VVOJ Conferentie 2004
Workshop: Hoe hou je onderzoeksjournalistiek geloofwaardig?
Sprekers: Stefan de Bouver (Koppen), Carel Kuyl (NOVA), Steve Bradshaw (BBC Panorama) en Nils Hanson (Uppdrag Granskning)
Voorzitter: Margo Smit (KRO Reporter)
Datum en tijd: Vrijdag 19 november, 11.30 – 12.20 uur
Margo Smit: Ik ga van Nederlands naar Engels, in the middle of the sentence, to make sure that we all understand. The discussion is in English. You can ask questions later on and there will be two walking microphones. I’m one, I’m going to be over there somewhere. Here is Luuk, Luuk is the other one. If you want to ask a question, please make sure that Luuk is close to you so that you can speak into the microphone. There’s a tape running in the back and we want to catch each and every one of you on tape, because we want to put it on the website after the conference so the people who made the bad choice of not being here can read what they missed out on. So, I have four guests here, two of whom you already know: Nils Hanson from Uppdrag Granskning, Steve Bradshaw from BBC Panorama. Then I have two new guests here at the table that I’m briefly going to introduce to you. Here we have mister Carel Kuyl. I have to tell all of you that if you want to be audible, you have to press the little button on your microphone and then you can speak into it and we’ll record every word you say and it will be used against you. Carel Kuyl is? Explain: who are you?
Carel Kuyl: I’m editor in chief of Nova, which is the daily current affairs program, 6 times a week of our third channel.
Margo Smit: How many people in the newsroom?
Carel Kuyl: We have, all by all we have sixty people of whom approximately 40 journalists and 20 supporting staff.
Margo Smit: How large would you say that the amount of investigative journalism is in the program?
Carel Kuyl: We have six reporters whom, their only task is investigative journalism.
Margo Smit: Full time?
Carel Kuyl: Full time.
Margo Smit: How many stories do they put out?
Carel Kuyl: Various, I wouldn’t dare to say. I try not to pressure them into the quantity of stories. In fact, they’re somewhat apart from the rest of the program to avoid the pressure, which comes easily in a daily routine. What are they doing all the time?
Margo Smit: Where are they? Have they gone off again?
Carel Kuyl: Yes, so I don’t know. And if I did I wouldn’t tell you.
Margo Smit: We may find out. Next to Carel is Stefan de Bouver, Stefan who are you?
Stefan De Bouver: I’m editor of ‘Koppen’. That’s a popular current affairs program on TV1 and we have about 15 journalists, the amount of investigative journalism is rather low. We have, I think 5 % of our output is investigative. Yeah, that’s about it.
Margo Smit: You broadcast two times a week?
Stefan De Bouver: Yes, Thursday and Tuesday.
Margo Smit: Is there anyone in the audience who watches ‘Koppen’ every now and then? And know that there are two people here who work for it. There are a few, but explain a little bit about the kind of stories that you do. Because we Dutch, we tend to watch the BBC and then we watch ourselves and that’s it.
Stefan De Bouver: Well the name ‘Koppen’, comes from Krantenkoppen in Dutch, so we bring the big stories of the newspapers. The headlines of the newspapers, these are the stories of ‘Koppen’. So things that interest the broad public, not for a very small audience but subjects that are relevant to a very big public.
Margo Smit: Do you take a special angle on the stories. Is it light? Is it…
Stefan De Bouver: Yes, we do, we do not tend to interview specialists, politicians. We bring the story from the angle of ordinary people. People who are involved in the stories themselves.
Margo Smit: So, if you do an investigative story, what kind of a story would that be? Give us an example.
Stefan De Bouver: What we did with ‘Koppen’ was the medicine Seroxet prescribed by a doctor for young people and we went to visit some doctors, with a candid camera to see how easy they prescribe Seroxet.
Margo Smit: Why did you use the candid camera?
Stefan De Bouver: We thought it was the only means to do that.
Margo Smit: Have you tried to get the story otherwise? Through other means?
Stefan De Bouver: No.
Margo Smit: Why not?
Stefan De Bouver: Because we think that the doctors would not be so frank to tell us the truth.
Margo Smit: And, did that prove to be true?
Stefan De Bouver: It proved to be true. Yes.
Margo Smit: Nils, you have an example of using a candid camera at your program last year, or two years ago. With the Swedish elections. Can you briefly tell us why you used the candid camera. What the story was?
Nils Hanson: This was the election in Sweden two years ago. And the idea was to investigate the politicians. They say they work on the immigrants, but how is it really? Are they really that positive when it comes to immigration? So two reporters went on a tour in Sweden and they met politicians who were politicians on the local level, for the elections of the local parliaments. And it was an interesting method because the reporter was provocative. He lead the discussions with politicians who were propagating in the central cities. And he went and talked to the politician and said to him: “All those immigrants, isn’t that bad?”
And then the politician started to talk about how he disliked this immigrants coming to our fine country. This was a…
Margo Smit: This was taped, right? With the candid camera?
Nils Hanson: Yes, taped with a candid camera. It caused reactions of course.
Margo Smit: Because you went back, right? The reporter went back to them officially, with the big camera on the shoulder. And then what happened?
Nils Hanson: Yes. That is an ethical guideline that we have, that if you use hidden or candid camera, you have to confront this material, this hidden recorded material to the target so that he can comment and explain. What happened was then, when the politicians saw themselves on candid camera, one of them said: “That’s not me”.
“Isn’t it you?” “No, that’s not me.” And of course, this… the problem with candid camera is that you get more discussion about journalistic methods rather than what you have uncovered. And I think that happened for us.
Margo Smit: Would it still, this method, would it still pass with the guidelines you’ve shown us before the break?
Nils Hanson: Yes, I think so, because in the guidelines we have, of course we have guidelines for hidden camera, and it can be used when you can not document a malpractice in any other way. It must be of general interest for the public. Of course, then also, you have to give this person a chance to explain everything. Yes, I think so.
Margo Smit: Stefan? Listening to Nils’s guidelines, do you think that your story would pass by those?
Stefan De Bouver: Ehm, I don’t think so.
Margo Smit: Why?
Stefan De Bouver: Because, we tend to tackle small topics and we also have an enormous…
Margo Smit: This medicine was not a small topic, was it?
Stefan De Bouver: No, but that was an exception.
Margo Smit: Steve did a story on the same… your program did a story on the same thing, right?
Stefan De Bouver: But what is important for ‘Koppen’ is that we have an enormous time-pressure. So we do not have the time to check it in that detail. That’s a problem.
Margo Smit: Wow that’s scary!
Stefan De Bouver: Yes.
Margo Smit: How many of you in the audience recognize that? I don’t have the time to check this? Do we? Don’t we all? We’ll talk about time in a little bit. Carel?
Carel Kuyl: You see, what Nils just said is very true. If you use a hidden camera, it always creates a discussion about the method instead of the story itself. It’s always: it’s taken out of context. If I’d known blablabla… It’s dishonest etc… Even if you confront, which I think is a very good guideline, to confront your subject with the material you shot before and give him a chance to comment, I’m very very reluctant. Only in the last resort. Because I don’t want that discussion. We’ve had it, and the instances we did it, it always created a discussion even if we asked the subjects for their comments later. And… one more thing I’d like to say about it. The way you present it always criminalizes your subject. Because it is, you know: “A hidden camera, something must be wrong…” And they feel.. that is at least how they feel and how they respond and how the public responds.
Margo Smit: Steve?
Steve Bradshaw: I just can say the BBC has, speaking from memory, the BBC has pretty much the same guidelines, with one major addition which is: no fishing trips.
Margo Smit: Explain.
Steve Bradshaw: No fishing trips means you need some kind of evidence of wrong doing or activity against the public interest before you apply for permission for secret filming, which we have to do in a very mannered and formal way. But first some evidence, please. You can’t just go out there and drop the bait and the line into a dark pool and wait to see if the fish arrives. We can’t do that. So the evidence has to be gathered, some kind of evidence has to be gathered first and then the rest of the guidelines kick in.
Margo Smit: I’m going to ask all three of you a question. If you have a question, please feel free to interrupt. I’ll walk over and …
Michel Robles: Good Morning, sorry I came late. My name is Michel Robles. I’m a free-lance journalist. Isn’t is so that the way you present your program to the audience is important? Which means that if you talk about the fact that you didn’t go for a fishing trip, if you talk about the previous evidence of wrong doing you have and then explain that that was the reason to use a candid camera, that would prevent the discussion that was talked about here?
Margo Smit: Whom are you posing the question to? All gentleman? Okay, I’ll start off with Steve because he mentioned the word fishing trip.
Steve Bradshaw: I thinks that’s true. I think the more you can explain why you’ve done something in a particular manner if it’s not the obvious one is a good idea. But my hunch would be that you might not want to reveal your source for the original evidence. If your source for that was willing to go on the record, why are you bothering to secretly film anyway? So, you may not want the original evidence known. It may have been one of those that just want their identities closed. You may not want to point your finger out to maybe a whistleblower that hasn’t come out in some way. So you may want to satisfy your editor with that information but don’t want it revealed to the public. But otherwise I got some sympathy for what you’re saying about just disclose the reason for doing it.
Carel Kuyl: Well, we have a respected colleague here, Jos van Dongen, who made a film. Maybe it’s interesting to hear him explain why he chose for a candid camera because it did create some discussion on child abuse in Brazil. You can explain it better yourself.
Margo Smit: I don’t want the discussion to be about candid camera’s though all the time, so… It’s … Nils?
Nils Hanson: We use candid camera very seldom. Maybe once a year. And we try to avoid fishing trips. Maybe this was a case of a fishing trip. But we do, as we always do, pre-study first. Than we decide which methods we use.
Margo Smit: Okay, I want to close off this little section with one question to Stefan. If you’re going to use it again, are you thinking of explaining to your audience why you will use a candid camera?
Stefan De Bouver: Yes, it’s a good idea. But I don’t know whether you have to do it always. I don’t know, I think we should do it more with ‘Koppen’ but we do it in a very short notice always. In this case of Seroxet we read on the website of BBC that they had a very fine report about that. And instead of checking and trying to ask doctors if they would talk about this frankly, we went immediately to record it with candid camera. I think we should ask doctors or people who we interview beforehand more about talking frankly about the subject.
Margo Smit: We have one convert already. Somebody has said, I’m going to do something differently after talking here today, so, we won you over. Good. I’m going to ask Carel, as we speak, one of your reporters is in court. Siem Eikelenboom. We hope he gets back here and he’s not being held hostage for whatever he did wrong or may not have done wrong but is trying to get it right. What was the most beautiful mistake your program made this year?
Carel Kuyl: It was not exactly beautiful. It was a story that didn’t originate in Nova, but we carried it and we shouldn’t have. It was a story that a Gay magazine and a popular weekly carried about the alleged homosexuality or pedophilia of a top executive of the Ministry of Justice.
Margo Smit: I think most of the people here saw it, I guess.
Carel Kuyl: But let me explain. We knew in advance that they would publish the story. We did some checking of our own. Some fact checking of our own. It was a children’s brothel, a boys’ brothel in the Czech Republic. We did some checking there. We checked their method. We asked them at length about the method they used. And to us it seemed a sound story. As far as we could tell at that time. They explained in detail how they went about it. Some checking confirmed the basics of the story. But you must realize it was organised crime we were dealing with. So, the checking, you know, had its limits. People were afraid, etc… It’s not exactly a story where a 16 of 14-year-old boy would go about and say “well of course, I’m a child prostitute and dadadada…”
We carried the story. We carried it under the flag of : that magazine will tomorrow-morning bring this story. We did it in a fair way. You know, both parties were asked for their comments. And we got into a rush that we shouldn’t have. We shouldn’t have done the story the day we did it. We should have done it maybe days later. To reflect on a story that… We were made part, we made ourselves part of a story that we were not part of, and later the story was half retreated by the two magazines. Not fully but, and it created some…
Margo Smit: Would you run a story like that again? No, of course not.
Carel Kuyl: Well, I would run the story if I would have the facts, if it would be our own story. I would have been more reluctant, you know, the red bells would have, should have started ringing when I knew the two magazines that we knew and they were not the most two reliable magazines in the world.
Margo Smit: You’re using a lot of ugly words. We should have, we could have. What have you done since then to make sure that you don’t get these beautiful mistakes again?
Carel Kuyl: Well, we talked about it at length in our program. And our conclusion was, we reflected on it. That’s the only thing you can do. And a….
Margo Smit: Is it?
Carel Kuyl: Well, you know, I heard Nils say: admit your own mistakes. We made a mistake, and we redressed the story later, on TV. You know, on the program. But, we shouldn’t have done it in the first place.
Margo Smit: Nils? Carel says, reflect on it is the only thing we can do. Do you agree with him?
Nils Hanson: The only thing we can do? Well, I think I appreciate it when he says that… You told your viewers about the mistake?
Carel Kuyl: We carried the story that the mistake was made. We talked about this twice.
Nils Hanson: You opened frankly about it.
Margo Smit: So, you did more than reflect on it. You admitted your mistake.
Carel Kuyl: Yes, but it was… To be honest, it was … we carried someone else’s lousy story and we shouldn’t have done so. We can say, well it was their mistake.
Margo Smit: What did you learn from it?
Carel Kuyl: We learned not to rely, as we did, on a story with that impact, because it did have an enormous impact. And I can go at length about how we were very careful etc. etc. But in the end, the result was lousy.
Margo Smit: Have you put mechanisms in place to make sure that something like this does not happen anymore?
Carel Kuyl: Well we had some serious discussions with the daily editors of our show. And you have some kind of protocol and that’s it.
Margo Smit: Some kind of protocol, can you be more specific?
Carel Kuyl: Well you know, the rules, the guidelines Nils has pointed out this morning. They are not daily practice but we try to employ them somewhat stricter since some time.
Margo Smit: Send all your personnel here next time so they’ll make it their daily practice.
Nils Hanson: Why did these magazines.. did they want to use your credibility?
Carel Kuyl: They wanted to… no, it is more complicated than that. That was also the case, but also, there were a lot of journalists working on the same story. The rumours about that person, or the stories about that person were widely spread, there were some questions, it is whole mixture of… We had brought a related story which was correct and which got us acclaim. So we were a natural partner for those two magazines. And of course, they wanted to use the status of our program to improve their own status. We realised that before, though.
Margo Smit: Stefan? At your program, what would you call was your most beautiful mistake of last season?
Stefan De Bouver: Well, I think it was this Seroxet story. We also interviewed in the program a famous Belgian doctor, not candid but openly, to give some context about this story. And he confirmed what was happening, that doctors prescribed it too often. But he also gave some other remarks that weakened the story a bit. And we showed only the remarks that gave the story more body. So I think it was also a question of time pressure. We had to bring that story that night. And this doctor has had some problems with his Order of Medicine.
Margo Smit: Nils, does that sound familiar to you?
Nils Hanson: Yes, really. I mean, that is something that we should talk a lot more about. This problem, when it is time to verify our story and are not interested in anything else.
Margo Smit: Steve, Nils was talking about a line by line editing. Do you do that at ‘Panorama’?
Nils Hanson: Not in such a formal way. I mean first of all I’m always working with a producer and not alone. All the time we go along: how do you know that, can we be sure, so it is very much a part of the constant process of program making. It would vary from one program to another. I mean, with the last one, I noticed that both my assistant producers were not that busy in the last week. And I said to them, here’s a script, go and tear it apart and find if there are any errors in it for me. They came up with a couple of things that could be better phrased, I think.
Margo Smit: No facts that…
Steve Bradshaw: No, I mean by the time you’ve got down to the… you know if you’re going to 20, 30, 40 as I say major drafts of the script, by the end you’ve sort of gone through that. If it is a really major investigation. The original Seroxet stories are the kinds I guess we’re talking about here, rather than every Panorama. That would go through line by line, crucially with a lawyer and the lawyer would be saying, would occasionally say: “Look, you know, I take it on trust that this is a fact. What I can do is I can assume you got your facts right. I can give you some advice about whether you’re likely to be sued and if so what will happen.” But the lawyer would assume you got your facts rights. But occasionally, being a sharp lawyer, he would say: ‘are you absolutely sure on this one?”
Margo Smit: Is it a conscious choice to be working in teams?
Steve Bradshaw: Yes, it’s part of the BBC project really that it’s a… you know, the BBC is legally bound to be impartial, which is sometimes quite hard to square with investigative journalism. Especially when I’m talking about some of the prime subjects as I’ve been trying to. One way of doing is that because the BBC tends to get people especially to work in.. certainly in a pair. Where you are constantly questioning each other as you go along. We have very strict libel laws and the factual defence isn’t always adequate. It’s the general impression that you create. And I think of our problems, the less one is the fact checking which you know is just no to make mistakes. But there are problems of fair dealing and interpretation that can end up in the courts and those are the big things for us.
Margo Smit: There are quite a few… I’ll come to you, but I want to ask a question, one question first. Quite a few editors here in the audience that work at newspapers. Because I know from television, I don’t know if it is true for all your programs, but often people work in teams. But Bart van Eldert, he works for Utrecht Nieuwsblad. You send out your reporters in teams? Can you afford to send out your reporters in teams, because it takes up quite a bit of manpower away from the daily news?
Bart van Eldert: Well, at TV you have hidden cameras. I use hidden reporters, because I can’t afford to send them out in teams when I do. So I don’t tell everybody.
Margo Smit: Whom are you not suppose to tell that?
Bart van Eldert: My boss.
Margo Smit: And the other reporters on the newsfloor as well?
Bart van Eldert: We are a daily newspaper, a regional newspaper. So we have a lot of copy to make every day. When it gets to a tougher story, we try to work with a couple.
Margo Smit: So what is your rationale for doing that? The same as Steve says?
Bart van Eldert: It’s better work, you get more descriptions. When you talk about the story at the newspaper, you have reporters who are discussing about sources and discussions about documents. So I think the result is better.
Margo Smit: Can you afford it, Stefan? To send out reporters in teams?
Stefan De Bouver: No, no, in fact not.
Margo Smit: Do you have an other way of making sure that the facts are correct?
Stefan De Bouver: No, the only way we have is the fact that we have to rely on our journalist, and be sure that he has checked the facts. But he’s the only person who can do that. And we can not afford to bring into that work more journalists to check the same facts.
Margo Smit: Nils, do you have a tip for Stefan, how he can come to the point where he gets some help in making sure his reporters have the facts right?
Nils Hanson: Yes, I think that a solution could be that reporters help each other. They act like a devil’s advocate against each other. And both can gain, because next time the other reporter helps. So I mean, that’s the way we worked when I worked for a newspaper where the editors didn’t have time or were not interested in doing line by lining and fact checking. Then we did it ourselves. But it is very hard to do this examination yourself. You have to have someone else to go through the script. So let the reporters coach each other.
Margo Smit: I have a question here by Jos Van Dongen.
Jos van Dongen: I agree with what Steve said. It’s very good to work in teams, especially to question each other. But also the editor could be a teammate as well of course, what you do with your guidelines. But I have a question about libel laws, who are in England quite strict. That is why you always have a lawyer on each program you produce and broadcast. In the Netherlands we don’t have, I don’t know the situation in Belgium, but in the Netherlands, our libel laws are not that strict. Wouldn’t it be better, I don’t know, does it help in England that you have better programs, better journalists, better fact checking etc… Could it be a step forward for the Netherlands?
Steve Bradshaw: Well, first there is one rule for the BBC and one for everybody else and that includes television. So I think it’s unwise to generalise about the British media. You know, there are some parts of which I don’t recognize really as journalism.
Margo Smit: Whoops.
Steve Bradshaw: Yes. You know, sometimes we think there’s one law for the BBC and one for ‘Panorama’, but I shouldn’t really say that. Especially these days. No, we are… because we are so exposed we assume that we are going to get torn apart. We just assume it. I mean some programs are less controversial. And it’s a hard decision with the editors whether to bring in a lawyer. It’s not always the case. But that is our call, whether to bring in a lawyer. You heard the point bring in the editor as a member of the team. The poor bastard is so busy, it’s really quite difficult to get at him. And when people are constantly battering on the editor’s door saying, you know, can we have a script conference… The guy just doesn’t have the time. With an average investigative film, you probably get three or four viewings with the editor. And a lot more private ones. But I think you just got to accept, certainly in Britain, we’re at one end of the spectrum.
One thing I would like to add to this, that you could be in danger of getting obsessed with factual accuracy at the expense of clarity. I mean sometimes when you are trying to compress and simplify, particularly for television, you can have sort of defensive, people being defensive and trying to put in so many details about the statistics and the qualifications in order to defend themselves, that the damn thing no longer has any meaning. And I think that’s where the dangers creep in. It’s not so much being slipshod and careless, but trying to compress and clarify.
Margo Smit: That’s where good writing comes in.
Steve Bradshaw: Yes, but very often it’s not immediately obvious exactly what the right form of words, never obvious perhaps exactly what the right form of words is, when you try to compress or clarify something.
Margo Smit: So the lawyer should never have the last say.
Steve Bradshaw: Nobody gets the last say at ‘Panorama’, it’s a team. Lawyers certainly not get the last say. It’s a team effort, you arrive at a kind of consensus, it’s a bit of a luxury but I think it works.
Carel Kuyl: What you see in Holland is contrary to what Jos suspects, it’s not the factual libel laws that are not as strict as they are in England probably. But what we see in our program is that more and more people are willing to take Nova or any other journalists program in Holland to court. And that is something of the last few years. They feel that they are not represented well, etc… There are a lot of lawyers willing to do so. And in a lot of instances, Siem is there this morning, with a lot of money behind them and a willingness to take us to court for years at an end.
Margo Smit: Does that prevent you from doing certain stories?
Carel Kuyl: No.
Margo Smit: Of course not. But?
Carel Kuyl: Not us. Of course, I mean it is… we have to, if we are sued for 200.000, 300.000 euros we will have to make some provision in our budget.
Margo Smit: Is there one? Are you insured against this?
Carel Kuyl: Well yes, but I have to convince my superiors that it is an important story. And until now it hasn’t been a problem. But it cán become a problem. Yes, of course. If budgets are cut in the way that they are cut now, it will become an increasing problem, yes.
Margo Smit: Stefan?
Stefan De Bouver: Well, what we notice, speaking about lawyers, is that when someone… when a company threatens to bring us to court, that our lawyers always take the… never take the side of the program. They always defend the company and they do not want to take the risk to get sued.
Margo Smit: So your own lawyer does not want to?
Stefan De Bouver: No.
Margo Smit: Get a different lawyer! Carel can give you the name of the guy who’s in court at the moment with Siem Eikelenboom. That’s strange…
Nils Hanson: We don’t have that experience with our lawyers. I mean we hire a lawyer to defend … but they may be the devil’s advocate. But so far they are quite supportive. And are… to be honest, our board is being quite supportive. But I see what’s happening to public broadcasting, all over Europe and in Holland at a tremendous speed. That’s worrying and that’s worrying for the position we take in as a program.
Margo Smit: I will ask Luuk to go over to the back to Guido Muelenaer, deputy editor in chief of a Belgian Magazine ‘Trends’. You, the publisher of your magazine, has a fulltime lawyer or a fulltime juror in the company. What does he do for your magazine that might help prevent making mistakes?
Guido Muelenaer: We have in the company a lawyer who does not work only for us, of course, he works for the whole company and does all the work. But we can always send and discuss text with him. And it’s also a very interesting work, because he’s very loyal to the journalists. So, he goes…
Margo Smit: There you go, Stefan.
Guido Muelenaer: He really goes this line by line editing. We really do this in very dangerous articles where we know that we can get sued. I have done several articles together with him and have never been deceived. On the contrary, he really gives suggestions of … you can say the same thing but say it a little bit different. It’s the same thing, but if in court you will have no problem.
Margo Smit: Is it only because it is a large publisher that you can afford to have an in-house juror like that?
Guido Muelenaer: Yes, it’s a large publisher. We have several magazines, so… Otherwise if you are a small publication, of course you cannot afford to have a lawyer in-house.
Margo Smit: Nils, for all of us who cannot afford our own in-house lawyer. Do you have a tip for us, you know, your line-by-line editing is part of this. Can you explain, give a brief example how that happens, how you go about it. Give an example of a story that was recently broadcasted and how the line-by-line editing may have changed the output.
Nils Hanson: We had a situation in Sweden: the law in Sweden is very generous to us. We often hear a target say: See you in court. Then the target goes to his solicitor and the solicitor says: No. No chance. But we have a regulating government, regulating us and almost every program we broadcast will be reported to this government and they will examine our programs in detail. So they do line-by-lining. So that is really a major reason for us also to do line-by-lining. And I mean if you do this kind of journalism, you have to do line-by-lining. If you cannot afford, don’t have time or interest in it, then you should avoid investigative journalism. Because if you don’t do it, you will very soon be a former investigative reporter.
Margo Smit: But that would mean that Stefan’s program could probably not do it. Because you’re not such a rich program, right?
Stefan De Bouver: We are not a very rich public network, so we have… we can only tackle investigative journalism when it goes about small subjects that do not take a lot of time and with just one journalist.
Nils Hanson: But you have to plan, I mean you do a plan for an investigative project, you must put in line-by-lining in that planning. I mean it is more important than anything else. So you cannot say you don’t have time. You must have time for it.
Stefan De Bouver: I’m aware.
Margo Smit: Non of us can say we don’t have anymore, right?
Steve Bradshaw: A lot of curious things happened in British law recently, which you may or may not be aware of. It’s called the Reynold’s case. When Alan Reynolds sued the Times for libel. And the the appeals court or the high court. But anyway the courts found in favour of the Times even though the facts were wrong, because they found that, this is now known as the Reynolds precedent, that if you genuinely tried to discover the facts, believed at the time that you’re acting in good faith, it was a matter of public interest.
I think in this case with a public figure it would necessarily be so that you tried to give them a fair opportunity for response that was found not to be libel even though you actually got your facts wrong. This completely astonished everybody and obviously lawyers and editors are now terrified that every sloppy investigative journalist will plead a Reynolds defence even before they’ve begun. And it may well be that it will never be repeated in the courts again because certainly some of the law lords are opposed to it. But none the less, for a bunch of journalists in Britain who are used to the courts being somewhat hostile to them, this was a fairly amazing precedent.
Peter Verwey: I want to go back a little bit from the legal aspects, and a little more to the procedures. If you use the word facts, it conveys the idea that a fact is something like hard evidence. But a fact is produced, it is based on concensus and sometimes facts are heavily discussed and debated. For example, a number of my students are now working on asylum cases. And the central bureau for statistics give some figures about the number of asylum seekers that has been sent away by the government. This seems to be an official figure. But if you look into this figure, there is a lot of discussion about it whether this is actually the number of asylum seekers that has been sent away. Well the problem is then, how do you continue with that story?
Margo Smit: Whom could I put the question to? Carel, how would you advise your reporters to deal with something like this.
Carel Kuyl: Well, the only thing you can do is check, double check, and double check to see if the facts that you present are right. But I agree there is… in any facts you can be liable to statistics. In the end it is also the last resort, the last resort is what you believe as a journalist. After you have done all you can do to sustain your story, there is some element of belief. Is it what you think it is? So, I mean, the only thing you can do is double check until you’re cross-eyed and then you have to carry the story or you don’t if you don’t believe in it.
Margo Smit: I work for the catholic radio organization so I can deal with the word belief, but I guess a lot of journalists don’t know what… you know, isn’t that rather the shaky ground that Steve was mentioning at some point? ‘I believe my story is right.’ I would not want to be the editor in chief who runs a story on that.
Carel Kuyl: I was saying it is the last resort, your last step is always something… because you can check till the story, till every story has disappeared. There are always so many sides to a story. If you want to tell a story, you will leave out anyone, anyone will leave out certain things and you will tell the story you think is true. But after you have done your utmost to check it.
Margo Smit: Guido.
Guido Muelenaer: I wanted to comment on what Steve Bradshaw said. In Belgium also for journalists it’s important to try to get the facts right. And I stress try. And if you go to court, they will always check if you have done everything to check the facts. Even if the fact is wrong after proven wrong. If you can prove that you have done everything to find out the truth, it’s okay, you have no problem. And I think it’s very important. Because we’re not scientists, to… You can do a lot of things, only you have to do as much to check everything. If you have done it, you have done your job and you are safe.
Margo Smit: I have one more controversial thing that Nils put on his wish list for us improving our methods. This is something for TV-people but maybe for newspaper-people as well. You said, Nils, publish your unedited interviews on the website. I’m going to walk over to Jos. Jos is a television reporter. Would you publish your unedited interview on the website?
Jos van Dongen: I think the question is what Nils said in the beginning. We are thínking of doing it… and then once you think okay this is an interview I can broadcast in full, then you start doing it. I think we all made interviews when you stop and talk to the one you interview and then you start again. You say hey, let’s do it in a different way. It’s… Jesus I don’t know. Nova did it. Didn’t you publish interviews that Siem did with the Imam who spoke out? The program had a lot of discussion afterwards because you didn’t edit the interview and you put the interview yourself on the Internet? I don’t know whether I recall it correctly…
Carel Kuyl: Let me explain. Some years ago we did some stories about radicalism in mosques, in Dutch mosques. We were persecuted for it by everyone in Holland to do so. Because we were waging an anti-Islam campaign. Which was not the case. And of course we secretly recorded sermons in mosques. Those were quite radical, and were saying things about homosexuality, the position of women, etc… And of course those sermons, they last two or three hours, and we edited pieces.
Well what happened? When we edited the first story, there was of course the discussion: it is taken out of context, it was quite unlike it, and yes we did say it but we also said tatata… So we decided to put the whole story on the Internet so that everyone could check for himself what the sermon was like. But again there is always, if you do so, so I’m not sure, if you do so you will always create a discussion of what you used and what you left out. Of course Internet is not our primary medium at this point. So people think it’s less, of course you can put in on Internet, but the main thing is what you put in your television show. So it creates always an enormous discussion of what you leave out.
Margo Smit: I’m going to ask my own boss, he’s in the back here. Marc Josten. Would you put my interviews, all the tapes, all of them, on the Internet?
Marc Josten: I would prefer yes. I think there’s one thing that prevents you against all kind of mistakes and that is openness. Extreme openness. And that is the reason why you have to put all and everything on the Internet.
Margo Smit: Will you start now? For this series of programs?
Marc Josten: We are very busy. And if someone of you ever watched the Reporter internet site, you can see already the beginning of a total openness with all details about editors, all details about the interviews etc, etc. It’s only the beginning, but we’re going to do that.
Margo Smit: I’ll have to watch my language then when I’m interviewing. I’m going to end up with Steve.
Jos van Dongen: With that you give all the evidence to the lawyer who probably will try to sue you in court.
Marc Josten: I don’t think so. This lawyer has a lot more arguments if you don’t publish the whole thing. This is a way of making yourself responsible. The lawyer can never tell you you’re hiding something. We’re hiding nothing.
Margo Smit: To end on a happy note. Steve, would you? Would you put your interviews…?
Steve Bradshaw: I used to have two transcript prints of interviews hanging on my wall, and this is the reason why I would not. One was, we have all our interviews transcribed for our own purposes anyway, so we can edit from it. And one interview went:
Steve Bradshaw: “Mr. Jenkins why are you lying to the public about your profit figures?”
And then said Interviewee: “But I’m not Mr. Jenkins.”
And the other one. In that interview I proceed to persecute this man until you get right to the bottom line of the paper, and all he says is Ehm and Euh and Ehm and Euh. All of it carefully transcribed. And then, at the bottom of the page its says Interviewee: “I have a speech defect.”
So the answer is: edit. We do, we have two kinds of sister-programs, ‘Frontline’ in Australia and the other is ‘Four Corners’ in America. They do put their transcripts on the website and certainly when I had done a co-production with Frontline, they said: Can we publish the transcripts.
We don’t want discussion about how sometimes we’ve edited things quite hard. We have to edit down just to get the damn thing in the program because of time. But to what extent we want discussions about all of that, I just don’t know. But I think we certainly need to think about it, yes.
Margo Smit: Stefan, would you put the interviews of your people, there are a few in here, Wim and An. Would you let him publish your interview on…
An Berger: I think openness is something really good, maybe everybody should be able to put his interview on the Internet, okay. But then there is the other side. You do an interview of for example two hours and you need to make a report of about 5 minutes. So you always take the things that are most important to you. But if there are people who are hurt, you know, because you discovered something against them or whatever, they will always catch you on the things you didn’t tell. It is very difficult, you have to be sure about yourself I think, as a journalist that the story I’m telling is a true story.
Margo Smit: I noted Henk Blanken somewhere in the audience. Where are you Henk? I don’t see you. I’ll come over to you because he works for a newspaper and I want to hear the newspaper angle on this before we close up. This is my last question. Would you put the notes, the unedited notes of one of your reporters on your website. Would you?
Henk Blanken: I really don’t have a clue. I think it’s not very accepted by our reporters, by any writing journalist, to publish their notes on the Internet.
Margo Smit: So that would make us television and radio journalists more open than newspaper journalists, when we would do it.
Henk Blanken: Yes, maybe. Maybe.
Margo Smit: Do we have to be, maybe?
Henk Blanken: I’m not so sure. What I know is that… I’m not sure, I’m really not sure.
Margo Smit: Are you going to think about it?
Henk Blanken: Definitely, yes.
Margo Smit: Let us know next year if you’ve come to a conclusion. I have one final quote that I want to throw at you because you are all working for public television. John Lloyd who writes for the Financial Times wrote a story this early spring when he was writing a comment on the Gilligan affair and he made a plea for slow journalism. And he said: “Public television is the last resort of objective journalism but it is increasingly endangered.” Can you all comment on whether you feel this is true for the country that you represent here? Stefan.
Stefan De Bouver: I think it’s true. I work for a, also for a public television and in Belgium politics, politicians have ordered that the news programs of the VRT have to reach 1,5 million viewers each day.
Margo Smit: Wow, how many Belgian’s are there?
Stefan De Bouver: We work for the Flemish part of Belgium.
Margo Smit: How many Flemish are there?
Stefan De Bouver: Six million viewers. Six million people in Flanders. And that creates a lot of pressure on that news service. So you have to make your programs popular. And I don’t know, I’m not sure whether you can make popular programs with that kind of in depth journalism. We tend to make broad programs for a very broad audience to make sure that we reach that target.
Margo Smit: So you may offer up some of the digging to reaching a lot of people. Carel, do you think it goes together? Digging deep and attracting a large audience?
Carel Kuyl: Yes, it could, but it is not necessary. And I think…
Margo Smit: But it is necessary for him because he needs the….
Carel Kuyl: Yes, but I think, this is one of the grave dangers, so I support what you quote absolutely. Because public broadcasting shouldn’t be primarily about ratings. Of course we should attract an audience. But it is the context in which television works. I mean newspapers and the audio-visual media can not very well be compared in this respect.
But I believe all over Europe and especially in Holland, public broadcasting is in great danger to become marginalized. We constantly have to have our bosses to reaffirm their support of what we do. And it is not something that comes very natural. Look at your own organisation. They have more affinity with what you call “verkondigende programma’s”. Programs that are about their mission in stead of their journalistic target. We have a discussion about ‘should we have in Holland a left wing, a Christian and a right wing news-program?’ Which is… it’s something of the nineteenth century. It is not something we can work with or should work with. And financially and in terms of content, we are in a crisis. Public broadcasting is in a crisis and as a result our news- and current affairs shows are in a crisis.
Margo Smit: Steve and Nils, very briefly, how is it for you?
Steve Bradshaw: I think that was one of the few things that John Lloyd has said recently that I do agree with. There was a front-page piece in the Guardian recently. A leak of a BBC “creative memo memorandum”. Which said that our program needed some restaffing with a new bunch of people and should be less difficult, less demanding and less didactic. Or at least said that that is what a lot of people wanted. Which we all found extremely dispiriting. It has since been disowned by some BBC-executives to some extend, but not entirely.
So, you know, we do have grave concerns. We don’t want to go down the route that much public broadcasting has gone done in the States of being worthy and marginalized. So we have to go on being provocative. My own concern is that we don’t allow investigative journalism to be gettho-ised or marginalized. That it’s got to be journalism about things that really matter to people’s lives. And it’s got to be about power and we must not marginalize ourselves. And I think if we can carry on doing that, then we can win true. But sure, I think it is under serious treat. But I think the BBC probably less so than public broadcasting in many other cases.
Margo Smit: Nils?
Nils Hanson: A year ago I worked for TV4, a commercial independent channel. And we were investigating all the time. And in fact TV4 has a program for this kind of journalism. It’s called “Kalla fakta”, cold facts. And it’s a very good program. And now the less serious channel TV3 has started out with an investigative program too. It’s a question of trustworthyness. I mean all media-companies are living on that. And this is something that the channel is benefiting from. The advertisers are interested in paying money for advertisements in TV-stations, commercials in TV-stations that are trustworthy. So I see other signs in Sweden when it comes to the commercial side.
Margo Smit: So we have to take it into our own hands. We can help in not being marginalized.
Nils Hanson: Yes, we can help the owners make money.
Margo Smit: I have to, I’m sorry, I have to close this up. But all of these four people are going to be around for quite a while. Nils and Steve are going to be at the dinner tonight, so any questions you have, please ask them.