The media with honour as partner
There is this bizarre suggestion making the rounds that the Private Sector Association of Barbados ought to take the lead in convening a media conference to share with media houses and solicit their partnership in what needs to be done about improved investigative journalism in this country –– or about investigative journalism, period!
The first question, naturally, which must be answered is: what does the author of the outlandish proposition understand by investigative journalism?
Robert Scheer, editor-in-chief of Truthdig, and an investigative journalist cum recipient of Ithaca College’s 2011 Izzy Award for outstanding achievement in independent media, was himself minded to remark: “What passes for investigative journalism is finding somebody with their pants down –– literally or otherwise.”
This is by no means a phenomenon unknown among his fellow American media people. Nor among our very own who lap up the saucier details of people’s private lives over cou-cou and flying fish, or pudding and souse on weekends.
Yes, investigative journalism proposes to bring information, which others would rather have kept secret, right into public light –– but for loftier ideals. Investigation ought to be for the uncovering of maladministration, corruption, cover-ups and injustice.
And as a duty to readers, listeners and viewers –– as well as to the media’s self-protection and self-preservation in an environment that can be legally hostile –– investigative journalism must above all be able to provide profound and documented truth that it might strut its stuff without fear or favour.
Investigative journalism is meant to provide a voice for those without, to put up a fight for those who are weak or down, and to hold the powerful to account. It is to comfort the afflicted –– those bruised and battered –– and to beset the comfortable –– those others who earn the moniker of the Untouchables.
Investigative journalism demands the exposure to the public of matters deliberately concealed by the powers that be, or hidden by operatives in an anarchic mass of facts, related and unrelated information and contexts that obscure simple comprehension. It is aimed at detecting violations of laws, rules and norms by organizations and individuals to save members of the public from any fallout, or to rescue them from negative after-effects. Investigative journalism may lead to the review of Government and private sector policies or of the functioning of Government and practices of business.
How then do we reach a stage where businesses will elect to hold the hands of the media, guiding them in investigative journalism? And in investigation of what or whom?
No-nos of investigative journalism are one-sided reporting and its consequent single source determination and judgement. Being caught in the web of another group’s agenda is worse than a paparazzi probe.
Investigative journalism is about holding the powerful –– both public and private sectors –– accountable.
Maybe, the radio callers who have been ringing in our ears nigh daily the so-called need for “real investigative reporting” have come to understand by now that their expressed wish transcends their hoped for extended ribald gossiping on weekends. Then, some callers, we aver, will be disappointed by their earlier understanding of investigative journalism.
Maybe too the proposer of this lead role of the Private Sector Association in Barbadian media investigative journalism will by now have been sensitized to the true nature of Press probes: that media investigators are never singularly in cahoots with any interest group with its own agenda –– certainly not the professional and creditable ones; that media investigators will not compromise themselves by not being able to probe all and sundry because of untenable “partnerships”.
The premiss on which the proposer argues his case of inferior investigative journalism of the Barbadian media is the alleged unwillingness of our Government “to lead with integrity” and its reluctance to “let the people know the true state of the patient” because they “are not ready for that level of truth”, and the administration’s going scot-free.
There is really no question our journalism standards can do with a boost –– as with most other professions –– but to attack the probity and honour of media practitioners under the guise of journalists allowing the political powers that be to get away with murder is unfair, ungracious, and foolhardy.
Whatever may be said about the current style or modus operandi of investigative journalism, the media facilitate the views –– however misguided –– of these very disgruntled commentators, which is more than can be said for the Government under fire and the private sector power brokers setting it.
We, the media generally, may very well need to be more aggressively proactive; but not only in matters that will pressure our political leaders into instituting change for the better for our people –– which has not be unknown to have been done before –– but encourage leaders too of other sectors. Yes, we the media have a duty to be the populace’s watchdog and by such to keep the people informed; but we are better off doing it alone –– without agenda-based partnerships.