Turbulent times for investigative documentary
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Investigative documentary: when methods and effects distract from the content

Following on my previous post:

Trial by Television
Yesterday, The Guardian reported how IVF parents were planning a protest against the"trial by television"" they felt this week's Panorama subjected IVF doctor Mohammed Taranissi to.

Going undercover a journalistic addiction we need to kick
Peter Cole, writing in The Independent on Sunday today, was underwhelmed by the programme's methods:

"Going undercover is no substitute for true investigative journalism," he wrote: "That is 'default' investigation these days: if in doubt, send in the undercover reporter. Between the News of the World's "fake sheikh" and Panorama's not-so-infertile women is the parade of knives, guns and false passports passing through airports in the pockets of investigative journalists 'revealing' security lapses. It is all a bit easy and often seems more stunt than investigation." Going undercover is a journalistic addiction we need to kick, commented Roy Greenslade in The Guardian.

The effects outdo the substance
"Traditional investigative documentary has become stuck in dramaturgy: the effects are out of proportion with the substance - too much of the former, too little of the latter. It gets so obsessed with revealing stuff that it often fails and falls flat on its face," said Morten Möller Warmedal, who currently is in charge of a new documentary project for NRK that will look at how lobbyists and advisers influence major public purchases, controversial policy decisions etc.:

"It will be about process, rather than revelations. It will pair the best from docu soap and reality with traditional documentary," Möller Warmedal said enthusiastically. The programme is not undercover, but has gained access to follow five concrete cases closely, including oil- and gas extraction in Northern Norway, the state's purchase of fighter planes and the Conservative Party leader's efforts to rebuild public support for the Party.

So is this the future of investigative documentary? Opening up closed doors to lay bare decision-making processes, rather than by stealth seeking to reveal the biggest possible scandal? Time will show, a lot of time since this particular documentary series is not scheduled to go on air until late next year.

Sometimes undercover methods are the only way to get at a story, as Greenslade noted, but a lot of the time the method backfires, and the debate about the legitimacy of the method completely overshadows the debate one sought to raise about the topic - which also happens with effects like music, overly dramatic screenshots etc.

N.B. It must be said that hidden cameras rarely are used in Norway. The latest 'big controversy' from Scandinavia in this respect, is this troubling case from Denmark.


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