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Celebrating impactful investigative reporting: Lessons from BBC’s Tom Odula

By Dex Mumo

Stories that resonate with audiences and make a lasting impact often receive prestigious recognition and awards. The recent accolade bestowed upon BBC journalist Tom Odula at the 2023 African Investigative Journalism Conference sheds light on the power of investigative reporting.

Odula’s remarkable achievement as the African Investigative Journalist of the Year for his acclaimed work “Sex for work: The true cost of our tea”,  highlights the profound impact investigative journalism can have on exposing systemic issues and holding the powerful accountable.

Through his documentary aired on BBC Africa Eye, Odula shed light on the prevalent sexual abuse endured by female workers on Kenyan tea farms, which supply some of the world’s most famous tea brands. This courageous exposé not only unveiled the disturbing reality faced by these workers but also gave a voice to the survivors of sexual abuse.

One crucial lesson for journalists lies in Odula’s dedication of the award to the survivors featured in the documentary. Their bravery in speaking out despite the potential risk of losing their livelihoods is an inspiration and a reminder of the importance of amplifying marginalised voices.

Furthermore, the recognition and impact of Odula’s work extended beyond corporate repercussions. The public outrage sparked by the revelations led to the dismissal of implicated managers and initiated investigations. It even caught the attention of lawmakers, who advocated for stricter actions against those involved in sexual harassment.

The success of “Sex for work” underscores the significant role that investigative journalism plays in revealing untold stories, questioning those in power, and serving the public interest. It serves as a reminder that journalism holds the power to effect change and bring about justice for the unheard.

Tom Odula’s journey as an investigative journalist, with previous works like “Night runners of Homa Bay” (although deemed controversial by some critics) and “Kenya’s hidden epidemic”, demonstrates the enduring impact of his commitment to shining a light on pressing issues and unearthing hidden truths.

The recognition of Odula’s ground-breaking work serves as a celebration of impactful journalism. It highlights the importance of investigative reporting in revealing systemic injustices, creating public awareness, and mobilising action.

The African Investigative Journalist of the Year award, supported by Absa, recognises outstanding examples of investigative reporting that unveils untold stories, holds the powerful accountable, questions those in public life, and serves the public interest.

The selection criteria included factors such as the story’s originality, the investigative work involved, and the impact it generated, particularly about public service.

Journalists can draw inspiration from Odula’s dedication to amplifying marginalised voices and challenging the powerful.

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