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Very useful study of the media
on 2 April 2008
Author and journalist Nick Davies has written one of the best exposés of the media. The book started when he saw that the government's lies about Iraqi WMD became widely accepted as true because too many in his profession spread them uncritically. As he writes, journalism without checking is like a body without an immune system.
Commercial forces are the main obstacle to truth-telling journalism. The owners cut costs by cutting staff and local news suppliers, by running cheap stories, choosing safe facts and ideas, avoiding upsetting the powerful, giving both sides of the story (unless it's the official story), giving the readers what they want to believe, and going with moral panics.
He cites a Cardiff University study of four quality papers which found that 60% of their home news stories were wholly from wire agencies, mainly the Press Association, or PR material, 20% partially so, 8% from unknown sources, and just 12% generated by reporters. The Press Association reports only what is said, it has no time to check whether it is true. There are now more PR people, 47,800, than journalists, 45,000.
News websites run by media firms recycle 50% of their stories from the two international wire agencies, Associated Press and Reuters; those run by internet firms recycle 85% of their stories from those two. On a typical day, Google News offered `14,000' stories - actually retelling just 24 events.
The government has 1,500 press officers, issues 20,000 press releases a year, and also spends millions more of our money on PR firms. The Foreign Office spends £600 million a year on `public diplomacy'. The CIA spent $265 million on `information operations' in 1978 alone, more than the world's three biggest news agencies together. It focuses its efforts on the New York Times, CBS, Newsweek and Time.
Davies notes the non-stories - bin Laden before 9/11, 80% of world's people living below the poverty line, poverty and inequality surging since the 1980s, wars in the Ivory Coast, Liberia, Congo and Nepal, the global water shortage, and the vast expansion of tax havens (a third of the world's GDP goes through them).
He notes how the scare about heroin, which is not a poison, led to the rise of the black market and the consequent `war' on drugs, which now costs the USA $49 billion a year. In Britain, every pound the state spends on prohibition stimulates £4 worth of crime. Again, the nuclear power scare is based on lies: Chernobyl killed just 56 people (World Health Organisation figure), not the six million that Greenpeace's Russian representative claimed.
Finally, Davies shows how Rupert Murdoch and Andrew Neil destroyed the Sunday Times and its Insight team, how the Observer suppressed stories that disproved the government's claims about WMD and how Paul Dacre rules the Daily Mail through fear.