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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Investigative Reporting

reporting is distinctive in that it publicizes information about wrongdoing
that affects the public interest. Denunciations result from the work of
reporters rather than from information leaked to newsrooms.

While investigative journalism used to be associated with lone reporters
working on their own with little, if any, support from their news
organizations, recent examples attest that teamwork is fundamental. Differing
kinds of expertise are needed to produce well-documented and comprehensive
stories. Reporters, editors, legal specialists, statistical analysts,
librarians, and news researchers are needed to collaborate on investigations.
Knowledge of public information access laws is crucial to find what information
is potentially available under "freedom of information" laws, and
what legal problems might arise when damaging information is published. New
technologies are extremely valuable to find facts and to make reporters familiar
with the complexities of any given story. Thanks to the computerization of
government records and the availability of extraordinary amounts of information
online, computer-assisted reporting (CAR) is of great assistance.

and Investigative Journalism

journalism matters because of its many contributions to democratic governance.
Its role can be understood in keeping with the Fourth Estate model of the
press. According to this model, the press should make government accountable by
publishing information about matters of public interest even if such
information reveals abuses or crimes perpetrated by those in authority. From
this perspective, investigative reporting is one of the most important
contributions that the press makes to democracy. It is linked to the logic of
checks and balances in democratic systems. It provides a valuable mechanism for
monitoring the performance of democratic institutions as they are most broadly
defined to include governmental bodies, civic organizations and publicly held

The centrality of the media in contemporary democracies makes political elites
sensitive to news, particularly to "bad" news that often causes a
public commotion. The publication of news about political and economic wrongdoing
can trigger congressional and judicial investigations.

In cases when
government institutions fail to conduct further inquiries, or investigations
are plagued with problems and suspicions, journalism can contribute to
accountability by monitoring the functioning of these institutions. It can
examine how well these institutions actually fulfill their constitutional
mandate to govern responsibly in the face of press reports that reveal
dysfunction, dishonesty, or wrongdoing in government and society. At minimum,
investigative reporting retains important agenda-setting powers to remind
citizens and political elites about the existence of certain issues. There are
no guarantees, however, that continuous press attention will result in
congressional and judicial actions to investigate and prosecute those
responsible for wrongdoing.

Investigative journalism also contributes to democracy by nurturing an informed
citizenry. Information is a vital resource to empower a vigilant public that
ultimately holds government accountable through voting and participation. With
the ascent of media-centered politics in contemporary democracies, the media
have eclipsed other social institutions as the main source of information about
issues and processes that affect citizens' lives.


Access to
public records and laws ensuring that public business will be conducted in open
sessions are indispensable to the work of an investigative journalist. When
prior censorship or defamation laws loom on the horizon, news organizations are
unlikely to take up controversial subjects because of potentially expensive
lawsuits. Consequently, democracies must meet certain requirements for
investigative journalism to be effective and to provide diverse and
comprehensive information.


The standard definition of investigative reporting, as agreed upon by such
bodies as

The Society for Professional Journalists and Investigative
Reporters and Editors

information reported has to be of importance to the public.

information has to be original work.

reportage has to uncover something not previously known that someone is trying
to keep hidden.


is when reporters deeply investigate a topic of interest, often involving
corruption, or some other scandal.

Burgh (2000) states  "An
investigative journalist is a man or woman whose profession it is to discover
the truth and to identify lapses from it in whatever media may be available.
The act of doing this generally is called investigative journalism and is
distinct from apparently similar work done by police, lawyers, auditors and
regulatory bodies in that it is not limited as to target, not legally founded
and closely connected to publicity".

investigative journalist may spend a considerable period researching and
preparing a report, sometimes months or years, whereas a typical daily or
weekly news reporter writes items concerning immediately available news. Most
investigative journalism is done by
newspapers, wire services and freelance journalists. An investigative journalist's final report
may take the form of an exposé.

is no more important contribution that we can make to society than strong,
publicly-spirited investigative journalism.

Tony Burman, editor-in-chief of CBC News

The Ethics of Investigative

Every team of investigative reporters pursues a story under
different circumstances, so creating an all-purpose ethical rulebook is
problematic, though certain standards have become generally accepted. The legal
implications of reporters' actions are, by far, more clear-cut than ethical
issues. Ethics, instead, deals with how to distinguish between right and wrong,
with philosophical principles used to justify a particular course of action. Any
decision can be judged ethical, depending on what ethical framework is used to
justify it, and what values are prioritized. What journalists and editors need
to determine is who will benefit as a result of the reporting.

If journalism is committed to democratic accountability, then the question that
needs to be asked is whether the public benefits as a result of investigative
reports. Whose interest does investigative journalism serve by publishing a
given story? Does the press fulfill its social responsibility in revealing
wrongdoing? Whose interests are being affected? Whose rights are being invaded?
Is the issue at stake a matter of legitimate public interest? Or is individual
privacy being invaded when no crucial public issue is at stake?

Most discussions about ethics in investigative journalism
have focused on methodology, namely, is any method valid to reveal wrongdoing?
Is deception legitimate when journalists aim to tell the truth? Is any method
justifiable no matter the working conditions and the difficulties in getting
information? Can television reporters use hidden cameras to get a story? Can
journalists use false identities to gain access to information?

On this point, an important factor to consider is that the
public seems less willing than journalists to accept any method to reveal
wrongdoing. Surveys show that the public is suspicious of invasion of privacy,
no matter the public relevance of a story. The public generally seems less
inclined to accept that journalists should use any method to get a story. Such
an attitude is significantly revealing in times when, in many countries, the
credibility of the press is low. The press needs to be trustworthy in the eyes
of the public. That is its main capital, but too often its actions further undermine
its credibility. Therefore, the fact that citizens generally believe that
journalists would get any story at any cost needs to be an important
consideration. Exposes that rely on questionable methods to get information can
further diminish the legitimacy and public standing of the reporting and the

Ethical issues are not limited to methods. Corruption is
also another important ethical issue in investigative journalism. Corruption
includes a variety of practices, ranging from journalists who accept bribes, or
quash exposes, or pay sources for information. The harm to private citizens
that might result from what's reported also needs to be considered. Issues of
privacy usually come to the forefront, as investigative journalism often walks
a fine line between the right to privacy and the public's right to know. It is
usually assumed that privacy applies differently to public figures than to
average citizens.

There are no easy, ready-made answers to ethical issues. Codes of ethics,
despite some merits, do not offer clear-cut solutions that can be applied in
all cases. Most analysts agree that journalists must remain sensitive to issues
such as fairness, balance, and accuracy. Reporters continuously need to ask
ethical questions throughout different stages of the investigations, and be
ready to justify their decisions to their editors, colleagues, and the public.
They need to be sensitive to whose interests are being affected, and operate
according to professional standards.

Some of the means reporters can
use for their fact-finding:

studying neglected sources, such as archives, phone records, address books, tax
records and license records

talking to neighbors

* using subscription research sources such as LexisNexis

anonymous sources (for example whistleblowers)

going undercover

Investigative journalism can be contrasted with analytical reporting. According
to De Burgh (2000) analytical journalism takes the data available and
reconfigures it, helping us to ask questions about the situation or statement
or see it in a different way, whereas investigative journalists go further and
also want to know whether the situation presented to us is the reality.


of the potential consequences for the subjects of successful investigative
journalism include:

and conviction

loss of job

loss of professional accreditation

payment of fines

loss of personal and professional reputation

domino consequences for family members/associates involved in unrelated
criminal acts discovered through the process of investigation

Consequences for society as a whole include:

of institutional policies

changes in the law

Professional references.

Reporter’s Handbook: An Investigator’s Guide to Documents and Techniques, Steve
Weinberg defined investigative journalism as:

through one’s own initiative and work product, matters of importance to
readers, viewers or listeners. In many cases, the subjects of the reporting
wish the matters under scrutiny to remain undisclosed.

India and investigative journalism

India has witnessed series of investigations
carried out separately by the press and media. We rejoice at the robustness of
our democracy. We celebrate the vibrancy of the sparkling free press of India.
But we know that the constitutional instruments to make the establishment
accountable are weakening or failing. The parallel democratic institutions,
which are supposed to nourish these instruments, are not fully evolved. Leave
alone the ordinary citizen, neither our political leaders nor the academicians
and intellectuals have fully cultivated a democratic mindset and culture which
should involve transparency, professional commitment and accountability. To
that extent, our democracy is fragile and -- to use an unpleasant word -- underdeveloped.

The importance of the “organic” relationship,
as described by Walter Lippman, between a healthy democracy and the free press
must be considered. One cannot sustain without the other. Indian media is so
intoxicated with its so-called freedom (freest press in the world, one might
say) that it fails to understand that it is also equally underdeveloped and
fragile, that freedom carries certain grave responsibilities and that as
upholder of democratic values and freedom (not just another profit-making
industry) it has some specific obligations and duties towards the society. It
is so obsessed with itself that it does not realize that it is throwing to
winds its credibility, respectability and power by not attending to its basic

so-called investigative reporting in India in the Bofors case, Fodder scam, Best
Bakery Case, Jain Diary Case, Petrol Pumps largesse scandal and even Satyendra
Dubey’s murder case have been either rankly partisan political exercises or
half-hearted attempts to show off the fearlessness of those media units. Has
anyone followed Satyendra Dubey’s case to the end? Who are the murderers? Are
they arrested? Who leaked Satyendra’s confidential letter from the PMO? Is that
person booked? And the mafia contractors of the Golden Quadrilateral? Was the
Godhra riot victims given proper justice? Has the government forgotten the
lingering plight of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy victims? Has any paper or channel
pursued them? One remembers the sensation caused by Arun Shourie’s series of
‘investigative’ stories on the then chief minister AR Antulay of Maharashtra in
early 1980’s.Recently, we have the Jessica lal case remanded by the supreme court,
and in the state the Rizwanur case, the Nandigram massacre _in fact all
incomplete information that are so sensational that become news demand the
reporters’ continuous investigation.

investigative reporting to flourish, what is required is: an independent and
pluralistic media which is fearless, committed to democracy, universal human
values, journalists with commitment who can identify problems and have the
grit, perseverance, patience and skills to do research and owners and editors
professionally non-partisan and without vested interests.


St.Kitts, Fodder Scam, Satyendra Dubey -- none of these stories were followed
thoroughly and with the rigour that investigative journalism demands. The
pursuit was half-hearted; the stories tapered off occasionally, but were
revived vigorously whenever a political occasion demanded.

doubt, there have been laudable attempts at exposing some major scandals at
local or state levels. But, often, the exposure is made in one sensational
burst and then the press loses interest. The story tapers off or is not
followed at all. Clearly, the Indian media has not nourished the discipline of
classic investigative reporting. The political, economic and social scenario of
India is so complex and rotten and the media’s credibility, despite its
enormous power, is so low that even conscientious bureaucrats do not dare to
blow the whistle. One whistle-blower who dared was murdered. And the press has
nearly forgotten him.

investigative reporting really needs!

investigative reporting to flourish, what is required is: an independent and
pluralistic media which is fearless, committed to democracy, universal human
values, journalists with commitment who can identify problems and have the
grit, perseverance, patience and skills to do research and owners and editors
professionally non-partisan and without vested interests.

have a fantastically free press, so free that it does not have a professional
self-regulatory mechanism to monitor fundamental ethics of the press. Not even
the journalists’ associations, which are more interested in begging for more
perks from the government and corporate bodies than in the health of their own
profession. Many journalists may have the aptitude and skills for investigative
journalism. But their owners and editors do not have the will, even if they have
the resources, to encourage them. The owners and the editors too have multiple
vested interests -- in political parties, individual leaders, corporate bodies
and so on.

bureaucracy, notorious for its red-tapism, does not easily part with even ordinary
information, never mind the information acts on the book, and, as mentioned
earlier, those who really want expose the malefascence do not trust the press.

sting operations?

such circumstances, what does a restless committed journalist do? He takes a
hidden camera with him and broadcasts countrywide bulletins of responsible
people accepting bribes. If documents, receipts, accounts, papers or files are
not forthcoming as proof, here’s how the journalist furnishes the proof. Live
on screen. Tarun Tejpal and Tehelka’s sting operation and subsequent imitations
by others have raised a hornet’s nest questioning the ethical propriety of this
kind of journalism. It is a positive outcome indeed. At last, ethics in
journalism is being discussed, albeit half-heartedly.

credible is the media?

 We do not seem have culture and discipline to
carry effective investigative journalism. The press is losing credibility
because of its blatant partisanship and rank commercialism. So take the camera
and expose. Never mind, it is one-time exposure of a part. But the proof is
there, clearly visible on the screen to make an impact on the minds of the
people. The Dehli based schoolteacher’s allegation against the tv journalists can
be taken under consideration ,where there are possible chances of preparing a
false sting operation. This will at least shake the people and those who are
concerned out of their slumber. No, this is not investigative journalism. But
it is the sting. An occasional sting operation made with professional
commitment may serve the cause for the time being. But that is no alternative
to investigative journalism.

build its credibility and ensure its freedom under democracy, the media in
India will have to turn to serious investigative reporting.  The good news is that press is shaking of the
age old shackles of inhibitions and intending to carry on responsible
investigative reporting to provide the public its greatest power-the strength
of decision making.


to Lord Scarman, investigative journalism has proved its social value and he
does not wish to put any curb on it, other than”…the curbs I have mentioned on
the right of physical privacy, to which I attach great importance. The other
curb I would impose is respect for criminal law.

are matters which really should be left to the police to investigate and
investigative journalists should keep out of it. If ,in the course of
investigation, the journalists come across matters which have a strong criminal
flavour ,Scarman thinks, their immediate duty is to go to the police and put
the facts in front of them and ask the police whether they think it would be
appropriate for the newspaper investigation to continue or whether they should put
up the shutters. He tactfully adds on that he would not regulate this by
law.”Of course, investigative journalism is very much subject  to the risks of contempt of the court in some
circumstances. They have got to watch out for what is subjudice  and for what might prejudice a necessary
criminal prosecution.”, he remarks.

11/26/2007 12:30:58 AM

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