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Investigative Reporting: A study in technique (Journalism Media Manual,) Paperback – 18 Nov 1999


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'A sensible and well-researched handbook which breaks new ground and pretty well covers the waterfront.'
David Leigh, British Journalism Review

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In only nine paragraphs, a correspondent told in The Times in October 1997 how three named retail groups had secretly helped fund an alliance campaigning to stop Sainsbury's building a store in North London. Read the first page
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The British way of doing business 21 Sept. 2011
By Goyathlay - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book is named "A study in technique", and it shows how investigative reporting is done in Britain. It is an interesting reading indeed, as it reveals some not immediately obvious peculiarities of British media market. One would want to see the hacking of phones of 9/11 victims by the Murdoch Empire as something what is unlikely to happen again.

The book is divided in 20 chapters, and is intended for other journalists and reporters, both professional and amateur. It starts well, claiming that investigative reporter is someone who asks tough questions; challenges herd instinct, and checks facts.

Some examples of great journalism are presented, namely Harry Evans's first inquiry into Kim Philby and the DC-10 case, and Roger Cook's Checkpoint. Cook was the most productive British journalist, who authored more than a thousand investigations. BBC repeatedly demanded Checkpoint to be less investigative.
Chapter 4 "Finding the stories" shows that the story for an investigative reporter does not need to be brand new, and that 50 years old stories are still worth investigating. One of these presented in this book is the case of anti-Bolshevik White Russians deported forcibly to Russia in 1945 from the British zone, with reference to two important books written on this topic - Ian Mitchell's "A cost of reputation" and Christopher Booker's "A looking glass tragedy". Norman Stone summed this up that there was no conspiracy in this case, as too many Britons wanted a quite life without trouble with the Soviets.

Further in this book, these "tough questions to powerful people" are diluted a little bit to make sure the journalist does not get in trouble with MI5 for "subversion of the British state", which is supposedly no longer relevant as the main task of the Queen's Security Service (together with hunting Soviet spies), as the service now works mainly on counter-terrorism. Some examples are carefully presented in a completely ball-less way. In Chapter 15 on "Crime" the author presents the case of Jonathan Moyle and "The Valkyrie Operation" launched by his family and friends following his alleged suicide in Chile. Moyle worked for a military magazine as an editor and for British authorities on the side. He travelled to Chile to inquire about suspected adaptation of civilian helicopters for military use to be sold to Iraq before the invasion. Whilst Chilean authorities did not like this suicide and launched a murder investigation, British authorities were perfectly happy to go with the verdict of suicide.

Tough questions to the police should be carefully avoided, too, as clearly suggested in Chapter 16 "Trail of bent coppers". The author presents stories of The Bridgewater Four, where 3 petty criminals were jailed for 18 years for murder of a newspaper boy; the fourth one died in prison; and the case of Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four. The cases were highly publicized and the media witch-hunt against the perceived criminals was overwhelming. The author openly admits that these cases spread lot of fear among journalists to challenge even the most obvious and most serious cases of mistakes and malpractice made by the police, and presents some statistics of outcomes of investigations of allegations of police malpractice. This is then explained by the logic that "Those who make allegations against the police are in some degree disreputable, otherwise they would not have come up against the police in the first place. The same logic is used for handling complaints of former employees against corporations, which are routinely dismissed as unreliable and unjustified based on the fact that the complainant is an ex-employee (Chapter 7). Investigations of police mistakes and malpractice have now become more difficult as prisoners cannot be now visited by journalists. In early 1970's The Times, The People, and World in Action documented widespread illegal activities among London detectives. This part demonstrates how hard it is to build a case strong enough to get a suspect officer dismissed and prosecuted.

There are some very interesting points a journalist working in Britain should take into account, and it is the Defamation Act, which gives premium on evidence which cannot be dismissed as axe-grinding; conditions of inquiries in the public interest; use of secret recording and gossip; reporting under cover; and the use of witnesses. Quite a lot of emphasis is made on the legal use of clandestinely obtained statements and evidence, which should be made in case the main witness ends up dead or flees abroad to make sure he does not end up dead (Chapter 5). As pointed out in Chapter 9, getting people to talk can be a problem, as talking can be dangerous. This explains why the number of whistleblowers is so small. Vast majority of people who get treated very poorly don't talk. In Chapter 10 "Writing it: problems and pitfalls" the author mainly discusses legal actions taken against journalists in the past and the difference between legal proof and truth which is as pointed out not always the same thing.

There are some interesting parts in this book worth remembering, and it is comprehensive list of facts which can be obtained from public domain in Chapter 6 and 12.

This book provides a valuable insight into mindset and behavior of people who create the British media scene. Overreliance on secret sources of information which are seen as source of power, difficulties in challenging the authorities in cases of abuse of power, and difficulties in protection of sources, witnesses and whistleblowers can be the underlying causes of slow shift of focus of investigative reporting from perpetrators of crimes toward victims.
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