The growth in programs based on investigative journalism
has been high in recent years. Programs like the BBC's Rogue
Traders are highly entertaining in a somewhat bewildering way.
They show us some of the dreadful things that go on. We see plumbers
on video, peeing in the water tank, or car mechanics wiping instead
of replacing key engine components.
On a larger scale, programs like the BBC's Watchdog
or BBC Radio Four's You and Yours and Face the Facts expose
wrong-doing from larger companies perpetrated nation-wide. Still
other programs, like BBC's Radio Four program File on 4
have been tackling an ambitiously diverse set of major problems
for twenty five years.
So, is investigative journalism a Good Thing?
Absolutely. Are investigative journalists courageous, pioneering
types? I imagine
so. But is investigative journalism a major force for positive
change in the UK - for fixing Britain? I don't think so, and
The primary output of investigative journalism
is information. Journalists expose problems to the world. We might
hope that, once the world knows about those problems, it would do
the right thing and fix it. But that's often not the way
Let's first look inside the faulty organisation.
If it has been exposed in a poor light by journalists, then it is
by definition, incompetent to a significant degree. So the standards
of professionalism and integrity within it are likely to be low.
Complacent incompetence is often endemic. Leadership will be weak
or corrupt. Internal systems will be ineffective. The dominant motivation
is likely to be to cover up, make excuses, avoid consequences, avoid
spending money and get back to the stinking status quo.
Now let's look outside these failing organisations
to those public service bodies - the regulators, fair trading
etc. which we finance. Do they pick up the bad tidings and sprint
towards a solution? Depressingly, our regulatory bodies are also
sometimes ineffective - either structurally or through under-resourcing.
And at the very top of our public support systems,
where the highest standards in the land might be thought to apply,
we see a steady stream of public enquiries crippled by inappropriately
narrow terms of reference, whitewashes, long delays, bewilderingly
high cost and more.
So, finding a problem often doesn't get it fixed,
and that's one reason why we need more than world-class journalists
to fix Britain.
But here's another reason; journalists choose
their targets in a variety of ways. They build contacts, they
information, they have personal interests, professional interests
and bosses with interests. They cherry pick, to get the "best"
stories (however that's defined). They operate independently and
to their own agendas. Nothing wrong with that - no hint of evil
in here - but this strategy does not necessarily drive limited
resources to the best places for our society.
So not only is finding a problem not the same
as fixing it, but we only find a small set of them, as determined
by privately funded and independently motivated journalists.
There's yet another problem. When our systems
work - heads are demanded, and resignations occur. So we're sorted,
we? Not necessarily. A sneaky peek a few months later often reveals
those same heads back in office. Alternatively, if too few heads
roll, or if the wrong heads roll, then the fundamental problem
remains and the organisation will continue to spread the by-products
its illness over us all. Fundamentally, any change isn't necessarily
permanent nor for the better - these have to be watched and verified.
Any good Britain-Fixing-Machine
needs to do several things well:
Expose a large proportion of Britain's problems
to the public and the regulatory bodies we finance.
Cause these regulatory bodies to instigate
structural changes which remove the root causes of the problems
& re-builds new systems which work better than old ones.
Monitor performance of the new systems to
ensure that changes are effective and permanent.
Act recursively to take action if any of
these elements do not fulfil their function well.
We can operate this strategy through Let's Fix
It's many members can report the problems they
find in their lives to the relevant bodies. Members can then monitor
those bodies in their actions. If that body doesn't do a good job,
then we can list a new problem - but this time it's the regulatory
body itself being exposed. That body will be regulated by another,
so you'll be climbing up a chain of command and repeating the
Along the way, use LFB resources (forums, members directory of
expertise, etc.) to cross-fertilize ideas, to collect information
and to grow
expertise. Through these steps, and as membership grows, we increase
the coverage and the effectiveness of our Britain Fixing Machine.
If you're a journalist, then you have my admiration,
and we'd love to have you as a member. Through articles and training
you can help us to be far more effective. You can also feed us
with issues to work on - so you write the killer article exposing
issue, then LFB members take over the drawn-out process of moving
a problem towards a solution via the untidy complexities of our
If you're not a member, then please join us! And
if you are already a member, then why not start today on an issue
near you and let's get that mountain moving.