Investigative journalism is my biggest interest, and so I really enjoyed the lecture on Tuesday. I've always felt that investigative journalism, as well is being exciting, is an opportunity for a someone to change things or expose corruption.

The story of Veronica Guerin is frightening but inspiring. I can only imagine someone would put themselves in such danger if it was for something which they believed was more important than their own life. There aren't many jobs which give you the opportunity to play a part in something with that much weight.

I can't help wondering, what would I have done? I understand that death threats may be something a journalist has to get used to, but if the death threat came after being shot in the kneecaps, I'd probably think twice about going on to identify everyone involved. That took guts and I definitely think it's right that we have Veronica Guerin's picture up in the newsroom; it tells a heroic story and serves as both motivation to bring truth to the public and as a reminder that investigative journalism isn't a game.

Here are my lecture notes:
Investigative journalists:
Expose danger to the community
Expose miscarriages of justice
Expose corruption
Expose political manipulation

One of the things that makes investigative journalism special is the fact that it
is initiated by journalists themselves. Most journalism revolves around waiting for things to happen, then reporting them. Investigative journalism, however, means that journalists go off the agenda and make the news for themselves.

This news could include subject matter on a lightweight agenda, such as TV or entertainment. A lot of the more serious investigative journalism these days is financial. Examples include the exposure of ENRON (a 'good' company exposed as being corrupt by the Wall Street Journal), fraud and money laundering in Italy and Saudi links to terrorism. As Saudi Arabia is an influential ally of the West, it is difficult to persuade anyone to run a story on them.

One of the biggest coups of investigative journalism was Watergate. The Washington Post was able to show that President Nixon hired criminals to bug offices and steal information which could be used to discredit or blackmail political rivals. Here is The Washington Post's very own account of the scandal

Another notable moment came when The Mail accused five men of killing Stephen Lawrence after they had been acquitted in court. This was libel (defamation, identification, publication). But in order to sue   The Mail for libel, the men would have had to go back to court. The key thing is this: in a criminal case you have to be proven guilty beyond all reasonable doubt. But in libel (a civil case) you can lose on the balance of probability. This would have been too big a risk and so The Mail was safe.

Here, Chris mentioned the law of Double Jeopardy. It simply means that a person can't be charhed or tried more than once for the same crime.

We went on to look at the exciting world of subterfuge. This is going undercover and departing from the rule that you should introduce yourself as a journalist. Usually you can't print material gained by means of subterfuge, but if it is the only way to gain that information, and if that information is in the public interest, this rule is relaxed. Good examples of subterfuge are The Fake Sheikh and Searchlight Magazine

Note that getting information in this way without the aim of gaining specific information (in other words, just trying your luck) is called trawling. For broadcasting, permission is required from Ofcom and so trawling is not allowed. But in print journalism, permission is only required from your editor and so trawling is acceptable.

On the subject of recording, here are a few points of interest:

A recording which was made when the subject was aware that they were being recorded is as good as a witness statement/affidavit. 

It is illegal to use a recording device which is attached to a phone without the other party's knowledge,  but a separate device, such as an ear mic is legal as it doesn't count as bugging.

Where possible, use analogue recording devices. Digital recordings are easily manipulable and so are less reliable and unlikely to be accepted as evidence in court.

According to Les Hacks (

As that develops, freelance hacks' thoughts turn to the old question - can we record telephone conversations with interviewees, without letting them know we are doing it?
The short answer is - yes, it's okay. Though a lot of people don't know that.

Many journalists assert confidently that you must always get the interviewee's permission first. Wrong. They are generally quoting from an earlier law, no longer operative. Or thinking about the US, where in some states secret taping is a felony.
The key bit of law now is the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA). It says that it could be an offence to attach a recorder to the line to intercept a phone conversation. But only if you make some of the contents available to a third party. If it is for your own use, as a back-up to your notes, you don't have to inform the other person.
In any case, the offence is not criminal but a civil one. The aggrieved party would have to take a civil action against you.
And it is worth noting that the RIPA law covers only recordings made by a physical attachment to the telecommunication system. If you use a speakerphone and a ordinary mike, or an in-ear mike to make the recording, there is no offence.
Two further points:
* This is about recording calls that you are involved in. Recording calls between two other parties is definitely dodgy. That's spying or surveillance or something, not everyday journalism.
* Interception of a phone line for a recording is not prohibited if you have reasonable grounds for assuming the other party is outside the UK

More information:

Three targets of investigative journalism are:
Petro-Chemical Industry
Arms Industry
Pharmaceutical Industry

Mr Horrie advised to be suspicious of anyone who has their head office in Switzerland as they're most likely there for the banking secrecy. It's also worth noting that the more press officers a company employs, the more they have to hide.

More information on the legal side of covert recording (RIPA) can be found here.

A very good organisation and possible starting point for investigatory work is Transparency International

Finally, all the James Bond style gadgets you could ever want for this kind of thing can be found here. The legality of using of most of it is questionable (it's what you do with it that counts) and the products are beyond the means of most students, but it's worth looking at if only to see what kind of dirty tricks are available to anyone with a credit card.