Last Friday’s special report about faulty refrigerators started with a fire in a London tower block. After oil and gas correspondent Tom Bergin read about the fire he started to investigate the actions of Arcelik, a Turkish company that made the fridge the London Fire Brigade pointed to as a possible cause. There seemed to be inconsistencies in the company’s version of events.
“What I found interesting was uncovering who knew what, when. As soon as one constructed a timeline, it was evident that the EU guidelines had not been followed, even as those involved claimed to be guided entirely by these guidelines,” said Bergin. “That was probably the most interesting and rewarding because the rules were designed to protect people.”
As our story shows, Arcelik was informed by the London Fire Brigade some of its Beko fridges could pose a fire risk years before it informed its customers. When the company did take action, it decided to send out letters and did not follow EU suggestions to use the media to alert consumers to possible dangers.
The British press had not investigated whether Arcelik’s behavior constituted a breach of EU or UK regulations and Bergin believes Arcelik’s effective stonewalling, and newspapers’ disinterest in small stories like domestic fires, stopped the national press from digging deeper into the faulty fridges.
“It takes a great deal of time…Stonewalling often can be very effective, unfortunately, and we live in a country where the libel laws are so restrictive that even suggesting a company has behaved inappropriately poses big risks for news organizations,” he said.
Bergin was the invited to Arcelik’s British headquarters after the company realised Reuters was investigating the story – as far as we know the only British journalist to visit.
“A few weeks into it, it was quite clear to them that we were putting the time and effort into the story that meant we would quite likely come up with a compelling account of what happened and that we understood the rules, that we were making investigations in many different sources…Simply stonewalling wasn’t an option in the face of our persistence.”
–Reporting by Clare Kane