There’s still some bite in journalism

By theilr on Flickr

“Journalists are society’s watchdogs.” The phrase seems so clichéd … and yet powerful investigative journalism is so important (and maybe even on the up and up!).

Given that it’s so expensive, time-consuming, and — frankly — quite risky, I am always happy to see in-depth and critical reporting.

In case you haven’t heard, the Star is currently publishing a series that is taking a closer look at  a rather sacred cow: the Special Investigations Unit. The SIU is a law enforcement agency, independent of the police, that investigates instances of serious injury, sexual assault, and/or death that involve police and civilians.

Michele Henry and David Bruser have highlighted some troubling cases (see list below) in which allegations against police have not been satisfactorily investigated. Predictably, this critical series has raised the ire of the Toronto Police Association and that of many readers.

But, aren’t we supposed to be holding power to account and asking these uncomfortable questions? Isn’t the opposing idiom (journalists as lapdogs) much more disconcerting?

I think so, despite my many pleasant encounters with both police officers and representatives from the SIU. Kathy English, the Star’s Public Editor, also thinks so.

English makes a compelling argument for exploring this inflammatory issue.
Her reflection is an absolute must-read for those interested in public service journalism, and all the turbulence it entails.

The Star’s watchdog mandate

By Kathy English, Public Editor


…Is the Toronto Star “anti-police”? Is this hard-hitting investigative series “a cop-bashing vendetta” and “junk journalism” as the Toronto Police Association charged in a press release responding to the Star’s investigation?

As I told readers this week, the Star has long been “pro-justice,” not “anti-police.” In reporting such strong evidence of a lack of results and little accountability from the SIU, the Star’s series exposes and holds to further account some officers who were investigated by the SIU. It is not an indictment of all police…

As one of the most powerful institutions in our midst, police should face scrutiny by the media acting as surrogates for citizens. Probing the SIU, which was created in 1990 after a series of police shootings of black civilians, is well in line with the media’s watchdog mandate.

“A review after 20 years of an organization like the SIU is completely appropriate and exactly the sort of thing newspapers need to do, should do and in the case of the Star, do all the time,” Kevin Donovan the Star’s Investigations editor said. “Sadly, many police have taken the position that we do not have the right to review their actions or the actions of the SIU.

Continue reading…

More from the series:


One thought on “There’s still some bite in journalism

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