The role and practices of investigative journalism
have received unprecedented scrutiny over recent months. Its long
history of exposing issues that are not in the public domain and
speaking truth to power has come under the microscope as the phone-hacking
scandal, perhaps the greatest political media scandal of a generation,
has gradually unfolded, raising a plethora of questions surrounding
the public interest, privacy and media ethics.
This report does not set out to propose solutions
to these issues which are currently being considered in other
forums, most notably Lord Justice Leveson's ongoing Inquiry into
the Culture, Practice and Ethics of the press. Instead, this report
explores the media landscape in which investigative journalism
operates and argues that any changes should not be rooted in the
past but should seek to enable responsible investigative journalism
to flourish in the future.
Responsible, high quality, investigative journalism
matters; it is a vital constituent of the UK's system of democratic
governance and accountability. At its best, it informs and educates
us, enhances our democracy, and is a force for good. However,
it has become clear during our inquiry that rapid economic, technological
and behavioural change is creating profound economic, legal and
regulatory challenges for investigative journalism and how it
might be conducted in the future.
Investigative journalism is suffering as a result
of inconsistencies and lack of clarity in the law. We therefore
make recommendations in this report which would provide clarity
on the complex and sensitive issues surrounding the public interest.
We do not recommend that all relevant criminal law be re-drafted
in order to iron out inconsistency between different pieces of
legislation when it comes to a formal, statutory defence relating
to the public interest. We do, however, urge the prosecuting authorities
to publish their broad approach to determining which cases should
be prosecuted or otherwise in cases where illegal activity undertaken
by journalists in the course of an investigation might be considered
to be in the public interest.
Furthermore, we recommend that media organisations
implement a two-stage internal management process whereby they
track and formally record their decisions first to investigate
and secondly to publish a story if such decisions rely on the
public interest. We also recommend that regulators should, in
turn, take such an audit trail into account when evaluating the
responsibility or otherwise with which investigative journalism
has been undertaken. The regulators should also take into account
the actions taken ex post facto in considering what penalty is
appropriate for any particular breach.
Investigative journalism is also suffering from a
lack of proper investment and organisational support. To offer
some respite from the funding crisis, we recommend an investigative
journalism fund. Any fines which are levied for transgression
of journalistic codes of conductincluding fines that might
be introduced under a new system of press self-regulation and
a proportion of fines issued for breaches of the Ofcom codeshould
be allocated to this fund which might be used for investigative
journalism or for training investigative journalists.
We are encouraged, however, by the number of new
funding and organisational initiatives that have started to materialise
as a means of promoting investigative journalism, and believe
it is vital that measures are taken to support and foster further
initiatives which are independent of public subsidies or state
support. We believe that charitable status may be one route to
encouraging philanthropic investment in this area and therefore
recommend that the Government reconsiders its current disinclination
to legislate in this area. Given the vital contribution of investigative
journalism to the wellbeing of democracy, we also ask the Charity
Commission to provide greater clarity in this area and to take
into consideration both the current pressures on investigative
journalism as well as its democratic importance when interpreting
the relevant legislation.
While we recognise the enormous economic pressures
on traditional media enterprises, we urge them not to vacate the
vital area of journalism training. We see some of the new media
initiatives as opportunities for training in the skills of investigative
journalism, and recognise the invaluable training opportunities
provided by the mainstream broadcasters and by university departments.
Analysis of the media is a crowded field at the moment,
but we hope that our examination of the media landscape, investigative
journalism's place in it, the challenges and opportunities facing
it, and the impact of media convergence, will inform the current
debate and assist in influencing any regulatory or legislative
reforms that may be forthcoming.