Paul Edwards

Deputy Head of Misison, British Embassy Skopje

Guest blogger for UK in North Macedonia

Part of UK in North Macedonia

25th October 2016 Skopje, North Macedonia

Imagine a world without investigative journalism

I attended a conference on investigative journalism recently and had the chance to meet both journalists and those who support them. I took the opportunity to thank them for the difficult, and sometimes dangerous job they do. A job which is so important to the public interest and for which few journalists get the recognition they deserve.

I made some short remarks to those attending the conference. I began by asking them to imagine a world without investigative reporting.

It would be a world where people, companies, governments and organisations could hide information and get away with it. A world in which those in power, whether political or financial, are less likely to be held to account. And a world in which the public wouldn’t be able to say “stop” because they simply wouldn’t know something bad was happening.

We can all be thankful that we don’t live in such a world.  Instead most countries have investigative journalists who plays an important role in informing people about things that affect them – and helping to keep those in power honest.

But even in those countries being an investigative journalist can be risky. That’s particularly true when they work to expose the secrets of governments or politicians. Because people in government can misuse their power and influence to get the police or courts to make life difficult for journalists they don’t like. And these days there is a growing tendency to declare something a “state secret” when the information being protected is simply embarrassing or inconvenient. This is wrong and must be challenged.

I think the foundation upon which investigative journalist justify their work can be summed up in four words. Those four words are “in the public interest”. If journalists know that bringing information to light is “in the public interest” then arguments for keeping it secret are much harder to make.

On the other hand, if what they claim to be investigative journalism contains rumour or misrepresents the facts: if their writing only serves to titillate the public’s desire to peer into private lives – then such writing debases the importance of investigative journalism and makes it much harder for real journalists to do their jobs.

The real, brave, and talented journalists know what their work achieves and how important it is. They know that when barriers are put in their way – that is their signal to work harder – not give up.  Because such barriers are the best sign that someone is trying to hide the truth.

So let’s all give investigative journalists the best thank you of all – our support.