Wednesday 7 December 2011

The Independent: 'Why going undercover to expose work of political lobbyists is justified'

More revelations about the work of political lobbyists and their boasts of contacts at the highest levels of Government are published on the Bureau of Investigative Journalism website and in the Independent today.

In a leader, the Independent hits back at the claim by leading lobbyist Lord Bell that the Bureau's undercover reporting was "an attempt by unethical, underhand deception to manufacture a story where none exists".

The Independent says: "The contention that it is unethical ever to use undercover tactics to record individuals saying things that they would not say openly in an interview is one that cannot be allowed to pass.

"Journalism is not a polite trade. It asks questions that people would rather not answer and it cannot always restrict itself to knocking on the front door.

"This was about getting at the truth for entirely legitimate reasons – just as the Daily Telegraph did when it obtained the data revealing the truth about MPs fiddling expenses. Nobody could argue that this was not in the public interest. The same could be said of the Panorama reporter, masquerading as a social worker, who exposed the abuse of patients at the Winterbourne View care home. Or the Sunday Times team who revealed the corruption at Fifa.

"This is no argument that the press should be above the law. Newspapers can, rightly, be prosecuted for what they do, and it is up to the courts to take a view on where the balance lies. Journalism is already in the dock over phone hacking. Doubtless Lord Justice Leveson will note the irony that without the press, the scandal would never have come to light. Regardless of his conclusions, the work of serious investigative journalists in exposing wrongdoing must not be constrained.

"There are many measures used by the powerful to muzzle the press – from libel and employment laws to the Official Secrets Act. Serious discussion is needed on the difference between good and bad investigative journalism. But the boundary of acceptable practice is often determined not by the means used but by the nature of what is uncovered."

The leader is headlined: 'Exactly what journalism should be.'

  • According to the latest revelations, Bell Pottinger's senior executives described how they prepared the former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks for her evidence to Parliament and also helped her to choose which police station she would like to be arrested at and questioned.
  • Bell on Bell: Steve Bell cartoon on lobbyists in Guardian
  • The Bureau of Investigative Journalism is a not for profit organisation based at City University, London.

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