“I’ve been shot at in Damascus, chased narcos in the Darién, and traveled with refugees across the Balkan. I was thrown in jail and freed again in Panama. I’ve slept in bamboo jungle huts and luxury hotels; flown in private jets — and Russian cargo planes. I’ve had dinner with ambassadors, terrorists, and warlords and investigated money launderers and fraud artists. And that’s the short version.”
Okke Ornstein is an investigative journalist and an award-winning TV producer. He has an instinctive tendency to dig below the surface of things. He has filed stories for major media like NTR, Radio Netherlands, Het Parool, de Volkskrant and Newsmax. In late 2013, he traveled with a Dutch organization to Syria and covered the first European humanitarian flight there.
“What I like doing most — and have been doing over the years — is to just go to where I think the story is, dive into the adventure and then report on what happened, be it in radio, television or print. It’s always crazy, sometimes dangerous. In fact, I think that when people ask me, ‘are you sure you want to do this?’ is when I make my best work.”
Currently based in his home country of the Netherlands, Ornstein previously worked from Panama, where in November 2016 he was imprisoned for blogging about fraud and corruption. Released on a presidential pardon the following month, he continues to face baseless prosecutions in Panama and therefore plans to sue the country in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, for ongoing violations of due process and human rights.
Since his return to the Netherlands in 2017, there has not been one day that he was not defending himself in one or the other frivolous court case brought against him by a network of criminal elements that originated in Panamá. He so far won all these cases.
Ornstein began his career as a video editor and worked in advertising. As a freelance producer at McCann-Erickson, he worked on radio and TV commercials for major brands: Coca-Cola, Black & Decker, World Wildlife Fund, Canon, GoodYear and the Reynolds Tobacco Company.
He then moved on to TV, directing numerous episodes of “Taxi,” the highly successful show produced by IDTV for the NCRV with Maarten Spanjer as the taxi driver. “Taxi” won a Golden Rose at the prestigious Montreux Television festival, and subsequently the format was sold all over the world. In the US it’s known as “Taxicab Confessions,” produced by HBO.
Ornstein directed and contributed to numerous other TV shows and documentaries. One of those, the documentary series “Urbania” won the Prix Iris.
In 2015, Dutch public-service broadcaster NTR nominated a radio documentary about refugees by Ornstein for the Tegel in the Netherlands. His in-depth radio investigation “Barro Blanco,” about a hydroelectric dam in Panama that was funded by a Dutch bank and prompted questions in the Dutch Parliament about environmental and social consequences, was nominated for the Prix Europa in 2013. Most recently, Ornstein has worked for Dutch public broadcasters and Al-Jazeera.
Ornstein’s photography can be seen on LensCulture, and his artwork can be purchased online. His 2014 TEDx talk reflects on free press issues and libel tourism in Panama.