“Alternative journalism has a great future”

Lolly Bowean on how journalism can inspire us

&# 171; alternative journalism has a great future&# 187;

Investigation documentary premiered in New York &# 171; Bellingcat&# 187;

“I don’t know what will happen next, but I think the investigative team should not be limited to the four named names, and other names will be named, presumably people of higher rank in the Russian military structure,” said Dutch investigative journalist Christian Tribert (Christiaan Triebert, answering a question from the Voice of America Russian Service after the Bellingcat premiere in New York.

Christian Tribert

The question related to the recent statement by the Joint Investigation Team, investigating the causes of the crash of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing passenger liner in Donbas in 2014, to bring criminal charges against three Russians and one Ukrainian. The liner crash killed all 298 people who were on board.

Russian themes

The full title of the film is Bellingcat – Truth in a Post-Truth World. This screening culminated in the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, which took place in New York City from June 13 at the Lincoln Center and IFC Center in Greenwich Village..

The interest in the closing film turned out to be so great that the festival management and the administration of the IFC Center added a second, additional session.

The film by Dutch director Hans Pool follows the Internet company Bellingcat from its inception in 2014 by Briton Eliot Higgins to the present day. Their main feature, which brought the company worldwide fame, is the use of social networks, YouTube, Google Maps, GPS and other open access online resources for investigating military conflicts, terrorism and corruption. Among the major breakthroughs made by Bellingcat during this period of time, there are two high-profile “Russian themes” – the Malaysian liner shot down over Donbas and the poisoning in England of a former GRU employee Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

&# 171; Bellingcat&# 187 ;. Still from the film. Courtesy photo.

Hans Poole is an award-winning director and cameraman for his films. As reviewers note, he combines journalistic approaches with intellectual depth. His previous films include Putin’s Olympic Dream and Looking For an Icon..

The name bellingcat, the film says, is inspired by an old fable. In it, mice at a common “gathering” came up with a way to escape from the terrorizing cat by putting a bell on its neck (belling the cat).

The film says that the Kremlin is extremely unpleasant about the results of Bellingcat’s investigations, and shows the attempts of Russian propaganda to discredit the international Higgins team in every possible way and present it as a group of amateurs-falsifiers conducting investigations “lying on the couch.”.

Analyze this and that

Bellingcat’s appeal as an organization and a documentary about it is how it freely shares its methods with other media outlets, including old-school figures like The New York Times, and inspires them to innovate, writes in Variety film critic Peter Debrugge.

“Introducing the audience to the key players of the Bellingcat team,” Debrugue continues, “including the American Arik Toler, untangling Russian intrigues, the award-winning Dutch investigator Christian Tribert, the Finnish military expert (and obsessive connoisseur of the history of the MH17 liner) Veli-Pekka Kivimaki , the founder of the Syrian Archive, Hadi Al-Khatib, and the German visual artist Timmy Allen, who analyzed the video of the beheading of James Foley (American photojournalist, executed by ISIS in August 2014 – OS), Hans Poole represents them to a lesser extent heroes, and most of all, pioneers who are revolutionizing the field of both news journalism and international criminal investigations “.

Dutchman Christian Triebert, one of Bellingcat’s main employees, is considered an expert in fact-checking and geolocation. He studied in London, at King’s College. Conducted field research in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine and other countries. In 2017 he received the European Press Prize Innovation Award for the reconstruction of a failed military coup in Turkey. Currently lives in New York, works in the visual investigations department of the New York Times, combining traditional journalism with alternative journalism, in the spirit of Bellingcat..

In addition to Christian Tribert, the film was discussed at the IFC Center by Emma Daly, Director of Communications for Human Rights Watch (HRW), Priyanka Motaparthy, Director of Emergency Management at HRW, Femke Wolting, Producer, and Jay Rosen, Professor at New York University, journalism expert who took part in the film.

“We at Human Rights Watch use slightly different search and validation methods than Bellingcat,” said Priyanka Motaparthi. – we call people all over the world, go to the places of events. The main thing for us is direct communication with witnesses and participants in the events. The dedication of Bellingcat staff and volunteers to their work cannot but admire and amaze. They are real enthusiasts who are ready to sit at computers in search of truth around the clock. “.

NYU Professor Jay Rosen identified Bellingcat’s primary goal as “implementing global verification practices.” He referred to WikiLeaks as the first experience of an extraterritorial news organization that does not have the usual specific address and exists only on the Internet..

“Bellingcat’s peculiarity,” said Professor Rosen, “is that the sources they use are all in the public domain. Undoubtedly, alternative journalism has a great future. And it’s hard to argue with her. Don’t you like our conclusions? Don’t you believe our findings? Please, here is all the information, all sources, no secrets, analyze everything yourself “.

Bombs are real and fake

A lot of screen time is devoted to the investigation of the death of the airliner flight MH17 in the skies over Donbass. Bellingcat experts have compared the telephone conversations of the Russian military and separatists with data from social networks, with visual information from Google Maps, with other information open to everyone. Higgins’ team most likely established that the anti-aircraft missile that shot down the passenger airliner was fired from the Buk-M air defense system from the 53rd Russian Air Defense Brigade, based in Kursk. They “calculated” the route of the Russian “Buk” from which the missile was fired, its postscript to the Russian military unit, the exact time of the installation across the border to Ukraine and back, the names of those directly involved in this operation. And what is characteristic: the guys from Bellingcat made public all this information before the experts of the international investigation team confirmed its reliability..

In addition, in collaboration with the Russian Internet publication The Insider Roman Dobrokhotov, they identified two GRU officers who allegedly poisoned a former Russian intelligence officer, defector Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK. Bellingcat also helped identify the perpetrators of violent violence at a gathering of right-wing extremists in Charlottesville, Virginia..

Christian Tribert explained how important it is to be vigilant and critical of news stories. For example, world agencies reported in 2016 that a car bomb exploded in a market in Baghdad, killing about ten people. As it turned out as a result of a comparison of the news footage of the “terrorist attack” with the image of a surveillance camera posted a day later on Twitter, it was a fake. During the explosion, the market square was empty. People ran into the frame and lay down “killed” and “wounded” after the explosion.

Tribert emphasized that he has no negative feelings about traditional media. Moreover, he highly values ​​the professionalism of the New York Times journalism team, which he currently works for..

  • Oleg Sulkin

    Journalist, film critic, correspondent for the Russian Service «Voices of America» in New York.

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