BBC TwoNewsnight
Page last updated at 12:19 GMT, Wednesday, 8 October 2008 13:19 UK
How Newsnight investigates

Before we broadcast an investigation we always put our allegations to whoever we are accusing of unjust, illegal, antisocial or immoral behaviour.

If at that point we find we have made factual mistakes we correct them before transmission.

Sometimes they are prepared to brief us even if they will not do an interview. So although the Ministry of Defence would not be interviewed about the security of nuclear weapons they did make sure that we met one of the people with a finger on the button.

Sometimes people agree to talk on camera but then they change their minds.

The walk-out

When we investigated how thousands of Democrat votes had been blocked in the disputed 2000 US election, the Florida head of elections marched out in mid-interview and set the cops on us. Broadcast 15 February 2001.

Greg Palast: I don't know why he had to call out the police. We hadn't gotten to our difficult questions yet

The 'doorstep'

If we cannot get a straightforward interview for whatever reason the BBC may allow us to do a 'doorstep', so-called because they often take place as the subject of the investigation emerges from their house or office.

We have to satisfy the BBC that a doorstep is in the public interest.

Take the case of "Goldfinger": the Vulture Fund chief who we caught up with. He had refused all requests for interview on what world leaders had agreed was an immoral trade. Broadcast 5 June 2007.

Greg Palast doesn't take 'no' for an answer. He wanted to ask about the immorality of profiting from the debts of the poorest countries.

When we doorstepped the terror suspect "Q" in Luton we had reason to suspect that he had sent the leader of the London 7/7 bombers to Pakistan for training.

Clearly this was someone who might flee if we put in an open request for an interview. Broadcast 30 April 2007.

The sting

Sometimes it is appropriate to set up a more elaborate sting.

The AIDS conman thought he was meeting a billionaire ready to cough up $100 million for his scam. Instead he found a furious Richard E Grant ready to confront him about putting so many African lives at risk. Broadcast 1 December 2006.

Paul Mason and Richard E. Grant meet up with an unsuspecting conman in a London hotel.

Threatening letters

Then it is a matter of getting the investigation onto air.

You may be faced with what Jeremy Paxman describes as: "a sustained barrage of astonishingly aggressive lawyers' letters" demanding that you do not broadcast the evidence you've found of wrongdoing or they will sue you for libel.

On Newsnight we expect this kind of response from the moment we embark on an investigation, so we try to make our films bulletproof. We like to get our facts right. We involve our lawyers and the BBC's Editorial Policy unit.

They act as a sounding board so producers can double check they meet the BBC's high standards of conduct, set out in the corporation's Editorial Guidelines.

If having read our step by step guide you think you have the makings of an investigation, and you'd like to talk to us about it in confidence - anonymously if necessary - please email us at:

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