Monday, November 29, 2010

Sports and Investigative Journalism – Where is the line?

So, the Panorama people are pushing ahead with airing their expose on FIFA ahead of the vote for the hosting of the next two World Cups. The England bid team and the FA are calling ‘foul’ and accusing the BBC of being ‘unpatriotic’. Fellow journalists are rallying behind The Times – the source of the initial cash for votes expose – and the BBC and asking why on earth should uncovering corruption cause harm to the English bid? On one hand you could entirely side with the journos as they have a perfectly valid point, but on the other you could also ask them why are they being so incredibly naïve?

Nothing in the world of this ilk is without politics or machinations behind the scenes - and never has been. The very nature of the bid presentations is designed to cajole and persuade whilst stopping short of direct influence. Prime Ministers, Presidents, pop stars are all wheeled out in an effort to fly the flag to the utmost. That things occasionally get a bit murky is disappointing but is nevertheless the way of things. Everything from boxing champions’ next opponents to the venues for Grand Prix or England test matches is a system of lobbying which allows for ‘grey areas’ where the line can be crossed on what is acceptable in terms of incentives.

What both the Times and Panorama have done is to simply expose corruption within FIFA and what could be wrong with that? I do not enjoy the culture of simple entrapment that many journalists now pursue, the Mail on Sunday’s earlier effort on Lord Triesman was no more than gutter journalism and certainly was not ‘in the national interest’ as is so often the cry when these stories are queried. Nevertheless, it can hardly be argued that journalists uncovering corruption at any level is a bad thing and those involved would argue that the ends justify the means, something that the anti-terrorism branch of the same UK ‘establishment’ bidding for the World Cup would also counsel, so who’s to argue?

The issue the England World Cup has however is with the reaction of the remaining FIFA committee members and Sepp Blatter. Their take on the situation is that the members will rally around their fallen colleagues rather than look down on them for their actions. It’s only speculation on my part but my guess would be these kinds of events are far more reaching than just the ones who have been exposed. The other members who may also have things to hide will see this as an attack on themselves. Again, what Sepp Blatter has referred to is not the uncovering of the corruption but in the entrapment, it is a method that endears little sympathy.

You will rarely see me write anything positive about Sepp Blatter and my own feeling is that he has an anti-England bias on his agenda. He and FIFA are all about international football with the World Cup as the pinnacle. The rise of UEFA and the Champions League has been a large and painful thorn in his side. He sees the Premiership as an abomination of excess and I have little doubt he wishes to see another bid being successful.

Now in an ideal world, Panorama should be able to air their programme whenever they damn well wish without fear of recourse but the above text shows the world is far from ideal. From a ratings point of view, putting out the show on the eve of the vote is probably the best thing but at the same time surely the Panorama people could hold off for a few days to make sure no additional damage is done to the bid. Would it really kill them to do so and would it not be in the national interest that we keep hearing so much about? Morally and ethically the journalists are correct but an element of realism and if you like cynicism could maybe help everyone in what is they key moment for the competing World Cup bids. No one is suggesting the revelations should have been swept under the carpet to help the English bid but a little bit of give and take might have been to the benefit of all.