Whatever Happened to Investigative Journalism?

There was a time when journalism in this country held a mirror up to the criminal justice system, and exposed its flaws. I thought it necessary to begin with that simple statement, because to those under 40 this is likely to be something of which they have no personal experience.   There was a time, decades ago, when we could look to the print and broadcast media for accurate, critical, reportage of what was being done in our name.   Truth was spoken unto power.
That many of the most egregious miscarriages of justice were recognised and – in some cases – corrected is due, in substantial part, to the principled, fearless journalism of the receding past.   There was Granada Television’s Who Bombed Birmingham? and the journalism of Chris Mullin on the Birmingham Six, and the journalism of Gavin Essler, Chris Mullin and David McKittrick on the Guildford Four.  Then there was the work of David Jessel with Rough Justice (BBC) and, later, Trial and Error (Channel 4), on numerous cases including the Bridgewater Four.  There was the journalism of Paul Foot in Private Eye on the Lockerbie fiasco, and, of course, there were the tireless efforts of Ludovic Kennedy, over many years, on such major injustices as Derek Bentley and Paddy Meehan.   These were shining examples of a type and standard of effective, important journalism that is now notable only by its absence.
This matters.   It matters because, in the absence of similar scrutiny by contemporary journalism, the vital protection that this work provided is being lost.  It matters because, in consequence, innocents are subjected to horrific, lifelong ordeals.  Some die.
In the five-year period 2014 – 2018 the Scottish High Court of Justiciary Criminal Appeal Court quashed 98 convictions arising from solemn (jury) trials.   Each was recognised, by the court, as a miscarriage of justice.   Statistics can, of course, be interpreted in different ways.  Some may see this as evidence of the efficient working of a safeguard against those instances of wrongful conviction that do, inevitably, arise.   If that is your view, then please consider this:  the figures, on any analysis, illustrate an alarming incidence of wrongful conviction.  And when you consider that, of these successful appeals, only four were on referral from the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission – a body whose very existence is due, in large measure, to the work of the aforesaid journalists – other interesting questions arise.   For it was in the cases that are now in the remit of the SCCRC, cases that had been unsuccessful at earlier appeals, that the benefit of the journalists’ work was keenly felt.   Their absence today is reflected in the pitiful, and diminishing, rate of correction of the most troubling injustices.
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