Gerard Ryle arrived in Melbourne from Ireland in 1988 with a keen outsider’s eye for what might be amiss. Within months he told colleagues and rivals who covered Melbourne’s crime beat that Victoria Police, then billing itself as the “cleanest” police force in Australia, had major issues with corruption.
Working with fellow Age journalist Gary Hughes, Ryle went on to reveal serious corruption in the force, beginning with revelations of kickbacks to police from window-shutter companies.
Two decades later, the Dublin-trained journalist has risen from national prominence in Australia to global prominence as a leading investigative journalist and editor. In all he has won four Walkley Awards, and a number of overseas awards and honours.
With The Age and later as investigations editor of The Sydney Morning Herald, he revealed wrongdoing in politics, police and finance, looked into the international illegal trade in human body parts and exposed the international fraudster Tim Johnston and his miraculous Firepower Pill, which was falsely claimed to increase the fuel efficiency of vehicles.
After a stint as deputy editor of The Canberra Times, in 2011 Ryle left Australia to become the director of the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), operated by the Center for Public Integrity.
This Walkley is awarded to recognise the remarkable scope, ambition and success of his leadership of a global team of journalists – 86 reporters working across 46 countries – in one of the biggest investigations in journalism history.
It began in 2011 when Ryle received a package in the post, a hard drive with a cache of 2.5 million leaked digital files. Sifting through dozens of leaked records, the team brought to light sham company directorships and tax evasion on an industrial scale.
The ICIJ’s Secrecy For Sale project exposed 120,000 offshore companies and trusts and 130,000 individuals. It uncovered everything from tax-dodging despots to neighbourhood dentists and doctors, including many Australians. Among those identified were the daughter of Ferdinand Marcos, European bankers, senior Russian government and business figures and magnates with links to Indonesia’s former President Soeharto.
Official investigations and other initiatives were launched directly off the back of these exclusives in the UK, France, Russia, India, South Korea, Canada and Israel. The document cache was 160 times bigger than that of WikiLeaks and has been credited with forcing Western nations to step up efforts to end tax havens.
Colleagues describe Ryle as coming from that rare class of journalists who are “worriers not warriors”. He’s the kind of journalist who would shake every tree and go down every burrow in pursuit of the story. He starts at the perimeter and keeps going until he’s gotten to the central characters and the answers.
This is a person who leaves his ego at the doorstep in order to make sure he gets things right.
The Walkley Advisory Board recognises the exceptional leadership shown by Ryle and the Secrecy for Sale project in coordinating a global mission which attacked a global problem – the borderless world of tax evasion. The project is ongoing and reminds us that independent watchful journalism must cross borders. Ryle’s use of the networked effect offered by internet publishing has been exemplary and many more will follow in his footsteps.
Leadership of the year sponsored by