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Flat Earth News

Thanks to the Private Eye for running excerpts from this excellent book in the magazine. To step away from my main story, you should try to read at least one copy of the mag, it is the only real satirical magazine in the UK and the only publication which investigates and attacks all the parties and all the people who shape our lives. It has long had a history of hard hitting investigative journalism and prints the stories the papers and TV don’t want to or dare not.

Flat Earth News is a book about the media and written by a journalist. Nick Davies explains, throughout, where the once proud tradition of journalism has now become “churnalism”. Where once a journalist may spend weeks tracking down and verifying a story, they now rewrite PR pieces, government pieces and whatever they can get from the newswires. He takes us through the means by which outright and blatant lies can be placed on the front page of every newspaper and why they are never challenged. And the book is somewhat frightening.

If you get your world news and views from the media, you are being very subtly (and not so subtly) manipulated to think the way “they” think you should think. This is the sort of thing that would be at home in a Cold War thriller or science fiction story, and yet is happening right now and has been for many years. Welcome to the future.

What can we do about it? Depressingly, and in my opinion only, not a great deal. The lack of journalistic integrity is a massive by product of the new rise of the media barons who cut staff and demand ever more product, governments who think less of doing the right thing than getting away with it and PR companies who will do whatever it takes to make us think in an approved manner.

We are all aware of the manipulation – how many thought the “limited” number of Wii console stories were put there just to make us panic and buy one? I know I did. But it doesn’t stop there, the rush to war on Iraq is covered, the supposed Al-Qaeda operatives are covered, methods of winning elections and many other stories. The links page on the Flat Earth News website has links to sites that cover this sort of thing in more depth.

If you care about public manipulation, media integrity and about how the world is viewed, you should read this book. In my view, this is one of the more important books of this decade to be published.

About the Author:

Nick Davies has been named Journalist of the Year, Reporter of the Year and Feature Writer of the Year for his investigations into crime, drugs, poverty and other social issues. Hundreds of journalists have attended his masterclass on the techniques of investigative reporting. He has been a journalist since 1979 and is currently a freelance, working regularly as special correspondent for The Guardian. He also makes TV documentaries; he was formerly an on-screen reporter for World In Action. His four books include White Lies (about a racist miscarriage of justice in Texas) and Dark Heart (about poverty in Britain). He was the first winner of the Martha Gellhorn award for investigative reporting for his work on failing schools and recently won the award for European Journalism for his work on drugs policy.

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11 Comments

  1. hari says:

    Satire is a favourite topic of mine.

    I am quite interested to know whether that book is available in India. Will check it out if possible. :)

    hari’s last blog post..Papa Hari School of Politics

  2. od says:

    “.. you are being very subtly (and not so subtly) manipulated to think the way “they” think you should think.” — Very true. And scary.

  3. Ray says:

    Indeed. One of the stories about the Daily Mail stated that if a news story featured a black person it would only be accepted if a) the person was a criminal or b) the black person/family were “one of us” – as in, they had risen above themselves, got a job, nice house and were bringing up a nice family.

  4. hari says:

    I am well aware of the manipulations of the news media in India and can usually see through their distortions. But still, I’m of above average intelligence :P

    Seriously though, I think most bloggers have the advantage of being well informed and having strong opinions, so we can usually sift through the lies and find the grain of truth.

    hari’s last blog post..A couple of proposed changes

  5. od says:

    Ah well. Politics rubbish.

  6. drew says:

    Trusting the news and media from the major sources is like actually believing the weather man on television really knows what the weather is gonna be like tomorrow or the weekend. You’re better off just looking or going outside to really see what the weather is like.

    That’s how I treat most news read online or seen on television. ;)

  7. od says:

    Haha.. great analogy. Well said :p

  8. Ray says:

    Unfortunately, a good percentage of the world population get all their knowledge from the media. Look at the demonisation of the Arab world over the last few years in films, books, newspapers and TV news. Even if the media do get caught out, the damage is done – do you remember that they eat babies as shown on Monday’s 6pm news, or do you remember that a very short retraction went out on the Friday news?

  9. There is a big difference between different kinds of journalist. Some do make the effort the spend time tracking down and verifying a story. Others just rewrite commercial stuff. The intelligent reader should be aware of manipulations of the second kind.

  10. Kirschner says:

    lol. I guess it’s time to be more careful now. Thanks for the share! :D