A very rough gem of a question comes this week from across the Atlantic. The UK media has been swept up in a lively debate, prompted by an upcoming and already controversial BBC documentary. First, the question: ‘Should the Press be Patriotic?’ That was the subject of a discussion on the BBC’s World Have Your Say radio program, which features daily in-depth discussions among participants from around the world on topical global issues (it airs on our public radio station, KALW.)
And what could possibly prompt such a grandiloquent question? Has Britain gone to war? Some may remember various derivations of this question emerging in the U.S. shortly after President Bush invaded Iraq. Thankfully, no. Rather, the BBC is preparing to air a one-hour show on its flagship documentary program Panorama investigating allegations of corruption in the world soccer federation FIFA.
The airing of the show, “FIFA’s Dirty Secrets,” is slated for November 29, three days before the international soccer federation is scheduled to decide who will host the 2014 and 2018 World Cup — for which London is a top bidder (along with joint efforts by Portugal and Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands, and Russia). So, whose interests do journalists have in mind, anyway?
Andy Ansen, CEO of the London bid committee, demanded a meeting with the BBC’s Director General Mark Thompson to request that the broadcast be delayed, and that airing it as scheduled would undermine London’s chances of winning the coveted hosting opportunity.
Ansen’s claim was supported publicly by the UK’s former Minister of Sport from the previous Labour government, Richard Caborn, who asserts on the program World Have Your Say that the BBC’s timing does not have the “national interest” at heart.
The controversy over the impending Panorama broadcast comes on the heels of a series in the London Sunday Times, in which reporters posing as lobbyists for the U.S. Cup bid offered bribes to two officials on FIFA’s Executive Board. The journalists filmed the interaction. The original Sunday Times series is, alas, behind a paywall, so here’s a Guardian rendering of the story and its fallout. And here’s a line-up of the Guardian’s substantial coverage of the controversy.
The Panorama doc also comes on the heels of a blockbuster report by the Federation of African Investigative Reporters on corruption in the soccer associations in eight African countries, which we highlighted in an earlier Global Digest post.
The primary reporting behind the Panorama film was done by Andrew Jennings, a veteran British investigative journalist who has been steadily unraveling numerous corrupt deal-making in international soccer over the past decade. He’s the author of the book, “Foul! The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote-Rigging and Ticket Scandals.” Jennings’ long history of reporting on FIFA and other national soccer federations is hosted at his website, Transparency in Sport.
You might guess where CIR comes down on the question of whether journalists’ obligation is to ‘patriotism’, or in revealing the truth about abuses of power. It’s a false dichotomy. As for the BBC, their response thus far has been: “Airing this documentary is in the public interest.”
The other week we wrote about the attacks against Russian journalists who have been reporting on the controversy over efforts to build a highway through the Khimki forest. The news of the brutality of those attacks has spread rapidly. Olga Zakharova, a Russian journalist and our eyes and ears on this evolving story, commented in an email: “People are really angry.” There have been protests against the beatings by people in Moscow and elsewhere in Russia, in Paris, in the German city of Bremen, and elsewhere.
The protesters are demanding a thorough police investigation into the assaults. Within Russia, the protests brought together an unprecedented show of support from environmentalists, journalists, and opposition politicians demanding the ability to report on controversial topics without fear of violent repercussions.
We’ll stay on top of this story, and continue to highlight the dangers that many journalists face who are operating in often far more treacherous conditions than here in the United States.