Interview with Margo Smit (Netherlands), a new jury member of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize
Only few can fully devote themselves to digging for the facts that lie deeper and presenting the independent and unbiased information the public needs so much to make balanced decisions. These few reporters should be protected and facilitated; without their stories we are all worse off.
Margo Smit has been an investigative reporter since 1997. She is currently the ombudsman for all journalistic productions at the Dutch public broadcasting system. When asked about the reason she involved herself in investigative journalism, she explained that “her curiosity went further than the speed of daily news coverage allowed for”, and that she “was a better researcher (…) quietly ploughing through documents and data” even if she admires “the colleagues on the battlefield and the daily beat”.
Ms Smit is one of the four new jury members of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, the only prize dedicated to the work of journalists within the UN system. The jury will review nominations and decide on this year’s laureate to be announced around World Press Freedom Day on 3 May.
In 1989, Margo Smit began working as a news and features reporter for the Dutch TV station RTL4 and later became their political correspondent. In 1997, as she started working for public broadcaster KRO, Smit investigated the Dutch monarchy, nuclear safety, accounting transparency at multinational corporations, Islam, and the tobacco industry, among others. She also co-produced a documentary on the life of Ayaan Hirsi Ali that was nominated for the Prix Europa 2005.
To her, investigative journalism and in-depth reportage is key nowadays as “misinformation travels fast and can - in a global news ecosystem - have global repercussions”. That is why “the few (who) can fully devote themselves to digging for the facts that lie deeper and presenting the independent and unbiased information the public needs so much to make balanced decisions (…) should be protected and facilitated”.
In 2012, Smit wrote a report for the European Parliament on the state of investigative journalism within the European Union member states and the role of investigative journalism in deterring fraud with EU funds. Margo Smit is a member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and covered their #LuxLeaks investigation on tax evasion through Luxembourg for Dutch public TV.
To her, the main challenge for journalism today is “to keep the trust of our public”. Smit states that “we owe (the public) factual, flawless and fair reporting” as “even when we do deliver, there are forces that discredit our work with the public”.
Before taking up her current position, Ms Smit was ombudsman at news broadcaster NOS and director of the Dutch-Flemish association of investigative journalists, VVOJ. She was also a journalism teacher at Rijksuniversiteit Groningen and guest lecturer at other (international) journalism schools. Margo Smit is also chairperson of the Organization of News Ombudsmen and standards and public editors (ONO), and vice-chair of the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN).
The Jury is composed of six media professionals from around the world, recognized for their leading investigative work and defence for freedom of expression. Awarded annually, on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day (3 May) which will this year take place in Punta del Este, Uruguay, from 2 to 5 May 2022, the Prize is marked by a ceremony and the winner is presented with the sum of US$ 25,000.
This Prize was established by UNESCO’s Executive Board, in 1997, in honour of Guillermo Cano, a Colombian journalist who died in the exercise of his profession. Its purpose is to reward each year a person, organization or institution that has made a notable contribution to the defence and/or promotion of press freedom anywhere in the world, especially if risks have been involved.
The call for nominations for the 2022 edition of the Prize is now closed. The name of the 2022 laureate will be disclosed before World Press Freedom Day (3 May).