating the origins of her net wealth of 3 billion dollars, in a country where 70% of the population lives under $2 a day. Isabel dos Santos was quick to issue a communique defending her reputation and Angolan blogger Claúdio Silva, one of the many Angolan journalists and bloggers surprised by the fervor with which the story was tweeted and shared on Facebook, wrote “If a tree falls in the forest and nobody heard it fall, did it really fall? If someone is a billionaire in Angola and Forbes hasn’t written about him, is he really a billionaire?”.

[10] A training programme offered with the Revenue Watch Institute and the Thomson Reuters Foundation, teaches journalists to report effectively on oil and gas and promote public debate on the sector. ACME also launched, in 2012, a prize for best reporting on oil, gas and mining. Submissions were scored for originality, sourcing, relevance, depth and clarity

[12] At this writing, Marques has been released. His most recent incarceration was on September 20th, 2013, following a series of events, from Marques writing a bold book accusing private security companies and diamond mining companies of routinely killing and terrorizing villagers deemed to have interfered in the mining operations in Northern Angola, to him filing a criminal complaint with the attorney-general of Angola against 9 top Angolan generals, part of the directorship of the two diamond mining companies he accuses in his book. The criminal complaint was subsequently followed by 11 prosecutions of defamation against Rafael Marques by some of the accused generals. He has since been released. Marques has also been under illegal cyber vigilance a couple of times (2010 and 2013), where the hackers had access to the journalist’s documents, passwords, and intermittent screen prints. Marques, R. 2011.Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola

[14] On May 2013, four newspapers and sister radio stations were closed down, including the main independent newspaper – the Daily Monitor – a direct competitor to the state-owned newspaper  New Vision. The shutdown was triggered by an article reporting on a letter by the Coordinator of Intelligence Services, making a number of serious allegations about plots within the government and the military.[14] The siege lasted for 10 days and the media houses were put under 24-hour armed police guard, barred from reporting and, as a result, were hit hard financially. They were reopened on condition that they tone down their critical coverage of government and their editors promised they would “not publish or air stories that can generate tensions, ethnic hatred, cause insecurity or disturb law and order”. ACME urged that these conditions should not “undermine the media group’s commitment to bold and accurate independent journalism as well as press freedom generally”, given the vagueness of the conditions imposed. Earlier, on December 30th, 2012, President Museveni had threatened media houses accusing some that “…endlessly tell lies and sabotage progress. Firm steps will be taken to end this indiscipline. Radio and TV stations that peddle these lies should be closed if they are not prepared to fulfil their mandate…”


[16] Author correspondence, September 30th, 2013.

[17] Mining giants Rio Tinto and Vale, in the coal-rich west-central region of Mozambique, have been uprooting self-sufficient farming communities and resettling them to arid land with difficult access to food, water, health and education facilities, and work, since 2009. Only in January 2012, when approximately 500 people in the main mining province in the country staged a demonstration blocking the railway transporting Vale’s shipments of coal, did the resettlement issue make the national news. Through the media, civil society organizations and the international community began asking current President Guebuza to resolve the severe situation, which led to the adoption of a new resettlement decree on August 8th, 2012. — Human Rights Watch. 2013. What is a House without Food: Mozambique’s Coal Mining Boom and Resettlements. Accessed September 25th, 2013.

[18] Nombora, D. 2012. Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative: Mozambique moves towards Compliant Status. Accessed September 28th, 2013.



[22] For my information see Schiffrin’s new book  “Global Muckraking: 100 Years of Investigative Journalism from Around the World” New Press, April 2014.

[25] We wish to acknowledge our indebtedness to Jay Pinho for his assistance in this research. 

[26] Translation of “About” page.


[30] HRW. 2013. A New Accountability Agenda: Human Rights and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. Pg. 2.

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