By Jamie Thunder
Thursday’s House of Lords Communications Committee report does not solve the question of how to fund investigative journalism. But then, no-one really expected it to.
It would be harsh to criticise the good Lords for not finding a solution for the news media’s financial difficulties (and remember, despite some notable exceptions the future of investigative journalism is still largely coupled to the fate of the wider industry). They do, however, suggest some ways to encourage investigations.
Their main concrete suggestion is to set up an investigative fund, which would take money from Ofcom fines (and the PCC’s successor if it has the power to fine) and redistribute that to journalists and organisations to do investigations.
This is on the face of it rather attractive. By punishing bad journalism, we can support the good, and insulate it slightly from the economic crisis that threatens news organisation.
Over at the Guardian, however, Roy Greenslade isn’t impressed:
[I]f tax breaks or other forms of financial support are to be granted through the state, the money should be used for proper journalistic enterprise.
If so, there would need to be oversight on how publishers were spending their resources.
How bizarre this all sounds. The state would need to monitor a “free press” (!) to ensure that the free press was holding the organs of the state to account because the free press cannot be trusted to invest in investigative journalism that does just that.
I’ve asked Ofcom how much they collected in fines for breaching the Broadcasting Code in 2010/11, and will update this post once they reply. This is my main problem with the proposal: I’m not sure it would make much difference. In some cases Ofcom imposes huge fines, but these are rare, and the figure would presumably fluctuate greatly from year to year.
But I don’t agree with Roy that the idea is bizarre. The fund could be run independently from the state, and rather than require any onerous monitoring it could be used to fund an investigative reporter for a period of time or to look into a particular story/area.
It’s not perfect: it would favour organisations with dedicated investigative reporters rather than daily reporters who hit on a story worth pursuing, and few journalists would be happy to disclose the area they want to investigate. But it’s worth serious consideration.