How far do we go back to find examples of investigations of injustice or the abuse of power?
Maybe Roger Casement’s revelations on the horrors of King Leopold’s Congo, or the abuses of Peruvian Indians were heroic examples for which he received a Knighthood, even if later, his support for Irish independence earned him the noose.
Watergate was clearly not the first time that investigative journalism fired the public imagination, but it must be a high point, at least in the US, for the power of the principled and relentless pursuit of the truth by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.
And then I call to mind the great days of the Sunday Times’ ‘Insight’ team that conducted many investigations. I recall the brilliant Brian Deer, who wrote for The Times and Sunday Times, and revealed the story behind Wakefield’s fake science on MMR, even while other journalists were shamelessly helping to propagate the discredited non-science.
But those days seem long ago now.
Today, you are just as likely to find The Times, The Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and Spectator – desperate to satisfy their ageing and conservative readership, or in need of clickbait advertising revenue – to regurgitate bullshit, including the anti-expert nonsense that fills the blogosphere. This nonsense has been called out many times, such as in Climate Feedback.
Despite Michael Gove’s assertion that “Britain has had enough with experts” the IPSOS More Veracity Index of 2016 suggests differently – It appears that nurses, doctors, lawyers and scientists are in the upper quartile of trust, whereas journalists, estate agents and politicians lurk in the lower quartile.
No wonder the right-wingers who own or write for the organs of conservatism are so keen to attack those in the upper quartile, and claim there is a crisis of trust. This is displacement activity by politicians and journalists: claiming that there is a crisis of trust with others to deflect it from themselves. The public are not fooled.
It is a deeply cynical and pernicious to play the game of undermining evidence and institutions.
As Hannah Arendt said in The Origins of Totalitarianism:
“The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.”
But investigative journalism is not dead.
In Russia there are many brave journalists who expose corruption and the abuse of power, and they have paid with their lives: 165 murdered since 1993, with about 50% of these since Putin came to power. He didn’t start the killing, but then, he didn’t stop it either.
The nexus of political, business and mafia-style corruption makes it easy from the leadership to shrug off responsibility.
And so we come to Malta, where the same nexus exists. Daphne Caruana Galizia has been exposing corruption for so long, there were no shortage of enemies, including the politicians and police that failed to protect her. Her assassination is a scar on Malta that will take a long time to heal.
The EU has produced anodyne reports on partnership with Malta and programmes continue despite a breakdown in the rule of law and governance, that have provided a haven for nepotism and racketeering. Is Malta really so different to Russia in this regard?
Is the EU able to defend the principles it espouses, and sanction those who fail to live up to them?
The purveyors of false news detest brave investigative journalists as much as they love to attack those like scientists who present evidence that challenges their interests. Strong institutions are needed to defend society against these attacks.
Remainers like myself defend the EU on many counts, but we also expect leadership when that is needed, not merely the wringing of hands.
(c) Richard W. Erskine, 2017.