Flat Earth News debate (London College of Communication – 6/4/08)

The ethical issues raised in Flat Earth News by Nick Davies were debated at the London College of Communication and here are a few notes [more analysis to come].

Davies doesn’t pull his punches when it comes to ‘naming and shaming’ those journalists who he believes have poor ethical standards. Davies reserves no less than 14 pages to giving Kamal Ahmed, former political editor at The Observer, a dressing down.

Davies alleges that Ahmed, supported by his bosses at The Observer, produced a series of reports about the Iraq war which were misleading. He also accuses him of cuddling up to Ali Campbell (not the former UB40 singer, the other one) to get some pro-Blair spin and “exclusives” for his paper.

If it wasn’t enough having a book in Borders that pulls your career apart, Andrew Gilligan [a man of truly impeccable journalistic standards] also felt the need to twist the knife during the debate. He said: “The attack on Kamal Ahmed was justified. He was lazy.”

Gilligan appeared in celebratory mood during the night. His ultra right-wing Evening Standard was having a successful week stiffing Ken and pimping Boris. Gilligan describes his investigations as good old-fashioned news reporting. “If it was left to ‘churnalism’ this story would never have happened,” he stated proudly.

But Gilligan risked upsetting his employer by dismissing the free sheets as “not really news.” Apparently,  places like London Lite and the London Paper employ just “five 22 year-olds…copying the news off the Internet. He also said that Wikipedia was often used as a legitimate news source by reporters generally.

A few more quotes:

  • Nick Davies, Guardian hack, author,: “This is stuff worth fighting for…let’s stand up for the right to tell the truth about the media itself.”
  • Peter Preston, media columnist, Observer: “I fought a long battle against anonymous sources and there are far too many in Nick’s book.” He said that the Cardiff University statistics, which Davies relies heavily on to back up his argument, were “crap”. Preston said that staffing levels at The Guardian had actually increased in recent times from around 260 to 430 (not taking into account online staff).
  • Michelle Stanistreet, President of the NUJ,: “Quality Journalism is what we strive for, but ‘churnalism’ is all too common….. The average day for many [journalists] is rewriting press releases.”
  • Sally Costerton, UK CEO, Hill & Knowlton [PR agency]: “I don’t believe there is a loss of transparency. We are not in the business of making up stories.”

Flat Earth News by Nick Davies is on Amazon now.

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