The award-winning former documentary-maker and BBC journalist has insisted that legal threats are all part and package of good quality journalism, Gianluca Avagnina reports...

Independent broadcaster and journalist Jim Fitzpatrick stressed the importance of knowing how to deal with legal threats in TV Journalism at the opening of the Cleraun Media Conference on Friday.

The former BBC Northern Ireland Economics and Business Editor gave a masterclass on the challenges he encountered in making Sean Quinn’s Missing Millions, an investigative documentary film that was awarded the 2013 IFTA Best Current Affairs Programme for BBC NI Spotlight.

In the documentary, Fitzpatrick travels to Belize in the attempt to track down the headquarters of the Sean Quinn’s $100m-worth company now belonging to Irish taxpayers.

Although he isn’t successful in his mission, Fitzpatrick manages to reveal a series of events connected with deception and fraud in several countries around the world.

“Sometimes you can bend the rules a little bit,” he told the conference in relation to the restrictive permits to film he obtained in Belize. “You need to take a judgment in the field.”

According to Fitzpatrick, investigative journalists should be prepared against all possible legal threats since “if it is not controversial, it is not investigative.”

He argued that a team approach is absolutely necessary in relation to legal matters, and he described his two producers as his “conscience during the process” of editing the final version of the documentary.

Fitzpatrick also told the conference about the necessity of making a risk assessment before filming in potentially dangerous places like Kiev, where he and his crew went around always accompanied by an interpreter, who operated “as a fixer” as well, and of a driver “sometimes with the engine running”.

He confessed that he was well aware that in Kiev they were probably being watched, and therefore he took some extra safety measures to protect not only himself, but also his crew.

“You really don’t want to mess with these guys,” he added referring to potential threats from the Ukrainian Mafia connected to the Ukrainian President.

However, good investigative journalists should know when it is possible to “push the limit a little bit further”, as it happened when Fitzpatrick was prevented from entering a shopping mall in Kiev, but he could still film it.

He also managed to get an interview with a man, Rosislav Levinzon, who was not allowed to access the building either, despite being officially in charge of the mall to do the interests of the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC) and, therefore, of Irish taxpayers.

The conference was held in the Camden Court Hotel in Dublin, where it had been moved from the traditional location at the Cleraun’s university centre due to delays in the completion of building works. 

Photo: Gianluca Avagnina