Before we learn about the concept of investigative journalism, we should get an idea about journalism and its varied expressions that has grown over period of time. The main aim of journalism revolves around serving people with news, views, information, comments of prominent personalities etc. on matters related to public interest and global interest. It is the duty of journalism to provide people with accurate, fair and unbiased form of news and views in a decent manner. Media is often called as the fourth pillar of Democracy, and it is mainly responsible for keeping checks and balance in the working executive and legislative works.
The role of media and journalism is of foremost importance these days in society as well as in governance. The influence of media is limitless and especially with the growing technology, media and journalism are gaining power and have the ability to make and even destroy a person, company or anyone. But with so much power, comes equal number of responsibilities too, and the media should never lose its sight of privileges, duties and commitments.
The freedom of press needs to be preserved and secured not only from external interference but from internal interference also by creating internal mechanism or set of guidelines which ensure the appropriate working of such mechanisms such Internal Ombudsman, Media Council of Peers, Media Watch groups and others. All these mechanisms are responsible for keeping an eye on the working of media persons, journalists and management. The Press Council of India and such similar bodies endorse the idea and standards of media by building guidelines and code of conduct for them.
Thus, media and investigative journalism go hand in hand and play vital role in bringing up the allegations of corruption to light and fight against all sorts of wrongs. One of the most common examples of investigative journalists are International Consortiums who provide with proper results by putting forth the financial and economic crime rates before the attention of public and other enforcement authorities, in an unbiased manner.
What is Investigative Journalism?
Now, we shall learn more about Investigative journalism and there is no definite definition for Investigative journalism, and one of them given by Marquez is, “The certainty that investigation is not professional speciality but that all journalism should, by their definition be investigative.”
When one looks deeper into the idea of investigative journalism, there isn’t much agreement found among the various propounder and thinkers in this field. One of the common ones states that, investigating and exposing wrong-doing, typically corruption and abuse of power by the powerful while keeping the benefit of public in mind, shall be considered as investigative journalism.
So basically, investigative journalism is an intellectual process, a business gathering and sorting of ideas and facts, building patterns, connecting the dots, making analysis and finally making decisions on basis of such analysis based on logic rather than emotion, and it shall include the decision to say even no at any of the several stages.
Norms And Parameters of Investigative Journalism as per Press Council of India
The Press is expected to behave and act in certain way by keeping in consonance with the specified norms of professionalism, as recognized universally. There are certain norms and parameters mentioned below and other guidelines which need to be applied with due acumen and adapted well as per the situation prevailing in each case, this helps every journalist to self-regulate his or her conduct in their professional arena. In case of investigative reporting, there are 3 basic elements to be taken care of. They are-
- The work should be originally of the reporter and not of anyone else who’s work he is reporting;
- The subject of work should be of public importance for the readers to know;
- When others are trying to conceal such truth from people.
Apart from these, there is list of norms which need to be taken care of by the investigating reporter, while making such news. The norms are-
- Firstly, the investigating reporter as a foremost rule, base his story on facts investigated, detected and checked up by himself, and there should be no facts based on hearsay or derivative evidence collected from secondary party. All the facts of case should be authentic and collected by the reporter himself
- There is constant conflict between the factors of which matter require to be exposed and which needs to be kept as secret, the balance should be maintained by the reporter in his set of news and reports, placing the good above everything and know the limits of his investigation
- The journalist working, should not jump on the easy temptations of quick gains and publish half-baked fabricated news, or on issues where the facts are dubious in nature and not completely checked or verified from authentic sources by reporter himself
- All those facts which are imaginary, furrowing and estimating the non-existent should be completely avoided in the report. Facts are the essence of any report may it be news or not, and they need to be correctly verified before publishing them.
- The newspaper or report should follow the standard set of fairness and accuracy of facts published in their articles. All the findings should be published in a manner that they are objective and precise, nothing should be exaggerated or misrepresented, such that it can make a suit before the court of Law
- The reporter should keep his emotions away and not get swayed with the matter during investigation as if he is the counsel for that case. The investigator should follow a fair and accurate approach, wherein all the facts are properly checked, both for and against the core issues, they should be kept distinct and separate. The report should be bias free and it shouldn’t indicate any one-sided inferences or unfair comments. The tone and gist of article should be decent and dignified and formal, needless to say shouldn’t be offensive, castigatory, or derisive especially in cases where the person’s activities are being investigated. The main part is that investigator should never indulge in giving his opinion on the case and give any decisions or verdict of guilt against the person who has been alleged with any sort of criminal activity.
- In all other proceedings including the investigation, presentation and publication of the report, the investigative journalist should be well aware of paramount principle of criminal jurisprudence and shouldn’t intend to pronounce any kinds of verdict against the innocence or guilt of the alleged person, unless and until the final verdict is derived by the Court with reliable sources.
- The private life of any known personality or public figure should be kept secluded. And any kind of exposition or invasion in anyone’s personal life is neither advisable nor permissible unless there is clear indication that person is involved in wrong doings and need to be exposed for public interest. There should be prudent nexus established between the misuse of his public position or power with its adverse impact on the interests of public.
- Though, the Criminal Procedure Code 1973, doesn’t in explicit terms apply to investigating proceedings conducted by journalist, the basics and fundamental principles should be adopted as guide on the grounds of justice, equity and good conscience.
- The press shouldn’t publish any information with regard to any specific topic, until it is officially released as it would go against the spirit of investigative journalism and even to the purpose of investigative journalism.
Sudarshan TV Case
This is recent case of investigative journalism which was much in the news in the month of September 2020, where the controversial programme of private channel Sudarshan News TV was broadcasting episodes on “Muslim infiltrating” the UPSC services. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting have issued the guidelines of Cable Network Rules 1994 which states that “no programme should carry any such message attacking the religious and communities or visuals and words scornful of religious groups or promote communal attitude among the general public.” The content telecasted by Sudarshan TV infuriated the Apex Court and called the show as an attempt to malign the Muslims in public eye.
The Apex Court was of the opinion that “One cannot target a community and brand them in particular.” The Court further put a stay on the show “Bindas Bol” as the show was posing serious questions on the capability and capacities of Union Public Service Commission which is known to be one of the most prestigious and high regard examinations of government services.
The Editor in Chief of the channel Suresh Chavhanke submitted a 91-page affidavit contending that the show was piece of “Investigative Journalism” and said that Sudarshan News didn’t have any particular issue with any individual from the community joining the government services on merit. Further, it was also mentioned that due to lack of any appropriate guidelines mentioned by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, it led to the violation of religious sentiments of Muslim community by airing the show and targeting the community on public TV channel.
Thus, it was held by the Supreme Court that Sudarshan TV was liable for airing such distasteful episodes mentioning that the community is infiltrating the UPSC services with their men. The episodes of the channel were labelled as offensive and hurtful in nature and the Court specified that it didn’t fall in the category of “Investigative Journalism”. They clarified the difference between investigative journalism and offensive journalism.
Thus, it can be inferred that investigative journalism is not clearly defined but it involves investigating the matter in true sense, so as to make people aware of the required facts. Investigative journalism is necessary for society but they are equally subjected to reasonable restrictions and boundaries. Investigative journalism is major part of media and all news reporters and in fact it is one of the major works of every reporter, without investigation, media will have no stand as the fourth pillar.
The main duty of media is to keep people updated with the daily happenings and expose the wrong doings of people, and all of this does require investigation in proportionate amounts, but then media should know their boundaries and privileges too, they should abide by their code of conduct while conducting such investigative reports and journalism, as it can influence the public in many unpredictable ways. The Press Council of India states certain norms and parameters which should be followed by the media houses before publishing news and reports before people, as investigative journalism is tricky job to do.
This article is authored by Rhea Banerjee, BA.LLB graduate.