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Tributes as ‘force for good’ journalist Gavin MacFadyen dies at 76

Tributes as ‘force for good’ journalist MacFadyen dies at 76

US-born Gavin MacFadyen founded the London-based Centre for Investigative Journalism and, more recently, became a supporter of WikiLeaks

Published: 2 December, 2016
by KOOS COUVÉE 

GAVIN MacFadyen, journalist and founder of the Centre for Investigative Journalism (CIJ), has died aged 76.

At the forefront of investigative journalism in Britain and the United States for decades, American-born Mr MacFadyen was best known as the founder and director of the CIJ, a London-based training and advocacy organisation funded through charitable ­foundations. 

It was set up in 2003 to address what he saw as a worsening media climate for serious, in-depth and critical reporting and established a reputation as one of the pre-eminent investigative journalism training institutions in the world. It was previously based at City University in Clerkenwell, where Mr MacFadyen was a ­visiting lecturer. He moved with it to ­Goldsmiths in 2014.

More recently he worked with whistle­blowers and became a powerful voice supporting the right of those prepared to leak information in the public interest.

Born in Colorado in 1940, Mr MacFadyen grew up in Chicago and was heavily involved in the Civil Rights move­ment, before moving to London in the 1960s. He founded a documentary film group to chronicle the political turmoil in the United States during the late 1960s for the BBC.

Later, he produced and directed more than 50 films, mainly for Granada Television’s World in Action, covering a wide range of issues, including neo-Nazi violence in Britain, Chinese criminal societies, the history of the CIA, election fraud in Guyana, the Iraq arms trade and child labour.

In 2009, he was heavily involved in founding the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a non-profit news organisation also based at – but independent from – City, to do the journalism beyond the training for which the CIJ was renowned. It moved to offices in Gray’s Inn Road last month. 

Mr MacFadyen was a committed supporter of the organisation and a long-serving member of its editorial advisory committee, drawing on his years of experience to offer support and influence the direction of the organisation. 

Mr MacFadyen increasingly came to believe journalists had become accessories to the powerful, rather than acting as a check on them. In 2010, when WikiLeaks began publishing documents on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and then the US state department cables, he became a close ally of the group and its editor and founder, Julian Assange. 

Mr MacFadyen formed the official Julian Assange Defence Committee, which raises funds to pay the legal expenses of Assange and other WikiLeaks staff. In recent years, his work focused on facilitating and protecting whistleblowing activities more generally.

Elaine Potter, founder of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and a CIJ board member, said: “Gavin could not have been a more exciting colleague to have. Passion, politics and curiosity were his greatest drivers. He never stopped engaging with the new, seeking and finding people and processes which no one else had ever heard of. 

“He recognised the significance of WikiLeaks and made contact from the moment they arrived on the internet. He became obsessed with providing support for whistleblowers. He was a great enabler, always encouraging and ardently supporting everyone who entered his orbit.”

Rachel Oldroyd, managing editor of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, added: “Gavin constantly challenged us to do the best journalism we could and to seek out the stories that really held those in power to account. His infectious energy and spirit was a true force for good, which will be missed.”

Mr MacFadyen, who lived in Pimlico, died of lung cancer surrounded by loved ones in London on October 22. 

He is survived by Susan, who he married in 2010, his son Michael, from a previous marriage to Virginia Daum, Susan’s three daughters and six grandchildren.

Next Thursday, December 8, a celebration of the journalist’s life will take place at the Great Hall of Goldsmiths, University of London, from 5pm. 

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