Friday, 25 January 2013

What is the Bureau of Investigative Journalism?

Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) 

The Bureau was established in April 2010 with a £2-million donation from the David and Elaine Potter Foundation. As a physicist David was responsible in 1984 for developing the world’s first hand-held computer, ‘The Organiser’, and his wife was for many years an investigative journalist at the Sunday Times.

When the Potters made their grant Elaine said they aimed to “support investigative journalism of the highest ethical standards and to search for sustainable models for its long-term future.” 

The latter aim may prove the most difficult. Media outlets are strapped for cash and the vast majority of on-line journalism sites have yet to find sufficient subscribers to pay their bills. Editor Iain Overton admitted in 2011 that the organisation had struggled to get paid for their investigations.  On occasions, copy had been given away free.

BIJ’s first major report in June 2010 revealed that Roche, the manufacturer of Tamiflu, was paying the three scientists at the World Health Organisation who were recommending the stockpiling of the drug in response to the bird flu pandemic. In 2011 BIJ uncovered that 50% of Tory donations came from the financial services industry and individual bankers close to senior Tory politicians. This sat uneasily at a time when the government was promising to regulate the banking industry.

In January 2012, BIJ – in conjunction with the Independent newspaper - revealed that official statistics on the numbers of people who had died in police custody were an underestimation as they failed to include those not formally arrested.  The case of Roger Sylvester was thus missing from the list, even though this had led to a review of techniques by the Metropolitan Police and to changes in how police arrest and detain mentally ill suspects. BBC Radio 4’s File at Four subsequently highlighted more cases.

Working with the Sunday Times, BIJ then challenged claims by US President Barack Obama that the use of CIA drones in Pakistan was “targeted and focused and had not caused a huge number of civilian casualties.” BIJ, who had spent nine months investigating and had conducted the first interviews with the affected villagers, reported that during Obama’s first three years in charge that at least 282 civilians had been slaughtered. Amongst those killed were civilians who had gone to rescue victims or were attending funerals. Today the Bureau estimates that at least 473 Pakistani civilians – and possibly as many as 889 – have been killed in drone attacks. 176 of those killed have been children. A UN team was appointed late last year to inquire into the whole sordid affair. 

BIJ’s work has won it a number of awards. However, late last year it also hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons when the BBC suspended all co-productions with the organisation. This followed its lead reporter Angus Stickler’s secondment to an
investigation that led to former Conservative Party treasurer Lord McAlpine being falsely named as a child abuser on Newsnight. 

The BBC’s director-general George Entwhistle subsequently quit over the fiasco and he was followed by Overton and Stickler at the BIJ, whose trustees have issued a statement saying “it was a serious mistake to agree to the secondment without retaining the necessary degree of editorial control, and we are taking action to ensure this does not happen again.” 

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