Tracking World Media Coverage of the Panama Papers Leak

Denial, censorship and calls for resignation – the diverse reactions covered by the world media the day after the Panama Papers leak.

As more details slowly emerge from the 11 million documents leaked from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, the world media has been frantically updating their coverage on one of the largest and most significant “data dumps” in history.

Chinese coverage

The coverage from Chinese media outlets is rather mute on the allegations that high profile Chinese nationals, including at least eight current or former members of the Politburo Standing Committee, have been concealing their wealth in offshore tax havens.

Despite Xi Jinping’s sweeping crackdown on corruption since he became president in 2012, which resulted in the arrests of thousands of officials, the leaks reveal that underhand activity remains a likely occurrence among high-ranking individuals. Allegations have been directed at Xi’s brother-in-law and Li Xiaolin, the daughter of former premier Li Peng.

Although the media silence is partly due to the ongoing Qingming Festival, a national holiday, it is also an example of the efficiency of Chinese censorship. The Communist Party’s flagship People’s Daily newspaper and state-sponsored broadcaster China Central Television have not reported on the Panama Papers. However, the Global Times – a tabloid controlled by the People’s Daily – reported that the leak was nothing but “a new means for the ideology-allied Western nations to strike a blow to non-Western political elites and key organizations”.

An English-language article in the Shanghai Daily summarising the leak but omitting the names of any Chinese officials, has been removed since Monday morning. Following the same pattern, the web portals Sina and NetEase have also removed their online features on the Panama Papers. The BBC has reported that, “Hundreds of posts on networks such as Sina Weibo and Wechat on the topic have been deleted since Monday morning.”

Freeweibo.com, a website,which tracks censorship on Weibo, listed ‘Panama’ as the second-most censored term on the network. However, censorship appears to be sporadic according to The Wall Street Journal: “A number of Chinese search engines, including Baidu and Sohu, blocked searches for the term “Panama Papers,” though other related terms like “Panama Leaks” produced results.”


Update on Russian coverage

The three main pro-Kremlin Russian TV channels have yet to report on the Panama Papers, reflecting the tendency of mainstream Russian broadcasters to avoid controversial topics involving Russian leaders. However the major international story has been covered by privately-owned business channels, such as RBK, and independent news channels like Dozhd TV.

The Russian opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, part of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ probe, was one of the few Russian media outlets to carry the news.

Russian Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov has since responded to the Panama Papers, claiming they are a display of “Putinophobia”. Speaking to journalists on Monday he said, “Such ‘leaks’, in our view, are meant to target audiences overseas. It is also clear that the degree of Putinophobia has reached a point where to speak well about Russia, or about some of its actions and successes is impossible. One needs to speak [about Russia] in negative terms, the more the better, and when there’s nothing to say, you need to make things up. This is obvious to us,”

Read here about the Russian media coverage yesterday.

Update on Pakistani coverage

The Daily Times has published a response by Hussain Nawaz, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s son, to questions surrounding his links with offshore accounts. He defiantly states that he has done “nothing wrong” and that the London-based houses and offshore accounts were indeed his but “the British law and laws of other countries provide a legal way to avoid unnecessary tax via offshore companies”.

An article in Dawn has covered more cases of denials among the 200 Pakistani nationals named in the leaks but it also reports that Senator Rehman Malik called the Panama Papers “a conspiracy of Indian Intelligence agency, RAW”.

Dawn also published a scathing editorial that reinforced the general feeling that the Panama Papers have failed to produce evidence of illegality and instead unleashed a flow of denials from officials and spokesmen. Nevertheless, the editorial insists that even though crimes can not be proved, the exposé will shake the “self-interested elite” as well as cause the general population – “the collective” – to consider why it is that Pakistan is being “held back from realising its economic potential”.

Read here about Pakistan’s media coverage of the issue yesterday.

Update on British Coverage

The main coverage of the Panama Paper’s leak continues to come from The Guardian and the BBC.

Although a lot of the focus is still on Prime Minister David Cameron’s father and his business interests in the Bahamas, the press have shifted attention towards allegations aimed at British businessmen and Conservative Party links.

The Guardian has reported on a British banker who set up a secret offshore finance company allegedly used by the Pyongyang regime in North Korea to help sell arms and expand its nuclear weapons programme. Nigel Cowie was the head of North Korea’s first foreign bank, Daedong Credit Bank (DCB), which had sanctions imposed on it by the US government in 2013, and provided “financial services” to North Korea’s main arms dealer, the Korea Mining Development Corporation. The Panama Papers reveal that Cowie registered DCB Finance Limited, an offshoot of the bank, in the British Virgin Islands to act as a front company. It is alleged that his offshore firm allowed him to carry out international financial transactions and avoid scrutiny by financial institutions avoiding business with North Korea.

The Guardian has also explored three former Conservative members of parliament, six peers and a range of Conservative Party donors who have connections to offshore companies. The article emphasises that Cameron has done little to address the ethics of the rich and powerful’s use of tax havens despite repeated rhetoric of striving for “transparency”.

British tax investigators from HMRC have contacted media organisations to seek access to the leaked papers. In a letter to The Guardian, Vicky Ranson of HMRC said: “I am very keen to obtain this data from you so we can cross-reference it with our own extensive data, to see whether there is information that we do not have and which could be useful as part of our extensive investigations into offshore tax evasion.”

Read here about the British media coverage yesterday.

Update on Icelandic coverage

The political turmoil facing Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson is continuing to dominate local news outlets. Iceland’s national broadcasting service RÚV has reported that President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson has decided to cut short his personal trip to the US to return to Iceland as a result of the scandal.

The Iceland Review has covered the “record number” of protesters gathered in Austurvöllur Square to demand the resignation of Gunnlaugsson, and Icelandic Channel 2 News has aired an interview with Gunnlaugsson, in which he revealed that he has no intention to resign and bring forward elections. However, the opposition parties have called for a vote of no confidence to be held later this week.

Birgitta Jónsdóttir, head of the Pirate Party, and Helgi Hjörvar, an MP for the Social Democratic Alliance, have said in a RÚV radio show that parliament was shocked at the revelations of the prime minister’s finances and “the country’s credibility is ruined” due to an “ethical collapse”.

Read here about the Icelandic media coverage yesterday.