Expose revives media's investigative reputation

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The Independent Online
JThe conviction of a corrupt police officer is a notable and increasingly rare scalp for investigative journalism.

It took a three-strong BBC Panorama team six months of secret recording and researching to successfully nail corrupt policeman John Donald and his paymaster, Kevin Cressey. This scale of deployment is almost unheard of in modern newspaper journalism and all but a fraction of television investigations.

Editors lack the resources to spend weeks, let alone months, investigating a story which may or may not produce a result.

They are also increasingly worried about the hefty legal costs usually attached to accusing anyone of wrongdoing.

The massive clean-out of corrupt Scotland Yard officers in the 1970s began with allegations about officers first published in the Times in 1969. It was about this time that the Sunday Times "Insight" team was exposing the thalidomide scandal.

Investigative journalism became glamorous in the Seventies, largely due to Bernstein and Woodward's Watergate revelations, which eventually brought down President Nixon, as dramatised in the hit movie All the President's Men.

But since then newspaper owners have increasingly put profit before content. There have been newspaper successes, such as the exposes on the supergun sale to Iraq and the recent furore over cash for questions in Parliament.

A small group of television documentary makers has now taken up the inquistors' mantle.

Some investigative reporters, such as Roger Cook, have become celebrities, and programmes like World In Action, Channel 4's Dispatches, BBC's Rough Justice and Panorama are still prepared to spend their time on lengthy inquiries.

However, most so-called "exposes" are often little more than newspaper cuttings set to film. Poorly-paid researchers employed by an ever-increasing number of television channels and companies are expected to churn out cheap and cheerful "documentaries".

These programmes rarely involve any detailed or new research and the only people bought to book are usually small-time criminals.

The other new development is the crime re-enactment programme like the BBC's Crimewatch, which, though successful at helping to catch villains, involve almost no investigative journalism. Such programmes are basically glorified police billboards.