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How to investigate the US Christian right’s influence around the world

Watch openDemocracy editors explaining their work at a webinar organised by the Global Investigative Journalism Network

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Teddy Wilson Joni Hess
12 March 2021, 12.01am

How can journalists investigate the influence of powerful US Christian right groups around the world? openDemocracy editors who track these groups on a daily basis recently explained their work at a webinar organised by the Global Investigative Journalism Network.

openDemocracy’s Global Investigations Editor Claire Provost and Africa Editor Lydia Namubiru were introduced on the webinar as “rockstars in their own field”. The event, on 4 March, was chaired by former Al Jazeera senior producer Juliana Ruhfus and also featured Giannina Segnini, a data journalism professor at Columbia University’s Journalism School in New York.

Provost and Namubiru explained that openDemocracy’s Tracking the Backlash project follows religious right groups that threaten women’s and LGBTIQ rights by, among other things, targeting courts, parliaments and elections.

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They also explained how to follow the money from US organisations using ‘990 forms’ filed by non-profit outfits to the IRS – and the importance of on-the-ground reporting to show the impact of this spending.

In 2020, Tracking the Backlash investigations were cited more than 400 times by other media around the world including Al Jazeera, The Guardian and Reuters. The team has also been nominated for multiple awards including the European Centre for Press & Media Freedom’s annual IJ4EU Impact Award.

One of the team’s major recent investigations revealed how US Christian right groups have spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the last decade pushing their agendas across Europe, Africa and Latin America.

Namubiru explained how one of the investigated groups, Heartbeat International, has supported a worldwide network of what are called ‘crisis pregnancy centres’, which openDemocracy undercover reporters revealed use misinformation in their quest to stop women having abortions.

She described these centres as providing “ideological activism passing as healthcare”; they rarely make their anti-abortion positions known to the vulnerable women they are trying to reach.

Provost encouraged other journalists to explore openDemocracy’s interactive data visualisation of US Christian right spending around the world, and shared tips – including the value of pilot phases in investigations and how methodology notes can help you share your findings with others.

Giannina Segnini, director of the Data Journalism Program at Columbia University’s Journalism School, said her investigative journalism was not necessarily focused on the influence of religion on government but on the influence of “fundamentalism”, and how politicians aligned with fundamentalist groups push an “agenda of blocking human rights”.

Segnini and openDemocracy’s editors all emphasised the importance of collaborative and cross-border work to investigate these issues.

Provost added: “This work would have been impossible without the front and centre role and leadership of women and LGBTIQ people who, among other things, did crucial undercover work.”

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