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Breaking [the] news
on 16 October 2012
Nick Davies lifts the lid on a world, which most of us know by instinct if not by experience, has a sordid, shadowy side that not infrequently corrupts the truth if it doesn't actually create fiction. I have experience of the technical - as opposed to the editorial - aspects of this world but of course I was sometimes in a position to witness exactly the kind of bad practice that Davies shines a light on. While his book has shown me that this existed, and still exists, in a wider context than my own little cocoon he has, on the other hand, taught me to be a little bit more forgiving to the lower eschelons of journalists who, I now see, are caught in a trap which they are powerless to avoid. Their only alternative is to leave. Undoubtedly there are those who do revel in distorting facts and destroying lives on a whim driven by selfish and inhumane motives - I have seen that myself too - but the broad brush of contempt that I wielded over the whole news industry has narrowed to the targets that truly deserve it. That doesn't mean that I will start buying newspapers again or stop asking questions about any news I happen to catch on the telly or the radio. If anything Davies has underlined the fact that we should all be asking those questions all the time about everything. Really - everything! It is no exaggeration to say that people die when we don't.
The book is getting on for five years old now and it contains a fascinating history of the decline of the press over the last couple of decades. I think it is important to understand that history to appreciate why things are the way they are today. I marvelled at the well-researched and discomfiting revelations about certain individuals who were actively involved in that decline. But most shocking of all is the level of manipulation, distortion and outright mendacity in what most of us still call "news", even when it comes from the most respected and influential sources. My only reservation is that while the main argument in the book is still current I think it should be brought up to date with additional, more recent examples to support it. However, it is still a valuable resource, one which cannot fail to change your point of view if you are still labouring under the notion that you get the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.