The current News of the World phone hacking allegations have thrown a sharp focus on the importance of credible internal investigations.
The newspaper’s vast advertising revenue is under threat as major multi-national advertisers consider their positions pending the completion of a formal investigation.
In his Channel 4 interview with Simon Greenberg of News International Jon Snow calls into question the integrity of this highly sensitive internal investigation and hits on some fundamental weaknesses. Such basic weaknesses leave an organisation wide open to criticism and scepticism of its commitment to establishing the facts of a case, and can have a far-reaching impact on reputation and credibility.
Jon Snow asks whether the impartiality of the News of the World investigation has been compromised because the lead investigator is the person who was in charge at a time when phone hacking allegedly took place, therefore clearly involved in the matter.
An impartial investigator is crucial to promote and protect the integrity of the process and the outcome, as well as the organisation and the individual. An investigation led by a person who is involved in the case is open to claims that it is a sham, that the individual has a vested interest in the case that has the potential to impact on the outcome, as well as raising concerns about whether the process is thorough enough.
During the interview, Simon Greenberg provided a sketchy outline of their way forward, stating News International’s intention to deal with facts as they emerge and “She is leading the investigation, if it is necessary to ask her certain questions as part of the investigation that is what we will do”, raising questions not only about the suitability of the lead investigator but also the organisation’s commitment to a structured investigative approach.
The clear presentation of a transparent, planned and systematic approach to an internal investigation from the outset serves to reinforce the integrity of the investigation and credibility of the organisation, while ensuring the process is efficient and effective. It also adds credence to the findings and outcome.
While the News of the World phone hacking scandal is clearly on a much larger scale than our everyday workplace issues, the basic principles remain the same for all organisations committed to carrying out transparent and efficient internal investigations.
Clear channel of accountability … Independent investigators … Report facts based on evidence
Clear remit for investigators … Witnesses understand their rights and responsibilities
Thorough and systematic analysis