Well done Panorama… but shame on you

Last night’s episode of Panorama portrayed high-class investigative journalism, in contrast to much of the programme’s recent output. But its timing was shameful, and a dagger to the heart of journalistic integrity.

The BBC is right to expose corruption within FIFA. Anyone with a stake in professional football has long recognised just how opaquely the beautiful game is governed, and I for one applaud, in theory, the BBC starting to tackle this head-on rather than simply indulging the glamorous side of the game.

I would go as far as saying this: the FA should not have bid for the World Cup. The FA should be leading by example in trying to fix football’s problems, and the UK government should be fully behind such a stance. My feeling is that the government wants the World Cup because it will provide a boost during an expected downturn in popularity halfway through Cameron’s second term in office. In fact I find it quite sickening that the UK Prime Minister has gone to Zurich to beg for favours from a man like Jack Warner.

So what’s the problem? For journalists, it is most important to be right. But it is also crucial to maintain independence. Journalists must also lead by example – or else how can we trust them to tell us the truth about the lies of politicians? This is why we should be concerned about Murdoch’s growing monopolisation of the media. Media organisations will of course always be swayed one way or another by proprietors, editors, individual reporters’ interests, public mood, etc – which is precisely why we need plurality in media output.

It is also why we should be concerned about the decision on when to screen Panorama. The BBC has been holding this back for weeks, waiting for the moment to strike. Shameful. The moment they chose was the moment it would have the greatest political impact (causing harm only to the England bid, which had committed no act of corruption whatsoever). The truth is the truth is the truth. When you know it, speak it. These revelations should have been on BBC news bulletins as soon as the information was discovered (and verified) by the Panorama team – irrespective of political implications.

And once the decision was made to make the report a Panorama exclusive (which may provide an ego boost to Jeremy Vine, but means zero to most TV licence payers), it should have been broadcast at a time which avoided direct political implications. With 3 days before the vote, there was obviously no possibility at all that FIFA would suspend the accused individuals before the World Cup decision was made. So the decision on timing was not made in order to prevent allegedly corrupt politicians from deciding the destiny of the various bids. Instead, it was taken because this is when the bid’s profile in the public consciousness is at its highest, so the journalists who make Panorama will get as much fame as possible for their work. A dagger to the heart of journalistic integrity.

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