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Keeping the Whistleblowers Safe

Channel 4 have broadcast a number of high profile investigations – including the recent Dispatches documentary featuring allegations about Russell Brand – but with this comes a need to protect whistleblowers from danger. 

Janine Thomas (L) and Adam Vandermark (R), with Leeds Trinity University’s Katherine Blair

Speaking to students at Leeds Trinity University as part of their annual Journalism and Media Week, commissioners Janine Thomas and Adam Vandermark spoke about what goes into the production of factual and current affairs programming being given the green light, including the risks that are part of the process and what is in place to protect the channel and contributors from them. 

Mr Vandermark said: “In terms of contributors, for instance those in the Russell Brand documentary, some will want to be identified and some will not, so you have to have a very important conversation with them and reassure them that if they don’t want to be recognised or identified, that that will be the case. 

“Some people who are willing to speak don’t want to be identified and will be frightened about speaking out maybe, so that’s a process that you walk through with contributors.” 

Ms Thomas also spoke about the need to ensure productions remain compliant, so they are legally safe to broadcast. 

She said: “We’ve got an amazing legal team who support us in our ambitions and make sure that we can actually tell these stories.  

“There’s lots of process that we go through as well.” 

As well as the Dispatches documentary strand, Channel 4 produces content under the Untold brand, which is aimed at viewers between the ages of 16 and 34 and aims to provide ‘noisy and bold journalism’ through the broadcaster’s streaming services. 

So far this year it has commissioned documentaries including ‘the growing incel community’, and what happens to contestants on Love Island after the show has finished. 

As Commissioning Editor for Untold, Janine Thomas said: “It’s just an amazing strand and it makes me excited. 

“I’m really proud of the fact that we do a very high level of investigation in what we do – yes it’s bright, it’s splashy and it’s youth, but we don’t compromise on that.” 

She said that there is a responsibility to ensure programming is fair, but viewers are intelligent and like to make up their own mind once the facts are laid before them. 

She said: “When you meet someone that is in those kind of worlds, and you speak to them and allow them to speak, instantly your thought process changes because you’re now hearing a first hand account. 

“You’re able to make your mind up from that point of view and that’s incredibly powerful.” 

When asked about the protections in place for contributors to these shows, she said: “We do everything on a case by case basis. 

“Every situation is considered as being a separate situation, and needing separate protections and parameters around it.” 

Untold is available at

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