The story, a classic scoop of the type seldom found on TV news programmes, came as a result of good old-fashioned journalistic research. At ITN, the editorial team decided that the original account of the shooting didn't ring true so they decided to stay with the story. They first got a hint of their exclusive two days before they broadcast it, but they only got the leaked Independent Police Complaints Commission documents the day before. Nervous that the Met or Home Office might try to injunct them, ITN only told the police what they had at the very last moment.
The story was the sort of scoop normally only found in the newspapers or in current-affairs programmes. One criticism that can be made of both TV and radio news programmes over the years is that they don't break enough original, exclusive stories, and instead rely too much on diary-based stories. In this case, ITV News's investigations resulted in a scoop that, after the broadcast on the ITV Evening News, made headlines everywhere.
The strangest reaction came three and a half hours later, from the Ten O'Clock News team on the BBC who, unlike Sky News, not only failed to mention that it was an ITV exclusive but turned the story on its head in a desperate attempt to make it look as though it hadn't been scooped. Instead of leading on the content of the leaked documents, the BBC ran a story about the fact that the documents had been leaked and how this had outraged people.
Given the importance of the real story, this was hardly in the best interests of the audience, as most of those watching were hearing about the story for the first time. This was a pathetic case of sour grapes from BBC News, and someone on high should ensure that whoever took this decision understands that it was a very serious mistake. BBC News's first responsibility must be to its audience, not to pretending that ITV News hasn't got a major scoop.
AS ON SO many similar occasions, the importance of the story was not what actually happened but the attempted cover-up after the event. It wasn't that the police shot a man by mistake in exceptional circumstances - arguably, they could be forgiven for that - but that instead of coming clean, they tried to cover up the facts. All sorts of stories emerged about De Menezes running away, leaping barriers and wearing clothes that made him look like a suicide bomber, all of which we now know to be untrue, thanks to ITV News. At the very least, the Met did nothing to put the record straight when these stories were published, and there has to be a suspicion that journalists were wrongly briefed by police sources.
What the story showed most of all was the importance of good journalism to a national TV channel. After terrible headlines all summer, which had led some to believe that ITV's decline was terminal, suddenly it was setting the news agenda. This isn't necessarily good news for the people at the top of ITV who have threatened to take the ITV News contract away from ITN and, after 2012, drop news from ITV's schedule altogether. Maybe last week's exclusive will help them understand that commercial broadcasting isn't only about cutting costs and boosting ad revenue, it is also about making an impact.