First posted on 23rd February, 2010
Both the significance and the risk of reporting was highlighted in today's enthralling talk by Gavin McFadyen, who amongst his many professorships and research positions is Director of the Centre for Investigative Journalism, based at City University, London.
This has become the hardest entry I've made on my impromptu blogging tour of Journalism Week, wondering where to begin and what to include. Gavin's talk was an effortless combination of hair-raising stories about uncovering corruption and confronting atrocities, with the nuts and bolts and sheer slogging work of investigative work. For the first time in our brief student careers, we were introduced to the real opponents of journalism - the hydra-headed boards of powerful multinationals who can ruin careers and crash finances, to the shadowy operatives of security services with the weight and power of government behind them, to nameless thugs hired by faceless bureacrats who can rob you of everything - including your life.
These risks are routinely undertaken by the people Gavin works with, and the significance of the stories they produce go light-years beyond the celebrity muck-racking of the Western press - stories such as Stephen Grey's revelations about CIA 'black flights' transporting suspects to undergo 'extraordinary rendition', a euphemism for interrogation up to and including torture, abetted by the British government, that violates UN treaty and international law.
Such names were not familiar to myself and the audience, and Gavin explained the peculiar reluctance of the British media in particular to become involved with Investigative Journalism, deterred it seems by the legal risks and ramifications. This remarkable view really stood out for me, halfway through a week of talks by leading figures in Western and British media - and illustrated perfectly the lonely, vital, dangerous and enthralling task that is Investigative Journalism. Gavin, and the new Bureau he has established at the CIJ work almost as pariahs, funding and conducting their own investigations, then having them released through the few friendly media entities such as The Guardian - unable to publish their own work, as no legal professional will safeguard their work.
Some of Gavin's more memorable phrases are down in bold in my notes, and I'll leave the most significant here - that the work a true Investigative Journalist must do is to Comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.