Investigative Journalism

IN Opinion | 07/09/2002
Investigative Journalism

Investigative Journalism

These four articles appeared in the Pioneer in the section Foray on June 10, 2001


Vinod Mehta

Investigative journalism has a nice, grand ring. Its practitioners in any newspaper or magazine office assume special airs and demand special treatment.Their output is seldom questioned since they are judged not by quantity, but by quality. Marketing managers and chief executives in publishing houses, who are otherwise ignorant about journalism, speak in reverential tones when the phrase is mentioned. It is the magic which allegedly gets newsstands moving.

I begin on this slightly sardonic note because investigative journalism covers a multitude of sins. The genuine article is, of course, pure as gold and should be suitably acknowledged, but it must be noted that there is spurious stuff knocking around too.

In a sense, every journalist is in some way, an investigative journalist. Even the cub reporter who compiles the listings or "daily engagements" column from hand-outs has to verify, check and probe. If investigation means going beyond what is handed-out or distributed, we are all in the game.

I first chanced upon investigative journalism in the early ¿60s. Then a gentleman called Harold Evans, now lost, alas, to the glitterati pages, edited The Sunday Times, London. He, (I may be wrong) I believe, is the father of magazine/Sunday paper investigative journalism. Evans coined the word "insight" and constituted a special insight team of four or five reporters (more hands were acquired, if necessary). It was the job of this team to produce, on a weekly basis, reports which would appear under the heading insight. It was the core around which the Sunday paper was built.

My friend, the award-winning journalist Phillip Knightley, was a key member of the Insight team which produced memorable exposes. Their length could vary from 2,000 to 4,000 words and there was a special page reserved for Insight. When I launched The Sunday Observer in 1981, I shamelessly copied the Evans formula and for eight years each week, we produced full-page investigations. Perhaps, the first organised attempt in this country to provide investigative
journalism on a regular basis. Since then investigative journalism has come a long way. By and large, its record in India is distinguished. It has fallen only when it has been manipulated to "get" certain individuals, by governments out to discredit rivals. The attempt to frame VP Singh and his son in the St Kitts case comes to mind.

Investigative journalism is combustible journalism. It has to be handled with extra caution and extra care. In our country today, where politics has descended to the level of the gutter and no dirty trick is considered too dirty, journalists have a special responsibility not to let investigative journalism be misused. The temptations are enormous. There are so many people hanging in the corridors of power in Delhi, which includes cabinet ministers, always ready to provide special access, files, exclusive or privileged information. All the investigative journalist has to do is go back to his office and punch it in.

Unfortunately, this species is not investigative journalism, because the journalist has not done any real investigation himself; the material has been handed to him. If the reporter asks his

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