Big data: The Shell investigation - (VPRO documentary - 2013)

Published on Nov 25, 2017

VPRO backlight examines how you can penetrate into closed strongholds with the help of big data. What do these huge information streams reveal over a multinational like Shell?
Ever since the disclosures about the snooping practices of the US and Dutch intelligence services, we are becoming more and more aware of the huge amount of digital data stored over us on the net, in the matrix. But not only data from citizens, but also information about governments and multinationals is being collected. This results in enormous files of many terabytes: big data. The good news is that much of this information is accessible to all of us. You only need to know how to search.

In the episode 'Big data: The Shell investigation' VPRO backlight investigates how these huge data sources make new ways of journalism possible. The case is energy giant Shell. Using a message about a billion debt that Shell would have left for the Iranian regime, VPRO backlight searches and falls into a sea of ​​digital infomation.

This way, we will fish some extraordinary remarkable information about the doings of this Dutch multinational in regard to Iran. The research focuses on Shell's activities in the years 2002 - 2010, the period when the international community decided on a commercial boycott against Iran because of its controversial nuclear program. VPRO backlight shows how Royal Dutch Shell ended its rogue operations in Iran's "rogue state" and ended up in 2012 with a two billion dollars debt to the Iranian regime.

VPRO backlight also addresses its research on the intimate relationship between Shell and the Dutch government. What role does The Hague play when it comes to Shell's interests abroad and how far is this deliberate diplomacy going?
Finally, VPRO backlight asks whether there is a "revolving door" between Shell and the Dutch government. With the use of an interactive research tool - the powerhouse - that was developed specifically for this purpose, Shell's and the government's relationships are being visualized. All this is being investigated with, as a source, the free available big data files about Shell and its trading partners.

What is the power of digital resources and how far can big data enrich research journalism? Conversations in this regard bring VPRO backlight with a number of colleagues including journalist and shell expert Marcel Metze, energy reporter at Dow Jones, Benoit Faucon, ship tracking expert, John van Schaik and Kenneth Cukier, data journalist at The Economist and author of the book ‘Big Data: a revolution that will transform how we live, work, and think’.

Originally broadcasted by VPRO in 2013.
© VPRO Backlight October 2013

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