The misery of investigative journalism

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Installation at the Tate Modern Museum in London (photo: Pixabay, CC0)

Journalists` revelations affirm for many people the notion that „all the politicians are the same misery“ and that is why it makes no sense to try to change the things

Dimitar Sabev

This article was published on 25 September 2018 on the site Bodil. 

Who says that there is no investigative journalism in Bulgaria? It exists and is even more than the capacity of the public to digest. „Bivol“ has unveiled a lot of criminal schemes – from the offshore accounts of the labour union leader Trenchev till the case of Gheorghiu – a Cypriot poor guy, who owns firms for millions. The journalists at NOVA Tv or bTV sometimes produce investigations of high quality. There are sneaking revelations even in the public media BNT and BNR, which are under control,

In spite of these and other examples I dare to claim that Bulgarian investigative journalism is in a deep crisis. Investigations are made for their own sake: not only from the standing point of journalists, but also from the standing point of the public. Investigative journalism is an attractive genre in Bulgaria, it brings fame and influence, but rarely assumes important tasks, such as change of thinking or behavior of society.

Let’s leave aside the famous schemes, when „journalistic“ findings hit business competitors or put pressure on institutions. Let’s believe that journalists always have integrity. Even in this case beyond the desire to become famous, the greatest things an investigation can achieve is to provoke the necessary reaction in institutions. The agenda of investigations does not include influence upon the attitudes of the larger public.

But there is such an influence and it is not always a positive one. Journalist revelations activate the famous Bulgarian syndrome „all are the same misery“ and strengthen the condition of passive disgust among people. Readers and TV spectators can write in Facebook some angry comment or to donate for the the media. Sadly but true, this doesn’t change anything.

The Bulgarian public interiorizes the investigative publications with a perverse masochism, because they strengthen its conviction how bad the situation is. Revelations about offshore affairs, party circles, polluting factories, conflicts of interest, giving and receiving bribes – everything passes as a theater before the eye of the Bulgarian who has seen everything and can no longer be surprised by anything in the field of human vice.

In a certain sense, the people of this country need such revelations, because they confirm their vision for life as a dirty thing, devoid of hope. Also, for many the revelations of others` crimes serve as an excuse for their own vice and passivity.

There is an alternative and it is called ”the point of view of the journalist”. Its lack is one of the weaknesses of ”Bivol”. Their investigations make public crimes, but doesn’t put them in context. Maliciousness and corruption are not analyzed beyond the almighty conclusion „all are interwoven as intestines“. The reader, who is immersed in informations about coinciding addresses, lawyers, godfathers, stooges and front companies, feels that things are bad, but doesn’t understand why things have deteriorated so far and how to change the situation.

At the end of the day, is the journalist a prosecutor? The journalist’s arms are not modern software and tools for data analyses, but the word and the truth. If you can’t use the word, your truth will be lost for the public. Of course, people who have a lot of „words“, but speak only in general and don’t use facts, are even more pathetic.

The question whether a journalist should enter in the role of a prosecutor is key. This questions projects itself also upon the issue whether it is acceptable that the responsibility for environmental protection in Bulgaria should lay basically upon non-governmental organizations. Is it acceptable that a part of the civil society „expropriates“ functions from the public institutions, if institutions don’t do their job.

In my view it is unacceptable. It is even in the advantage of the institutions, when journalists or ”environmentalists” seize their functions, because this frees them from their responsibility to be active. The society, convinced in the complete viciousness of power, no longer expects it to apply justice and a part of the people start to transfer their trust upon the journalist and the environmentalist. It is great for the ego of the latter, but doesn’t help the country.

Indeed, Bulgarian prosecution doesn’t make a good work and has become a tool, which serves political and business interests. But it is not the job of journalists, even if they are investigative, to play the role of prosecutors. If you are a journalist, do public the facts you have established, interpret them and withdraw, without stopping to poke the society! You influence institutions through the society.

The role of a judge is also not good for a journalist. Nobody has the right to appoint himself as an ethic judge of the nation and to suggest „those are criminals, these are the good guys“. The verdicts are made by the court and by the Supreme. The investigative journalist can show attitude, but not to emit condemnations.

People need not so much new revelations about the abuses, which are known to take place by all of us, but a new perspective. And a new story, a new history. A good example could be the book „The Jungle“ by the American journalist and writer Upton Sinclair. The author has indeed worked a few months under cover in a meat-packaging plant in Chicago, so that he could see what is put in the sausage. He tells the story under the form of a book with literary protagonists, dialogues, plot. „The Jungle“ gives a thorough picture of the wild capitalism from the beginning of the XX century, and not just „spicy“ information about the dirty affairs of some firms. When the book is published, the consumption of sausage falls with 90% and a federal law for inspection of meat’s quality is promulgated immediately.

Is the Bulgarian society read to understand what there is in the sausage? Or it prefers just to scratch the surface of reality? To know means to have to change – and many prefer not to see the whole picture, focusing instead on the parts. The people submerges in its nirvana of the disgusted with the mantra „all are the same misery“, sitting upon the dirt, shown in the journalist investigations, even if they have world level of quality.

I have seen with my eyes folders, full with photos, printings, cut newspaper articles, notes, etc, which were standing in the base of impressive publications, branded as journalist investigations. You ought to know: the biggest investigative „journalists“ in fact work in the shadow of the parties.

National media don’t publish revelations about the friends of their owners. There is hardly anyone surprised by this fact. But in the NGO sector there are also acceptable and unacceptable object for investigations. Let’s call it selective fight for justice.

The situation in Bulgaria today is such that there are irregularities to be found in any sector or register. „The responsible institutions“ are aware of the situation, but wait for an order from above „to investigate“.

This won’t change through new and more drastic revelations, but only through growing intolerance towards injustice in society. The proto-bloggers Karavelov and Botev (Bulgarian publicists and national liberation activists in XIX century Romania – note of the translator) assumed such a goal. Journalism can serve its function of watchdog only in a society, for which integrity matters.

Read in Romanian language!

Read in Bulgarian language!

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Author: Vladimir Mitev

Жител на град Русе. Румъноговорящ. Locuitor orașului Ruse. Vorbitor de limba română.

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