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Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Investigative Journalism – Law

In this week’s law lecture we covered ‘Investigative Journalism’ which means you are getting the information/news yourself when fulfilling your role as the ‘eyes and ears of the public’.
Examples could be claims like ‘I think football matches are fixed’. As a journalist you would then investigate this claim to try and find proof that it is true so that you can present your findings to the public.
One example of great investigative journalism is Watergate. A few journalists felt the president (Nixon) had hired criminals to burgle his political opponents. They soon discovered proof that he had hired them with evidence such as taped recordings of Nixon’s conversations with them. The investigations soon lead to Nixon being the first (and only) president to resign from their position.

Harry Evans is a very popular figure amongst journalists for his ability to make the Sunday Times both popular and credible while he was editor. Part of his success in that role was the creation of ‘The Sunday Times Insight Team’. This was a small team of journalists (5 or 6) that focused exclusively on investigative journalism, and could therefore investigate almost anything.
One famous case they investigated involved the company – Distillers. They were responsible for a drug called Thalidomide which was produced in the late 1950’s as a sedative drug. It was later withdrawn after claims that it had caused a number of birth defects. However, the company denied this and claimed there was not enough proof to show that this was definitely the case and not just coincidence. This meant the parents attempt at claiming compensation failed. The Sunday Times Insight Team then decided to take up this story and began investigating.
They soon found a document which proves that it does cause birth effects. They then published this discover, and had the defence of it being in the public interest. Backed by The Sunday Times (for legal support) the parents continued to battle Distillers and eventually won their compensation.

World in Action
Chris Horrie spoke to us about a show he once worked on called ‘World in Action’. One story they investigated was in relation to Manchester United owners (at the time) - The Edwards. As meat suppliers it was soon discovered that they were producing meet for a school in Rochdale which was ‘not fit for human consumption’.
Another case investigated was the IRA Birmingham Bombing. After the bombing in Birmingham, the police were put under pressure to find the criminals that did it. This lead to 6 people (not necessarily innocent people, but innocent of the bombing) being framed for the crime. They were locked away until an investigation by World in Action proved them to b innocent and lead to them being set free.

Subterfuge can be important for investigative journalism such as a ‘Camera in a Bag’. Although o use secret cameras/recording equipment you require written permission from ofcom. Also you cannot do trawling (deciding to leave a camera somewhere and see what happens and if it can pick up anything good).

Secret Policeman
An investigative joined a college for police training and got friendly with a trainee that was believed o b corrupt. He dressed up as the KK, and planned to frame black people once he was a qualified officer. It was in the public interest and the evidence was obtained through subterfuge (recording secret footage).

The Fake Shake – News of the World
The Fake Shake frequently uses subterfuge for their stories. One example is the Fergie story when she was secretly recorded giving direct access to one of the princes for money.
Another example is the Max Mosley case when a journalist posed as a prostitute.
Emile Zola is considered by some as ‘The Father of Investigative Journalism’. He was also the inventor of photography and a realist.
When France lost the Franco-Prussian War in 1971 the country decided to blame the Jews in the French military, claiming that they sold the French military secrets. Alfred Dreyfus(who was Jewish) was framed for this and was sentenced to life imprisonment for treason. Zola tried to help and through investigation he discovered (and named) guilty men. He showed pictures of corrupt army officers and those that helped frame Dreyfus. It took a number of years but he was finally rehabilitated and freed by 1900.

The Evidence Gap – Criminal and Civil standards of proof
Civil law requires a lower level of proof and only needs to have the balance of probability.
Criminal Law is much harder to prove as you require to prove it beyond reasonable doubt.
Double jeopardy means you cannot be tried for the same crime twice.

One good example of the evidence gap was when the Daily Mail made a murder accusation of 6 men that were found innocent in courts (despite big suggestions that they were guilty) as it could not be proved 'beyond reasonable doubt' that they were the murderers. However, on the front page of their newspapers, the daily mail published clear photographs of all 6 men and named each of them, and accused them of murder.
Despite huge defamation and even signs malice, they were not sued. This is because if they were taken to court it would be a civil case and therefore they would only need to prove them to be murderers 'on the balance of probability' (instead of reasonable doubt in the criminal court case). Therefore the Daily Mail would have very likely won the case because there was enough evidence/proof to support them.


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