Unreliable Sources

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There is always some doubt when you read of a police enquiry into the police.  How objective are the results?  So when a book is written by a journalist, looking critically at the work of journalists, how objective would these opinions be?

John Simpson, a journalist for over 40 years has written a new book called Unreliable Sources (ISBN 978-0-330-43563-5, Pan Books, 2010) which has the sub-title, How the 20th century was reported.

The inherent ‘truth’ in this book is evident on the first page of the introduction where author Simpson writes, “People who read the news in a paper or on a website, who listen to a radio or watch television news, usually imagine they are getting something approaching the truth.  Instead, they are merely getting a version of what has happened.”  What a damning concept to make public, and that’s just page 1 of the introduction.

The book proper begins with the Boer War and the young Winston Churchill, who had already set himself apart from the journalist van.  This was a time when “war artists’ were still being used, as the photographic coverage was not yet well developed.  In those days, the reporter was expected to further the national cause.  Even to the point of fawning!

Interestingly, he writes, “For the Daily Mail to question the (Boer) war was a betrayal of the soldiers who were fighting and dying on the frontline.”  (Now fast forward to Iraq and Afghanistan, and make up your own minds as to the veracity of some reports.)

The reporting by the BBC of the start of “the troubles” in Northern Ireland in Londonderry, called “Bloody Sunday”, showed just how stories could be glossed over and the truth hidden.  Unfortunately it reminded me of the red shirt riots in Bangkok, where the truth is still clouded.

The ‘shock, horror’ headlines, so beloved of the Rupert Murdoch tabloid press, were in fact not invented by R. Murdoch and the late News of the World, but by the Daily Express in the early 1900’s with banner headlines on the front page such as “Beaten to Death – Kills seven navies in a few minutes.”  Hmm, makes the Pattaya Mail very conservative, though I do remember some years ago “Dolphin seen again in Pattaya Bay – unfortunately the dolphin was deceased!”

With 560 pages, some photographic plates plus a bibliography and an index, this is indeed a weighty tome.  You will find you can pick up and begin reading about any decade, to find sadly, that falsehoods, being economical with the truth, to downright lies have been the stock in trade of the mainstream press for more than a century.

At B. 430 on the Bookazine shelves, this is a disturbing book.  For those who would blindly believe everything that is published, the realization that there are many pressures that can affect a ‘news’ item before it goes to print, will be a shock.  For those who have worked as journalists, this book is totally factual, no matter how painful it is to accept.  Not only should the public read this book, but every cadet journalist as well.