The Internet and enhanced tools of digitalisation and communication have given opportunities to investigative journalists undreamed of even 10 years ago, and globalisation has connected the newshounds and whistleblowers of every continent.
From Latin-America to Nigeria, from India to Poland, courageous men and women are exposing problems and holding the powerful to account and in some cases, collaborating across continents. Governments, corporations and defence establishments need to take it into account. Should we recognise it as a new global power?
A lecture by Professor Hugo de Burgh
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(audience applauds) - Thank you very much for that kind introduction, it's a great honor to be at Gresham College again, and thank you all for turning up. News media have been in existence for a very long time, centuries, but competing interpretations of events and policies only became the stuff of media in the English Civil War. The concept of the professional, possibly impartial reporter came about in Britain and the USA in the 19th century, complementing the analysis and the editorializing of elite newspapers. Journalism as investigation and revelation came to be an important function of the press in Anglophone countries, and countries influenced by or part of the British Empire in the early years of the 20th century. By the last decade of that century, investigative journalism had become influential in many countries, from Italy to China, Russia to the USA, holding the powerful to account and revealing shenanigans. Since then, investigative journalism has been transformed through digitalization and globalization. The purpose of today's talk is to provide an update on and overview of investigative journalism, based on the book published last year by Paul Lashmar of City University, and myself. Many of the issues raised by investigative journalists in recent years, and the events on which they focus their attention will be known to those who follow public affairs, but perhaps less familiar will be the mechanisms by which they're brought to light and how the operations of investigative journalism have changed. In the Anglophone world of 2022, three organizations in particular are associated with journalistic investigations. They are the Global Investigative Journalism Network, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, and Bellingcat. Their present achievements all come about as a result of very great changes in the world of journalism since last I published an edition of the book "Investigative Journalism" in 2008. The second edition barely referred to the internet and described investigative journalism as still being largely the product of established, legacy media organizations, most of which no longer exist, for example "World in Action" on British television. Since then, we have seen develop data journalism, security and surveillance techniques to frustrate journalists, new models of funding and executing, including mission-driven journalism, grassroots organizations, and verification units. The first edition nodded to the outside world only as the subject of British journalists' investigations, but the latest edition has chapters on investigative journalism in many different countries. The first and second editions are now only of historical interest. Today, I shall touch upon investigationin all these countries:
China, the Arab world, Turkey, Poland, India, Malaysia, Nigeria, the European Union, Latin America, and indeed, finally, in England. The processes of investigation through obtaining huge data sets for analysis and investigation is called data journalism, and barely existed in 2008. One of the most famous cases of investigative journalism of the 1970s was the thalidomide case, in which thousands of documents and scientific reports had to be studied so that journalists could show culpability by the manufacturers of a drug that damaged thousands of people. Today's data journalism has a different starting point. It does not know whether there is a story in the data, but examines it to find the story, checking the veracity of the data all the time. The Panama Papers was a collection of 11.5 million diverse files of a law firm which specialized in offshore banking and tax evasion. Revealed in 2016, the files mostly contained unstructured information that was not easily categorized or sorted. Even rendering it searchable was a challenge because processing this much data required more power than any individual computer could muster. At its peak, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists was running more than 30 servers simultaneously to index the information contained in each file in the dataset. But change is not just in the techniques, the very anthropology of investigative journalism has had to change. For the Panama Papers, the ICIJ put together a team of more than 370 reporters from 80 countries, working across 25 different languages, plus coding languages. This was collaboration on a scale never previously seen. The technical methods used in the Panama Papers cannot be replicated today because the pace of change in data management is so rapid and relentless. Much of the technology employed to produce the Panama Papers is already obsolete, but the behavioral lessons are still valid, collaboration works. We now move to another development in security and surveillance. Partly as a consequence of the successes of investigative journalists in many democracies today, systems of surveillance, that, in my colleague Paul Lashmar's words, "Make the communist East Germany's Stasi "look like a tiny cottage industry," have been installed secretly. Too often, The target of these surveillance monoliths are journalists. Oversight agencies have proved ineffective. What has proven more effective is investigative journalism itself. My colleague Paul Lashmar has shown us how the formal institutions of oversight have failed to reveal rendition, torture, mass surveillance, slavery, and covert operations, and that we must be grateful to whistle-blowers such as Julian Assange and Edward Snowden. Julian Assange, still in prison in the UK, pending extradition to the USA, revealed in 2012, through WikiLeaks, atrocities committed in Iraq, and related confidential information. Snowden's revelations about the mass acquisition of telecommunications data and bulk interception of internet traffic by the US National Security Agency showed the world how technology is being deployed today. Snowden showed us a global surveillance apparatus jointly run by the Five Eyes network in close cooperation with their commercial and international partners, which ignored laws or accountability. We saw that the agencies have secretly negotiated for back doors in the security of computer programs, social networking sites, websites, and smartphones, giving an extraordinary capability to hoover up and store personal emails, voice contact, social networking activity, and even internet search use. Neither Assange nor Snowden were journalists in the traditional sense. Over the period, new ways of funding and executing investigative journalism have come about, and this is the third development we shall look at. Investigative journalism is frequently time-consuming and expensive, requiring the two commodities that mainstream media have in short supply. For this reason, there has been a growing understanding that other actors may play a role in providing newsworthy investigations for public consumption, giving rise to mission-driven journalism. In one sense, this is nothing new, Amnesty International, among others, has been carrying out investigations for many years, Greenpeace has exposed environmental depredations, Human Rights Watch has been investigating human rights abuses for decades, however, the ability to self-publish, and the increased opportunities of open-source material mean that NGOs, or non-government organizations, themselves have been examining different ways to bring their investigations to light. Once upon a time, as many children know, there was a group of mice which planned to neutralize the threat of a stalking cat by placing a bell around its neck, but nobody had the guts to bell the cat. Today, there is an organization that dares to bell cats, it is Bellingcat. In a series of painstaking investigations, Bellingcat has broken some of the most remarkable and consequential stories of recent years, finding innovative solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems of volume and verification of data to reveal what was hidden. During the Syrian War, and now in the invasion of Ukraine, Bellingcat has made substantive contributions to our understanding of what really is going on. Here are some examples of Bellingcat's operations: analysis of the 2018 chemical attack in Douma, Syria, illegal shipping of precursors of the nerve agent sarin to Syria by Belgian companies, the use of drones in Syria and Iraq, and identifying a key suspect in the Malaysia Airlines investigation as a high ranking Russian intelligence officer. The GIJN brings together many hundreds of journalists of 182 organizations, in 77 countries. The BIJ, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, is yet another of the specialist investigating operations, but other actors in this space are grassroots organizations. New ways of funding and executing investigative journalism include grassroots organizations, of which Bureau Local is a model. Bureau Local is a network of over 1,000 people across the United Kingdom, journalists, bloggers, coders, academics, lawyers, community leaders, and activists, who started in Scotland by the way, who all come together to work on investigations. The Bureau Local project operates on an open-source basis wherever possible, and shares resources online, including a blueprint for its own model. Projects are emerging all over, from Greece to India. This model has proved effective, and has inspired others, for example Correctiv in Germany, which adopted the same model to set up Correctiv Lokal. The Correspondent, the global news features platform headquartered in Amsterdam has used the Bureau Local collaboration model for its latest investigation into surveillance during the coronavirus crisis. Local news is seeing a host of imaginative versions emerging, with people willingly sharing resources, technology, and success stories, super-powering this movement. We're still with the new ways of funding and executing investigative journalism, and now come to verification units. New technologies that can be used for verification have been taken up with enthusiasm by those working in human rights, and some have seen the possibility of collaboration with journalists. One of the most successful has been the Amnesty International Digital Verification Corps, which now operates in six universities around the world. One of the founding partners was the Digital Verification Unit at the University of Essex. I shall now show you some video of BBC verification work. One of the most arresting examples of verification was upon a video on social media which showed women and children in Cameroon, in West Africa, being led away at gunpoint by soldiers to be killed. The Government of Cameroon initially dismissed the video as fake news. The BBC's "Africa Eye" undertook forensic analysis of the footage using digital techniques, and established where and when it happened, and who was to blame. This extract that I'm about to show shows how publicly available data has changed journalism, and how the BBC has harnessed new techniques. The program was also cut into bite-size chunks for Twitter, which resulted in it becoming a viral hit. (gun bangs) (ominous music) - [Presenter] This looks like the kind of dusty, anonymous track that could be anywhere in the Sahel, but the first 40 seconds of the film capture a mountain range with a distinctive profile. We spent hours trying to match this range to the topography of Northern Cameroon, and then, in late July, we received a tip-off from a Cameroonian source: "Have you looked at the area near Zelevet?" Close to the town of Zelevet, we found a match for the ridge line. It places the scene on a dirt road just outside a village called Krawa Mafa. A few hundred meters away is the border with Nigeria. The video also reveals other details that can be matched preciselyto what we see on the satellite imagery:
this track, these buildings, and these trees. Putting all this evidence together, we can say with certainty that the killings took place here. Less than a kilometer away, in Zelevet, we found this compound, and identified it as a combat outpost used by the Cameroonian military in their fight against Boko Haram. We'll come back to this base later. Exactly when the killings took place is, at first sight, harder to say, but again, the video contains clues. This building is visible on satellite imagery,but only until February, 2016:
the murders must have happened before that date. Satellite images also capture this structure. The walls surrounding it are present in imagery dated March, 2015, but had not yet been built in November, 2014, giving us an earliest possible date for the atrocity. The video also reveals this footpath, a path that only appears in the hot, dry season between January and April. There are other less obvious clues in the video. As they lead these women away, the soldiers, like moving sun dials, cast shadows on the track. A simple mathematical formula tells us the angle of the Sun in comparison to the horizon. We can also see what direction the light is coming from. When we add this data to our location, we can get a precise timeframe for this event: the killings happened between March 20th and April 5th, 2015. - It's a pity that the Russian soldiers in Ukraine can't see that, isn't it. After telling of journalists' new powers and resources,I want to introduce a corrective:
threats to journalists have increased too, demanding response. We regularly hear of journalists being targeted, whether in Ukraine, the Middle East, or Latin America. In response, journalists are beginning to come together to render the murder of their colleagues ineffective as a deterrent. They do so by ensuring that the murdered journalist's work is shared and continued. Probably the first such extensive collaboration was by the body Investigative Reporters & Editors, IRE. With its Arizona Project, the IRE exposed the murder of a reporter called Bolles, and just as valuable, kept going his work of exposing organized crime so that criminals would know that killing a reporter would not kill his stories. Brazil has set up the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism, ABRAJI, a nonprofit organization with the same motive. ABRAJI has kept alive the work of Tim Lopes, a reporter burned to death by drug traffickers in 2002. The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project was set up in Sarajevo in 2006, and is a consortium of investigative journalists operating in Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Empire, and Central America. With the Khadija Project, set up in 2015, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project has continued the work of Azeri journalist Khadija Ismayilova in exposing political corruption while she was in jail. Inspired by these, French journalist Laurent Richard developed Forbidden Stories, systematically to continue the work of murdered and imprisoned journalists, and to provide a technical system for reporters in dangerous situations in order to upload their secrets as a kind of insurance. In the event of their death or imprisonment, the secrets could be released, cooperation is the best protection, says Richard. As I said at the outset, not only has the very nature of investigative journalism changed, but it has been globalized. Journalism may be an Anglo-American invention, as Jean Chalaby opined in a famous article of that name, but it is now an international practice. I shall give a few examples, first, China. Before 1949, when the communists took power, Chinese journalism was vigorous, and there were distinguished investigations. From 1949, for 30 years, journalism, like Chinese society in general, went backwards, with a barbaric political retreat in which there was no place for journalism. With the death of Mao Zedong, journalism began to reemerge, and the 1990s saw a flourishing of investigative journalism. Today, with the left wing exerting pressure on government to suppress inquiry, China is going through one of its periods of ideological intensification, with journalists being thoroughly subordinated to party functionaries. Here is a picture of President Xi Jinping telling the media that they are servants of the party. The slogan on the wall reads, "CCTV," the national broadcaster, "is surnamed party," and then it reads, "Absolute loyalty required, "kindly bear this in mind," as if one needed to. The Sun Zhigang case illustrated how the limitations placed on legacy media have accelerated the shift to social media, and the burgeoning influence of we media. Social media, in 2003, exposed the murder by policemen of a student, Sun Zhigang, there he is up there, the lad with glasses. Like other stories that originated with netizens, it put pressure on the authorities, in this case to change regulations that had permitted the police to take Sun into custody. In another story, in 2010, the head of the anti-corruption watchdog in Chenzhou, a city prefecture in Hunan Province, was exposed for corruption. Until recently, investigative journalism particularly targeted this kind of hard topic of abuses of power and the wrongdoings of government departments and officials. At present, it tends to deal with softer topics, such as health, environment, and ordinary people's livelihoods. In 2008, the Sanlu milk scandal, adulterated milk powder ruined or killed large numbers of babies, demonstrated the changes taking place in the types of stories that concern investigative journalism. These are the names of some current investigative journalism platforms. You can get some idea of their attitudesfrom the English versions of their names:
Sugar Daddy, Dingxiang Doctor, medical research, Whistleblower, Hidden Guest, that's secret investigations, Home of the Beast, presumably looking into wealthy and powerful people, and then there are legacy media which have social media platforms which claim to be Investigative, The Paper, Pengpai Xinwen, in Shanghai, and Caixin Media, which concentrates on financial, economic stories. Cui Yongyuan used to be a famous China Central Television presenter, but has now gone independent as a journalist and polemicist. In one famous revelation, Cui noticed that the Agriculture Ministry promotes genetically modified foods, but that the ministry's own canteen excludes them because they're unhealthy. He exposed this on his blog. Cui has taken on the Supreme People's Court, the film industry and its star celebrities, as well as the Agriculture Ministry and its supposed experts on genetic modification. Cui makes enemies among the powerful, but gives hope to 20 million followers. For them, his exposure of frauds, corruption, and malfeasance makes him a hero. Well that's enough about China, the Arab world also reflects culture-specific approaches to journalism. When training was provided to Syrian journalists by outside organizations from Britain and America, the trainers, because they were of non-Arab backgrounds, were ignorant of the specifics of Arab society and governance, let alone current issues, making clear the redundancy of the idea of universal journalism, according to my colleague Bebawi. The Arab world is of course very varied, and in Jordan, for example, investigative journalists have moved on from social and environmental issues to addressing political matters. In Syria, where journalists before the war were relatively free, the war constrained them, for all the reasons we can imagine. These pictures are from a story about child gunmen published by Daraj Media, a Syrian collective, which found that 15% to 30% of ISIS recruits were under the age of 15. In Turkey, there is not, thank God, a civil war, but there is certainly a violent battle of ideas. Journalists in Turkey have long been pragmatic and generally secular and skeptical. This puts them, as a profession, at odds with the revival of traditional religion promoted by the current political leaders. Today, the revival of religious sentiment makes it all but impossible for Turks to practice journalism. The name Ugur Mumcu is synonymous with investigative journalism in Turkey following his murder in 1993. He had upset politicians by exposing then nefarious commercial dealings. Despite threats in the late 1990s, there was a surge of investigative journalism in newspapers, such as "Cumhuriyet," and television programs such as "Arena." The election of Erdogan as president brought an end to most of this, but the publishing industry held out a lifeline. For example, in 2019, a book was published called "Metastaz." It was written by two journalists, Baris Pehlivan and Baris Terkoglu. The book is an investigation into the infiltration of the Turkish Government by the Gulen group, and other religious organizations. It looks into events both before and after the coup attempt in 2016, and how other organizations are filling the gaps left by Gulen. From Turkey to Poland, this picture shows Poland's first democratically elected president, Lech Walesa, and the media that blossomed after the collapse of Marxist rule. From then on, Poland had an impressive revival in investigative journalism. Over the last few years, property scams, pedophilia in the Church, police brutality, and neo-Nazis have been among the momentous exposures. And I can't pronounce Polish, I'm afraid, if there's anybody here who can do better, perhaps they can held me, but "Gazeta Wyborcza" has been tracking neo-fascist and neo-Nazi groups in Poland for many years. "Superwizjer" reporters who learned about those concerts decided to investigate the activities of such groups, concerts by neo-Nazis, they managed to infiltrate the circle of Polish neo-Nazis. The Sekielski brothers made a film about pedophilia in the Catholic Church in Poland, "Tell No One," using resources raised on a crowdfunding platform only. This was a herald of organizational and technological transformation, and the film was first made available on YouTube. In India, there is a, "glorious tradition," I quote, of investigative journalism made possible by the liberal press laws inherited from the British Raj, the British Empire. However, despite the improvement of the hardware of journalism, and therefore improved techniques, it seems that investigative journalism in India is, today, in serious decline because of the changes in the political environment. From the 1970s through the 1990s, many exposures by investigative journalists rocked India, testifying to the robustness of the media and the zealousness of journalists. Yeah, that was one of them, "Buying girls from a circuit house," an orphanage, was one of them. Arun Sinha, still one of India's most known investigative journalists, made his craft famous when he narrated the gory details of how over 30 jail inmates awaiting trial were blinded by police, who inserted metal spokes in their eyes and poured sulfuric acid as extrajudicial punishment for their alleged crimes. Despite the eulogizing of investigative journalists in Bollywood films, the Murdochization, as Prasun Sonwalkar has it, he's my colleague who's written this part of the book, the Murdochization of the media has crippled journalism, elevating moneymaking far over holding power to account as the purpose of media, offline or online. Paid news, often as political as commercial, squeezes out honest reportage. Media organizations and personnel critical of the party in power have suffered calamity to the extent that India's leading investigative journalist has likened India's media to that of North Korea. The story of how defenseless Malaysians were being robbed of their rights, their livelihoods, and their identity was told in an extraordinary tale by Clare Rewcastle Brown, the tale being called "The Sarawak Report." Aside from the exploitation and deception of human beings, that which she investigated has disastrous environmental impacts. Without her "Sarawak Report," the shameless behavior of the then ruling Taib family would never have been exposed to the world and revealed to their victims, no matter how clever Rewcastle Brown might have been in tracing their millions and their deal making, or how brave the whistle-blowers she handled. The results included a political overturn. This tale is to be read for its lessons in craft, but also for its vindication of the mission. The Nigerian press has been vigorous since its inception in 1849. Espousing liberal ideas of a free press and watchdog journalism, it often challenged the British authorities, from 1849 to 1960, under whose auspices it emerged. It has been the most politically vibrant in Africa, and through watchdog journalism and investigative reporting, Nigerian newspapers have been at the forefront of democratic development in the country. The founding of "Newswatch" magazine, sorry, the founding of "Newswatch" magazine in 1984 by Dele Giwa and colleagues redefined investigative journalism in Nigeria, although Dele Giwa met his death in the course of investigating corrupt practices under a former military dictator. "Newswatch" magazine pioneered hard-hitting investigative stories. Faced with the challenges of declining advertising revenues, political pressure, and the necessary move online, IJ is in a precarious state. Journalists are embracing the online option because it affords them an opportunity to be their own boss and prioritize investigative reporting. However, their platforms are yet to make an appreciable impact commensurate with the investigative journalism of pre-internet days. And now to Europe. 25 of the 44 European countries are in the EU, the governance of which has always been looked at with suspicion by popular parties. In 2003, London's "Financial Times" headlines revealed a vast enterprise for looting community funds in the European Commission. Subsequently, "Stern" reporter, that's a well known German magazine, "Stern" reporter Hans-Martin Tillack was arrested at the instigation of the European Union on trumped-up charges, eventually dismissed by the courts. His documents and other seized items were not returned to him until 2008. EU investigative journalists have tried hard to work together, but their traditions are very different, as are their ways of working. There is not much in common between Sicilian and Latvian approaches, but an ongoing process of comparing notes and attempting collaboration are bearing fruit. Latin America. In the 1990s, in most of the constituent countries, investigative journalism was vigorous, complementing the reemergence of democratic politics. It was not necessarily detached, journalists were often hamstrung by vested interests or their editors were threatened by politicians. In such circumstances, sharing responsibility can be a way out. Brazilian, Argentinian, Mexican, and Colombian media participated in global exposures, such as the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers, mentioned earlier. As with other nationalities' journalists, such collaboration demonstrates a paradigm shift, where exclusivity and immediacy are replaced by a culture of information sharing and slow journalism. In 2017, the Salvadoran site El Faro worked with Univision to produce a multimedia report about the migrant crisis in Central America. Earlier, El Faro had worked with "The New York Times" to expose violent gangs in El Salvador. In both cases, the information was published simultaneously in English and in Spanish to reach wider audiences. Operacao Lava Jato, Operation Car Wash, is the biggest corruption scandal in Brazil, in Brazil's history, in fact. In 2016, leading daily "Folha de Sao Paulo" reported that former President Luiz, Lula da Silva benefited from contracts carried out by construction company Odebrecht in exchange for favoring this company in contracts with state-owned oil giant Petrobras. The reporting process included data journalism techniques, and led to investigations that uncovered an unprecedented web of corruption in Brazil, that ultimately extended to at least 12 countries, imprisoning company executives and public officials. Mexico's Animal Politico is widely known for its stellar reporting on social inequality, political corruption, migration, social programs, and human rights violations. Guatemala's Nomada and Plaza Publica produced several exposes that revealed collusion between government and larger corporations in relation to a range of illicit behaviors, including tax evasion, fraud, and illegal campaign financing. They have offered in-depth coverage of sexual abuses and femicides, implicating powerful actors, as well as the challenges of socially marginalized populations. In England, obloquy shook the UK media following revelations of the phone hacking scandal, which will be familiar to everybody here. It destroyed one of its oldest newspapers, and attracted widespread condemnation. A judge-led inquiry by Lord Leveson confirmed many suspicions. Britain's tabloids. Investigations are an important part of the marketing mix for tabloid media, and a way to claim the public service accolade for all British newspapers. Revelations about the peculiar sexual proclivities of politicians, the stings of vain or greedy bosses by a chap who dressed up like Lawrence of Arabia were too good to pass by, but fortunately, stories with better claims to social value were also commissioned and published. Exposures of fraudsters, violence in refugee hostels, predatory landlords, unsafe tumble dryers, and suicides among army recruits indeed constituted a public service. So it seems, if we're to have the public service, we have to live with the sensations as well, perhaps we want to. "Private Eye" sells 40% more copies than the internationally famous "Economist," I bet nobody here guessed that, did they, that was a surprise to me when I learned it too, it sells 40% more copies than the internationally famous "Economist," and is the bestselling current affairs magazine in the United Kingdom. It seems laughable to the uninitiated, and redolent of schoolboy humor, but its bite is worse than its bark. Unlike its French cousin "Charlie Hebdo," "Private Eye" is of no evident political persuasion, bad people are bad for "Private Eye" whether they are of left, or right, or nothing but bad. "Shady Arabia and the Desert Fix" was a check on relations between UK prime ministers Blair and Cameron and Saudi leaders. "Private Eye" has carried out, and continues to carry out very serious investigations, as well as modest revelations which can nevertheless result in great alarm. It does so with skeptical humor, lightness of touch, and exemplary professionalism. There are regular sections which probe areas of British life such as health, local government, or media. "Private Eye" Editor Ian Hislop explains how "Private Eye"is an original crowdfunded production:
"'Private Eye,'" he says, "depends upon people in specific industries "engaging with us, "and saying if something's going wrong, "or if you think something's bent, or isn't right, "just letting us know, "and that's how nearly every section of 'The Eye' works. "The reason we tend to get our stories right "is because we're told them "by people in the middle of them." I hope that I have outlined how globalization, and the internet, and big data have transformed investigative journalism over the past 15 years. To come are the challenges of artificial intelligence and the increasing difficulties of cybersecurity. In conclusion, I want to encourage you to read the book from which I've quoted, and for which I had the honor to be co-editor. There is much more to learn about this great influence in the world than I have managed to squeeze into 40 minutes. Thank you for your attention. (audience applauds) - The first question is, "How does investigative journalism operate in China "when the state exerts control? "I'm thinking of the CCP's dismantling "of Hong Kong's once free media, "the persecution of Jimmy Lai, "and execs at 'Apple Daily' and 'Stand News' "to name a few, "and in China, the jailing of," forgive me if I'm going to pronounce this incorrectly, "and in China, the jailing of Zhang Zhan "over her reporting of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan "when the pandemic began." - Of course, the questioner is quite right, things in China are very bad at the moment, very bad indeed, but I particularly, because my greatest interest is in Chinese media, I spent a little more time on China than on some of the other countries because I wanted people to realize that what is happening at the moment is actually not typically Chinese, it is what is being done to Chinese media and Chinese people by a government which has not always behaved like that, but with the personalities in charge at the moment, is treating Chinese journalism and Chinese free speech very badly. But there is, as I tried to say, a tradition of Chinese investigative journalism, there is a great tradition of Chinese journalism in China, even under the Communist Party, it has not always been as oppressed as it is today, and I think it's important for us to realize that that is the case. What is happening is not a Chinese phenomenon, it is a Chinese Communist Party phenomenon. - Thank you. Are there any question in the hall, does anyone have questions? I've got a couple here, if you could just wait for my colleague to bring you the microphone so that the people online can hear you as well, and then we'll take this one. - Hi, thank you. Just a very general question, really, and that is to do with, with increasing digitization, there is an issue of how people rate the provenance of a news website. I've almost stopped going on Facebook because people who I think are quite sane and rational were sending me links to some very bizarre, barely credible stories. And it occurred to me that one might search bits of information on the web and come across some very well developed websites, but how does one even begin to think about what kind of investigations these people have done, how rigorous they've been, and so on? Because on the surface, a rigorous investigative journalism site may look no different from a very spurious one. Do you consider that to be a serious challenge? - I think it's a terrible challenge. We've seen a lot of really crazy ideas catch fire in recent years, the United States is full of that, an immense number of issues, which are not necessarily real issues, and when they're analyzed out and thought more carefully about, we find that they come from statements, assertions of very little evidence, and so on. Your question is what do we do about it. I suppose we have to go to trusted sources. So why do people continue to read "The Financial Times," which is expensive, when they can get all the information "The Financial Times" produces from hundreds and hundreds of websites? It's because they trust, whether they're right or wrong I leave to you to decide, but they trust "The Financial Times" as a source, and that's the only way we can do it. I won't believe anything unless it comes from a source that I feel is trustworthy. How you decide that, of course, is your business. I'm very conscious also that there's a second part implicit in what you said, is that we tend, anyway, all of us, I think, to be self-selecting, so we go to websites which reinforce the things we already believe, so we have to be aware of that, and say to yourself, well hold on a minute, okay, I do agree with this, but am I right to agree with it, should I perhaps look at an alternative point of view. It's quite difficult, we're all busy, how can we wend our way through it? The only way, really, is to keep a skeptical eye and go to people you trust. - Thank you very much, Professor de Burgh, for your lecture, very, very stimulating. I was wondering how it was that a paper like "Private Eye," in fact, I remember when it first came out, I was a student at the time, got established? Was it a reflection, I can't remember at all myself, of the editor and his team thinking that the state of journalism in Britain was pretty poor? One thinks in particular of reports of "The Times" just before the war, where the editor, I think it was Dawson, wasn't it, who was the editor, manipulating and distorting reports from his German correspondent to make them much more sympathetic to Hitler than the reporter from Berlin was actually reporting. What was the origin, in fact, what enabled, in fact, "Private Eye" to get started? - I'm trying to remember the name of the first editor, because he was one of those who did a comic current affairs show in early television, or maybe it was even on radio. They were people who felt that established journalism was pompous, and conventional, and was too respectful of authority, and people with power, and so on. Cook, wasn't it? - [Audience Member] Richard Ingrams - Richard Ingrams, of course. Remind me, somebody, who said Richard Ingrams? It was you. What was the gang that Richard Ingrams, I use gang in a loose sense, that he belonged to, that produced a lot of really comic shows? "That Was the Week That Was," that's right, and who were the others? Cook was one of them. - Peter Cook. - Peter Cook, and Dudley Moore, Ned Sherrin. "That Was the Week That Was" was a kind of stable from which a lot of brilliant journalists and comedians, journalists and comedians being very much the same thing, of course, came, including Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Richard Ingrams, who was the first editor. So I hope the answer to your question is that, how it came about, people who thought that the establishment journalists were too stuffy. They probably wouldn't think that these days. - [Questioner] I suppose, following up on the first question, and your question, and that is, I do actually meet quite a few young people who want to be journalists, and have studied journalism at university, and colleges, and I have done some of these courses myself, and they are predisposed, when I talk to them, to believe that mainstream journalism is simply not to be trusted. The funny thing is, as soon as they use that rather convenient term, which I like myself, it's kind of a giveaway, because you know they're going to expound on a view that they get their information from other sources. But they don't seem to have been taught real checking mechanisms, the kind of thing you were talking about, illustrating it so well with that BBC example. Shouldn't some of this be taught in schools, i.e. before college, and before tertiary level, to make people more aware of all the fakes on the internet, and how to try to discern the truth in established media? - I think it's not easy to establish the truth in the media, but maybe if you approach the media, always, with a skeptical and thoughtful mindset.I'll make another reference to China:
Chinese people, on the whole, I think, or at least certainly educated Chinese people, know perfectly well that a great deal of what goes on in the media, perhaps 60% of it, is reflecting what the authorities want to be said, so they read between the lines, and often, they read what is not said as being more important than what is said. And also, they discriminate between those reports which seem to reflect reality and those which seem to be merely the mouthpieces of some official, or whatever. And I think they're very good, and perhaps all people in authoritarian societies have to be like that, and perhaps we have to be like that too, we have to approach all media, of all kinds, with skepticism, and, as you say, children should be taught to be skeptical, but not cynical, I think, because there are many very good journalists, I've just been introducing you to some of them, I hope, very good journalists, and there are, in the established media, very good journalists. Of course they make mistakes from time to time, and they're influenced by their own cultural proclivities, their own prejudices, and their own sillinesses, but as long as you understand that, and try and read for that, then you can make good sense out of any newspaper, or television program, or online website, I think, at all. I read newspapers which I disagree with profoundly, and I'm sure that lots of you do as well, when you get them, if they're free, anyway, I wouldn't buy them all but I will read newspapers. "The New York Times," for example, I disagree strongly with, but whenever I go into a library and I find a copy, I will read it, because there's some very good stuff in it, but it doesn't mean to say I'm agreeing with everything. - I would like to note for everyone that this lecture is part of a wider series of four lectures at Gresham College this yearcalled Media:
Trust and Society, and so some of these questions are addressed by some of the other lecturers. If you go to the website and look at Professor de Burgh's lecture, you'll see a link to the series, which has the other lectures, you might want to check those out as well. - [Questioner] Could you maybe talk about the advantages and disadvantages of using social media to crowdsource information? - The advantages and disadvantages of using social media as a source, you mean? - [Questioner] Yes. - Certainly. I think this relates to the previous two questions as well, in a way, doesn't it, because you have to be very, very careful if you use social media as a source because you don't know where the information is coming from, and you triangulate, you check. I'm no longer a journalist, but I think the Bellingcat team would say they'll get some initial ideas from social media, and then they will try and triangulate and get at least two other sources before they will believe what they're being told. - [Questioner] I was just wondering if, generally, investigative journalists tend to have a geographical area where they investigate, or if you can give examples of journalists who investigate subjects that span the world? - I suppose investigative journalists belong to nations, on the whole, and usually, their first interest is in their home countries, so the Latin American journalists who collaborated on major issues, who collaborated on major pan-continental issues will spend most of their time working on, say, a local corruption story, or something that concerns their own readers, their own viewers themselves, but will also collaborate on pan-continental stories. And then, if they're involved with something which is of global importance, they can work through Bellingcat, or some of the other international organizations, to work on those, so that's one kind of specialization, if you like. The other is that some people specialize in particular kinds of stories, and I think you referred to that as well. The Malaysian example I gave you was a big, big corruption story, but it was also an environment story, because, I didn't have time to really go into detail, and I'm sure you wouldn't have wanted me to, and anyway, some people here may know about "The Sarawak Report," but effectively, what the gangsters in power in Malaysia were doing was selling rights to destroy the environment over large areas, which was also taking away the homes of hundreds of thousands, if not more poor people. So she is an environmental journalist who happened to specialize in a national/international story. And there'll be people in China, for example, until the recent crackdowns, there were journalists who specialized in environmental stories all the time, because the leadership, until about 10 years ago, was very keen that there should be exposure of environmental stories, so it was the one area where you could be absolutely certain, in China, of not being screwed by the officials because the government badly wanted the exposure of pollution, and other environmental stories. "Private Eye" is rather different, they'll touch anything as long as it's British, really, but mostly, journalists have their beat, their areas that they look at, and also their own national interests as well. I hope that answers your question, does it? - I think we're going to have to stop there because I know that you have another appointment elsewhere this evening, Professor, so it remains for me just to thank the professor and thank our audience for your attention this evening, both in the hall and online. Please join me in thanking Professor de Burgh. (audience applauds)