Investigative journalism in the post-Jennings era
Play the Game participants met on Tuesday evening to remember investigative journalist Andrew Jennings, who passed away earlier this year, but had tremendous importance for Play the Game and the emergence of modern investigative sports journalism.
Following an emotional tribute to British reporter Andrew Jennings, panellists at Play the Game 2022 were asked to describe the state of investigative sports journalism today. Their answer was clear. Conditions are as tough as ever. Editors are reluctant to commission controversial stories, while critical reporters can lose press privileges, face legal action and be personally discredited.
Investigative journalists continue to be intimidated, sacked, and sued, said Danish Journalist’s Union president Tine Johansen.
“There are a lot of precarious workers, struggling to make ends meet. Lawsuits can ruin them,” she said.
German author and reporter Jens Weinrich added that when lawsuits do make it to court investigative journalists rarely lose. The main problem is accessing the finances needed to defend the allegations.
In Weinreich’s view there are very good positions for a few people, but very bad conditions for those who want to be investigative journalists.
“The conditions do not exist for investigative sports journalism,” said Trinidad and Tobago-based journalist Lasana Liburd.
“Most editors don’t really understand it. In sports journalism, the biggest interest is to find out how your team did at the weekend. People in the field of investigative journalism must partly be activists. They do it because it’s the right thing to do, and they are kind of rare. They live and die on what they can prove.”
“There has been a lack of recognition,” Play the Game’s international director Jens Sejer Andersen said in a reference to Jennings.
“But the same time as the Olympic world were telling us that we were useless, the FBI was reading the writings of Jennings and others. Actually, they could use us for something. If we do our jobs, if we stick to the truth, the chances are that we will prevail. And this is a reason for optimism”.
In response to a question from the audience, the debate turned to conditions for journalists at the upcoming FIFA World Cup. Jens Weinreich expected critical journalists to face familiar obstacles in Qatar.
“Qatar probably has all the information about critical journalists. It is nothing new for them what we are doing or what we will probably be doing during the World Cup,” he said.
Johansen criticised the decision by the International Sports Press Association to hold its 2022 congress in Oman, a nation that many see as lacking press freedom and basic human rights.
“It is grotesque to imagine journalists gathering in such a situation” she said. “If you do that you have to change things from the inside. If you can’t do that you must ask yourself if you are in the right company.”
Although the world of journalism is changing, former editor, now journalist at Ekstra Bladet ,Jan Jensen and Panorama producer James Oliver both said they would be happy to employ Jennings again.
“I don’t know about the rest of the BBC, that’s another story,” Oliver added.
What they said about Andrew Jennings
Jens Sejer Andersen, international director of Play the Game
“There is no single person who I had a collaboration with that I’ve had to defend so much.”
“The International Sports Press Association wasn’t comfortable with his controversial style. I said: Please tell me who else I can invite who has the same documentation on the IOC and FIFA? Then, the conversation stopped.”
James Oliver, producer at BBC Panorama and long-time friend of Andrew Jennings
A student asked “Mr. Jennings - what is the definition of investigative journalism?” His answer: “Identify the enemy and destroy them.”
Played BBC radio clip of them asking Andrew Jennings about FIFAGate. His response? Raucous laughter…
Lasana Liburd, journalist, wired868.com, who worked with Andrew Jennings on stories about FIFA in Trinidad and Tobago
“The doorstep was for Andrew Jennings was what the free kick was to David Beckham.”
“He offered to help me - not to help himself.”
“We were not part of the story, we shared the story.”
Jan Jensen, journalist and former editor at the Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet, who employed Andrew Jennings on several occasions
“In fact, it was mostly him that helped me.”
“We must work together, otherwise we will never get the documents and the bad men.”
Jens Weinreich, investigative journalist, colleague, and long-time friend of Andrew Jennings
“Without Andrew Jennings and without his networks and work, there would have been no FIFAGate.”
AJ always said: “What do we have to do? We have to fuck the motherfuckers.”