Findings from openDemocracy’s groundbreaking feminist investigative journalism project were cited more than 400 times across the global media in 2020, including by the Guardian, Al Jazeera and Reuters.
The Tracking the Backlash project at openDemocracy, founded in 2017, investigates organised opposition to sexual and reproductive rights including from religious right, far right and other ‘anti-gender’ movements.
In 2020 the project revealed a global network of coordinated projects targeting vulnerable pregnant women with anti-abortion misinformation.
Dozens of European politicians condemned the “disinformation, emotional manipulation and outright deceit” revealed by this project and called for follow-up inquiries and action from government authorities. In Ecuador and Costa Rica, health authorities promised to do their own investigations.
The findings of this project – led by women journalists in 18 countries collaborating over nine months – were picked up by more than 100 outlets internationally. It was also one of two major Tracking the Backlash investigations nominated in the 2020 British Journalism Awards.
Misinformation was also the topic of a second major Tracking the Backlash project in 2020 which revealed how US taxpayer money was paying for a website in Armenia that was pumping out COVID-19 conspiracy theories.
Led by one of openDemocracy’s 2020 investigative journalism fellows, Tatev Hovhannisyan, this story was cited more than 70 times by outlets including BBC Russia, AFP, Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
It also led to real-world impact: after the publication of this investigation, the US Ambassador to Armenia said the embassy was cutting its funding to the website that Hovhannisyan revealed was pumping out this misinformation.
“This investigation was my first big project as a Tracking the Backlash fellow and a perfect example of how journalism can work,” said Hovhannisyan, adding: “Its real-world impact exceeded our expectations.”
In addition to widespread media pickup, and the US funding cut, “the number of posts on this website containing misleading and incorrect claims about COVID-19 decreased. This was the most important impact for me!”
During COVID-19, openDemocracy’s feminist investigative journalists also revealed cases in at least 45 countries of women’s childbirth experiences breaching World Health Organisation guidelines reiterated in March.
These cases included, for instance, women being forced to give birth ‘alone’ without partners or companions; women being prevented from breastfeeding; and women enduring ‘mandatory’ C-sections at some hospitals.
Dozens of other media including El Pais in Uruguay and the Mail & Guardian in South Africa picked up this investigation, which also revealed how some pregnant women died in Africa because of harsh COVID-19 travel restrictions that delayed them from getting medical attention in emergencies.
At least $280 million – this is the amount of US Christian right spending overseas which Tracking the Backlash exposed ahead of the US elections in November. openDemocracy scoured thousands of pages of financial filings of Christian right groups, many of them linked to the Trump administration.
The Guardian, the Daily Mail, the Spanish press agency EFE, Deutsche Welle, TIME, Mother Jones and Reuters were among the more than 120 outlets from around the world that covered this investigation’s findings.
This month, a follow-up investigation by the Tracking the Backlash team found that dozens of US anti-LGBT groups are fundraising on Amazon’s donations platform, despite the company’s participation agreement which forbids intolerance and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
This story was picked up by the LGBT-rights publication PinkNews in the UK, as well as by NBC, Business Insider, Gizmodo, and The Hill in Washington DC.
In total, in 2020 openDemocracy’s feminist investigations were cited at least 410 times by other media outlets based in more than 60 countries and publishing in 20 languages including Russian, Spanish and Ukranian.
These investigations were cited more times in Latin America than in any other world region (almost 140 times), followed by Europe (more than 110), and Eurasia and Africa (90 between them). Team members were also nominated for a 2020 "Javier Valdez" Latin American Investigative Journalism Award.
Each of these major projects was led by women and LGBT people, including six earlier career investigative reporters who joined the team for professional fellowships, developing their skills while working on special investigations.