Non-governmental organisation’s are often overlooked and underreported on because they are seen as the good guys.

By Lucas Nowicki and Ntombi Mkandhla

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) wield a considerable amount of power in society and power always needs to be checked, according to editor-in-chief at the Mail and Guardian, Khadija Patel.

Patel and Ron Nixon, head of international investigations at the Associated Press shared the stage during the 2019 African Investigative Journalism Conference held at Wits University on Tuesday, October 29. They both shared their experiences involving NGOs, lawsuits and investigations.

Nixon, who reported on the mismanagement of funds at international non-profits such as the Southern Africa Enterprise said, “NGOs are seen as the do-gooders. They have a reputation of doing charity work so they don’t get the same scrutiny as a business or politicians would”.

“It is easier to hold to account Jacob Zuma and the Guptas, than it is to hold to account the people we think are good guys,” said Patel.

Viewing NGOs in a favorable light has resulted in media companies overlooking the sector and not conducting much needed investigations.

Nixon wrote a story for the New York Times in 2013 detailing how the Southern African Enterprise was plagued with mismanagement of funds at the time. Thereafter the organisation threatened to sue them.

“You can use such [law-suites] to your advantage,” Nixon said.

Ultimately, the threat of legal action aided him in gaining important information and documents for his investigation into the NGO.

Patel highlighted how the wave of investigations into NGOs is new territory for media organisations. She added, “reporting on NGOs is hard because there are few guidelines” however she urged journalists to pay attention to the sector.

FEATURED IMAGE: Speaker and editor-in-chief at Mail & Guardian, Khadija Patel, speaking at a seminar focusing on reporting on and holding NGOs accountable at #AIJC19 on October 29. Photo: Rose Clemence Shayo