One of the relatively new aspects of journalism which has become common among media houses is access journalism. This refers to interviews or any other media time with important, rich, famous, powerful or otherwise influential people in politics, culture, sports, and other areas. It is used to refer to the compromises journalists must make in order to have, maintain or retain access to sources and places that would be denied them, were they to offend those who control access. This means that access journalism could also mean ‘compromise’ journalism where the reporter is a bit handicapped because he or she has to remain in the good books of a news source in order to keep getting information, or simply put, to have access to information.
Access journalism often involves self-censorship, in which the journalists voluntarily cease to speak of issues that might embarrass their hosts. The problem with access journalism is that it weakens objective journalism. Ethical standards are overlooked in order to ensure access to sources and this is one of the major negatives of access journalism. The stories reported based on access journalism become a convenient form of propaganda for the source. In access journalism, the evidence is based on sources who cannot be named, there is no evidence base such as a document or money trail and the evidence cannot be independently verified. It also serves one side’s agenda, usually the government’s side.
Access journalism is in sharp contrast with the traditional form of investigative journalism which is based on identifiable sources whose standing and credibility enhance the claims, and the evidence is available for checking. Unlike access journalism, traditional investigative reporting serves no-one’s agenda, in that several sides of the argument are heard, allowing readers to make up their own minds as to the truth; it also takes a painstaking amount of time to build the evidence base, allow balance, and get legal advice if needed.
Access journalism definitely does not provide platform for objective investigative reporting. The investigative journalist should understand that an allegation is not necessarily a story, nor is a “link to something” automatically evidence. There is need for proper reliable sources and transparency in the investigative process in order not to slaughter ethics on the altar of access.
Investigative journalism aims at providing truth about people from government and other entities such as corporations who attempt to keep their often illegal activities secret. If the purpose is to expose such actions so that those involved can be held accountable, then access journalism will be ineffective in achieving this goal.