'We have to convince news organisations that there is more to journalism than profits and share price'

By Caitlin Pike

Investigative journalism is struggling and “old-fashioned” foreign
reporting is dead, according to renowned war and espionage reporter
Phillip Knightley.

Speaking at the City Universityhosted International Consortium of
Investigative Journalists’ conference, Knightley blamed pressure from
corporations, including those that own newspapers and television
stations; libel laws; and journalists themselves for weakening today’s
media. He claimed the industry is lacking “a curious, sceptical army of
campaigning journalists” to keep democracies, their leaders and
powerful corporations in line.

Accountants now run the media,
according to Knightley, slashing newsgathering budgets, closing bureaux
and cutting editorial staff. He compared present-day newspapers to the
“golden age” – specifically The Sunday Times under Harold Evans, where
he worked and played a key role in its exposure of the Thalidomide
scandal. “It spent money like water on investigative journalism,” he
said.

Knightley claimed journalists had since been seduced away from hardline foreign and investigative reporting.

“Journalists
who should have been up in arms about the downgrading of foreign news
were seduced. Some became highly-paid columnists, celebrities in their
own right, pushing their opinions rather than gathering the facts. Or
writers about lifestyle, relationships, gossip, travel, beauty,
fashion, gardening and do-it-yourself which, although sometimes
interesting in themselves, can hardly compare in importance with
examining the human condition at the beginning of the 21st century,
which is what serious journalists try to do.”

Knightley said that
defamation damages have a knock-on effect in the way they inhibit
investigative reporting. He also cited intimidation tactics employed by
corporations to put journalists off stories as another threat to the
genre.

However, Knightley ended his speech, titled “Fifty years
in Fleet Street” to celebrate his 50th year working as a reporter, on
an optimistic note: “Investigative journalism is not dead yet. We have
to convince news organisations that there is more to journalism than
profits and share price, that slick accountancy, cost cutting and
spending money on promotion are not going to win an editor or a
proprietor a place in the history books. We need a public interest in
all legal actions brought against the media.”

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