Journalism and freedom of speech have been hot topics in the local media recently – particularly investigative journalism. Johannesburg-based director and producer Lwazi Majiyezi explores South Africa’s rich history of watchdog reporters with a new documentary series called Journalistic Instinct.

A series of 24-minute episodes, Journalistic Instinct looks at the work of investigative journalists in South Africa with particular focus on the instinct that guides them and the skills and resources they need in their quest to expose the truth.

Possibly the most controversial form of news reporting, investigative journalism looks into a single topic of interest, often involving crime, political corruption, or corporate wrongdoing. A journalist may spend months or years researching and preparing a report. Most investigative journalism is done by newspapers, wire services and freelance journalists.

“The series covers from the old crew of the Rand Daily Mail to the current hot-headed crew of the Mail & Guardian, City Press and other local newspapers,” says Majiyezi. “Journalistic Instinct is inspired by TV programmes such as Air Crash Investigation, Solving It and Medical Detectives. Like them, it is characterised by dramatisation, slick interviews, archival footage and special sound effects to create suspense and drama.

“For these reasons it became important for the crew to identify ideal locations. These include the Johannesburg CBD with its legendary buildings and cosy coffee shops, and Pretoria with its historic streets and government buildings. These locations are perfect for enactment and cutaways, while creating the feel and the era of the story.”

Because Journalistic Instinct is an independent production the filmmakers’ approach is to shoot the first full episode and then use it to sell the entire series to one of the local broadcasters.

“We pitched concept to SABC in 2008 and the reading panel at the time was impressed,” says Majiyezi. “But unfortunately the broadcaster was experiencing financial difficulties at the time and the process could not continue.”

The crew behind the project is small, made up only of the director, Majiyezi, production coordinator Peter Shokane, a camera operator, sound technician and production assistant.

“When you have no budget you don’t have the luxury of hiring top equipment, so we’ve had to use whatever has come our way,” says Majiyezi. “Thanks must go to our friends and colleagues who have been kind enough to hire out their equipment at reasonable rates.

“At this stage we have no idea where we are going to do the post-production, although we do have our own editing facilities. We are considering various options and benefits.”

Journalistic Instinct has been shooting since late 2009 and continues general shooting in two-day periods. The finished product will be ready for air in November 2011.