The reportorial schemes and media landscapes have constantly changed throughout generations. It’s not a product of lip service. It’s the internal plight of media itself trying to dynamically assert its worth and its social value. Watchdog journalism or accountability reporting is one of those increasing trends. By principle, it means thorough investigation of a crime, political corruption or corporate wrongdoing by freelance journalists, newspapers and wire services.
What then is the exclusive benefit that investigative journalism provides? And corollary to that, what are the inherent risks of this kind of journalism that makes it a non-mainstream choice?
The Threads of Investigative Journalism
The sound successes of investigative journalism in the past have earmarked the big door for watchdog journalism in the Philippine media industry. Indeed, it has catalyzed different development layers for reporters to take risks than going traditional, which is feeding shallow and sensational news each and every time.
The direction of journalism itself is crossed with confusions. But in this case, the only important juncture is the existence of those who don’t live with the shallow. Sometimes, the most interesting storylines are the stories behind stories, like exposes on sub-standard food supplements and underground state operations. This form of accountability reporting is the brand of journalism that the media industry deserves.
Investigative reporting is not easy. It entails a lot of repercussions that sometimes border extreme lines of interests. Journalists can face court trials, corporate allegations, lawsuits and many more. At the bottom line of the reality, it’s a big reputation compromise. It’s not about the public accolades and awards after. It’s about fighting for what the public deserves to know.
Inherently, investigative reporting is a strong tool to watchdog secretive operations by the state, corporations and different groups. Media has an important role in the process of embarking democracy a justice. And almost all institutions are afraid of the public eye. Given media’s capacity to dig further and expose these crimes, it has been intrinsically helpful in fueling transparency a chance for the government and other corporate institutions.
Investigative Reporting on Good Governance
According to Nieman Reports, there’s an increasing trend of secrecy that impedes public scrutiny, obscure process, avoid accountability, suppress dissent and concentrate power. And this is very likely in the context of abusing the confidentiality of “Official Use Only” documents, thus neutering the oversight capability of the public to scrutinize the state actions.
This is also likely in trials being closed to public scrutiny. Court trials on potentially dangerous products existing in the market, medical malpractices, age and race discriminations, etc. are things that the public deserves to know in the process. In not so doing, we alienate the public of their capacity to make informed choices because we only engage them in the eventualities of the discourse.
Institutional secrecy is the foundation of the need to investigate. In the context of governance, transparency is an important precondition in honing public trust. Since we empower democracy where informed choices are promised, it’s integral that the state will be the primary actor who will make such promise a reality. There’s a pact of engagement between the public and the state when the social denominations are the ones who will bear all the brunt of effects of such political decisions.
Investigative reporting is an asset to make good governance more possible. With freelance journalists and media companies working hand-in-hand with crime operation agencies, we can track down profoundly secretive operations that are working underground. We can force these institutions to be more transparent with their operations and we can also mitigate corruptions that are based on secretive engagements.
The Role of Media in Good Governance
What is the role of media in exposing these crimes and promoting good governance and informed choices?
Good governance, in and of itself, is the responsibility of everyone. We have to be self-regulatory as well as vigilant with what’s happening around. In this case, media is in an exclusively strategic position. It can enable informed choices out from its capability to tell both sides of a story, as well as expose those who constrain us from making rational choice through investigative journalism. For example, informed choice is hampered when people are deprived of background information about political candidates, party-based platforms or exposes about political turncoating or dynasties.
Secondly, media has been tying up with legitimate actors right now who are willing to promote informed choices. Indeed, advertisements always have public cautions and media companies sometimes tie up with the state. Given these overwhelming partnerships, these institutions can regulate each other most especially on how these institutions behave. They become each other’s strongest watchdog.
Thirdly, media are the strongest information channels of the state to reach out to its denominations. Indeed, investigative reporting can deal with electoral abuses, buying of votes, political butterflies, party-list systems and many more. Internally, elections, where future governance is at stake, is a sea of corrupt electoral practices. Thus, Investigative reporting enables us the chance to expose these malpractices and aid us in shaping an informed choice. When we constrain the possibilities of these corrupt electoral practices, we give public informed choices better by letting transparency work. And the media can do that in aid of public debates, social media discussions, making platforms more accessible and all other things.
Improving the Facets of Investigative Journalism
Of course, in the field of dynamic risks, the playing field has been heavily challenged. Some influential bodies think that media has gone too far on its processes of investigating, like wiretapping scandals and many more.
In public service, we have to defend the reasonable. And sometimes, but not all the time, the ends justify the means. But it doesn’t mean that in light of pursuing one’s goal, media can’t practice ethical standards with professional work. This is the reason why sanctions are given if justified. Let libel be a civil liability because we have to err on the side of caution. And if it does take surmounting risk to go through the extreme lines of defending who we wanted to defend, we should be willing to take that. After all, our discretions are reflections of who exactly are we defending. In the end, it’s all about balancing our responsibility towards the people, to our professions and to the state.
At the bottom of all these things, investigative journalism is necessary in pooling informed choices for the public. Given the people’s right to know on extreme ends of malpractices, we inadvertently give people the chance to know which institutions are transparent and which are not. That way, we aid informed choices by believing on people’s rationality to decide.
After all, we’re not in the position to border what information serves the public best. It’s the public choice that matters and we’re here to make that choice fully exercised by means of serving what is right.