Review of Nick Davies' Flat Earth News


This is an extraordinarily detailed exposition of how the modern media functions. The author, veteran Guardian journalist Nick Davies, along with a team of researchers from Cardiff University, spent several years monitoring the British media and tracing the sources of the stories that they carried. The results were pretty shocking, even for somebody who already has a very low opinion of the corporate and state media.

Davies describes how an increasingly single-minded focus on profit has caused the media industry to outsource much of the primary production of stories and content to PR agencies and state press offices. The role of journalists has been reduced to what he calls “churnalism”, copying and pasting from press releases or government briefings.

Amazingly, his analysis showed that, of a sample of 2000 articles from the ‘quality’ press, only 12% were based on original research and only 12% of the “facts” copied from the hopelessly unreliable PR sources showed any evidence of having been checked. The end result is that the media is increasingly nothing more than a propaganda vehicle for those with the best PR – the rich and the powerful.

American anarchist Noam Chomsky, in works like Manufacturing Consent, has developed a compelling socio-political analysis of the media’s function in self-declared democratic society. However, he generally focuses on the “what,” rather than the “how”, demonstrating that the media operates as a system which, taken as a whole, produces propaganda in support of the powerful.

Chomsky has, however, relatively little to say about the mechanisms by which this propaganda is produced. Flat Earth News fills in the gaps. It provides a wealth of detail which explains exactly how the profit-motive of the industry operates within newsrooms to limit the amount of time and resources available to journalists to establish the truth of what they are reporting. As a result, lots of things that simply aren’t true become the subject of global news coverage.

In addition to the meticulous statistical analysis of the media’s output, Davies presents a series of case studies which draw on his long journalistic experience and network of contacts in the industry to trace exactly how particular issues have been systematically distorted by the media. This is grim reading.

The ease with which the security services were able to plant totally fictional material about Iraq in the run up to the invasion; the appalling and illegal activities of the press in gathering personal details about their targets; the culture of virulent racism and xenophobia in the Daily Mail: depressing snapshots of an industry that seems beyond saving.

Review of Nick Davies' Flat Earth News, Chatto and Windus, €22.65.

This article is from Workers Solidarity 103, May - June 2008

PDF of the southern edition of WS103
PDF of northern edition of WS103