Keynote Speaker at Taco Kuiper Awards 2006: Gavin Macfadyen, director of Centre for Investigative Journalism in London.
What we are here to celebrate is of course Investigative Journalism!
It is ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œuncovering something somebody wants kept secretÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Âand
Exposing social conditions or institutional conduct that has been
ignored, by-passed or kept hidden in fear of governments and the
wealthy and powerful.
The central social importance of investigative reporting is its ability
to raise the public alarm over issues of corruption, injustice,
secrecy, poverty and public safety
To Right Wrongs
To Defend the Public Interest
To have an Unusual Preoccupation with Evidence
To know the phrase: ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œwithout fear or favourÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â
To seek the private reality behind the public face
To be a voice for those without one.
It is to Comfort the Afflicted and Afflict the Comfortable.
To know that all governments lie
Moreover, to quote Joseph Pulitzer, that ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œA journalist has no Friends"
To know that 75% of almost every newspaper and television reports are
entirely handouts, Parliamentary statements, PR releases and puffs.
To know that official secrets are rarely to protect the public, but to
cover-up crimes, frauds, incompetence, and even conspiracy.
To know that the worst crimes are not committed with a gun, but a fountain pen.
To know that sunlight is the best disinfectant.
It is one of the few jobs where you can get paid to be imprisoned,
beaten up, threatened with death, arrested in foreign countries, to be
shot at, forced to use cover stories, tell lies to dangerous men and
have a awful family life.
Almost no government has ever honoured an independent and critical editor or journalist.
But without investigative journalism, abuse of power flourishes,
accountability is forgotten, the officious and the brutal gain
However stirring, this special journalism has been under sustained
attack for over twenty years. It has been weakened because of growing
corporate ownership, an absence of opposition in government ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ all in a
climate of cost cutting and profit taking at almost any price.
Where the national media motto becomes ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œCelebrities and Amnesia!ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â The
endless talk shows, soaps, reality programmes, soft celebrity gossip,
light comedy and lifestyle ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ in Britain itÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s the wonders of repainting
your toilet, and installing a wonderful new vibrating sofa. There are
now six travel shows, nine cooking shows. ItÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s dumbing down on a vast
scale. What Newton Minnow described as a vast wasteland. A stupendous
cultural and educational opportunity squandered, and by definition, the
public interest betrayed
Television investigative programming has virtually disappeared or been
replaced with celebrity tabloid ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œexposes.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â Despite their great size and
influence, few newspapers regularly finance investigative teams and
projects. Disturbingly there are only a handful of women reporters
working infrequently in this area. A critical range of important
womenÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s and social issues are therefore seldom addressed. Indeed
situations where access would be denied to a male investigator remain
In the US, corporate media with this agenda has becoming less willing
to finance long-term investigations; US networks now have almost no
foreign bureaus and few investigative teams worthy of the name. For
three years of the Iraq war, almost no part of the media exposed the
lies and misrepresentations that justified the illegal invasion of
another country. In addition, when a truthful but controversial report
about government was broadcast on CBS, the counter attack was fierce,
and well-known reporters sacked.
In one disturbing case, the reporter who discovered links between cocaine trafficking and the CIA was driven to suicide.
In Britain, the situation has declined further. The government
counterattack against the BBCÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s critical reports caused the departure
of a leading reporter, his immediate boss, the Director General and the
appointment of an entirely new Board of Governors. The BBC is still
reeling. And now for the bad news!
IÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢m only kidding.
In France and Germany, there are well resourced investigations. Without
the conservatizing role of the Iraq war, the tide has begun to change.
90 Minutes at Canal Plus has produced powerful documentaries
identifying major pharmaceutical companies with fraudulent and criminal
practice. They have turned the light on huge environmental
devastations, racial and class scandals in housing, education and crime.
American Universities, and US foundations like Knight, Park, Ford and
Soros are financing serious investigative training, the fight to retain
freedom from surveillance, preventing the erosion of Freedom of the
Press and Freedom of Information. There is now more training, at more
universities than at any time since the 60ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s.
While the main networks continue to discount serious journalism, PBS
Frontline has broadcast major investigations. Many are jointly financed
with the New York Times and Lowell BergmanÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s investigation of
industrial injuries at one big southern company gave him and his team a
Pulitzer Prize. Independent foundations supported and made possible all
As we meet here, Bill Moyers, former President CarterÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s Press
Secretary, is broadcasting a television series openly attacking the
mainstream media for capitulating to President Bush and the lies about
Iraq and Al Quida.
Seymour Hersh, writing in a magazine not known at all for investigative
reporting, exposed the crimes at Abu Gharaib, the Bush administrationÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s
war plans against Iran, and the vast corruption of the Halliburton
Others have opened the garbage can of worms in the role of private
military companies, and the appalling medical treatment of returning
soldiers. It is significant that the first act of the administration in
the war was to ban the press from independent reporting. There was to
be no reports except from those ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œembeddedÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â with the generals. Rights
were restricted. No US or foreign cameraman could show pictures to the
public of dead American soldiers; could ask hostile questions to the
President; to interview wounded soldiers – even to visit Army
hospitals, or military cemeteries. The government refused to publish
figures on civilian casualties
One report last month documented the theft of uncounted tens of
billions of dollars on shrink-wrapped pallets unloaded from giant
transports somewhere in Baghdad airport. The government claims not to
know what happened to literally tons of money. Equally, shipments of
thousands of weapons have ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œdisappearedÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â.
Well-resourced investigations have now made public what actually
happened in New Orleans. These reports brought to the public,
corruption and incompetence in the disappearance of vast sums of public
money on non-existent projects, including food, medicine, temporary
housing, and rescue equipment. Hundreds of tons of emergency food was
never provided to the hungry and was discovered by the press only a
The Internet has also expanded where important investigations now
frequently appear in Salon, Counter-Punch, Huffington and the
Consortium. Millions read these every week.
In Britain, books by Anna Politkovskaya and Alexander Litvinenko are on
sale in airports. In an awful way her death reopened scepticism and
anger about the Putin regime and why Prime Minister Blair said nothing
for days about her assassination. A freelance reporter, Stephen Grey,
using ingenious methods and serious computer analysis broke the
Extraordinary Rendition story. He worked with colleagues in Sweden and
completed their work with computer experts at the New York Times. His
work saved hundreds from beatings, torture, and disappearances at
Guantanamo, Bagram and Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Poland and far too many
In Chicago, not too long ago a professor and a handful of his graduate
students started the Innocence Project. One journalism student and one
lawyer – a team ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ each looked at one prisoner on Death Row. They did
something that had never happened before. It is now being copied at
other Universities in America and in Europe.
The work of these students exposed fabricated police evidence and would
result in the freeing of 13 inmates _ then they were joined by
reporters from the Chicago press. More innocent men were freed.
The governor, a Bush Republican, resigned and has toured the US
speaking against capital punishment. He had been complicit is many
wrongful killings. Ironically, the Governor, who found his conscience
in this case, is being prosecuted for corruption in another.
When investigative reporting was in its greatest decline perhaps 6 or 7
years ago, it was harder perhaps to see its attractiveness. When
serious investigations appear, people talk about it, many know. Driven
by word of mouth, Sales rise, viewing figures climb, programs acquire
real credibility and more importantly still, they begin to achieve a
loyal following. When news really affects people, they talk about it
and they will follow it. This seems to be true in most countries.
It also affects the culture of the press. Editors and producers become
more sophisticated practitioners, or more combative, knowing how to use
media law to enable rather than brake exposure. Building viewers and
readers by more aggressive reporting. While print is powerful, the
necessity is to use it to improve the life of South Africans and build
a powerful, well informed electorate.
Investigative reportingÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s long slide into history is clearly over and
the long recovery has begun. This awards ceremony for investigative
reporting is a powerful proof. It will I hope encourage reporters and
raise the flag of public purpose and interest. It is a real honour to
be here to see it. Without any exaggeration, Investigative journalism
around the world is back.