Flat Earth News, By Nick Davies

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The Independent Culture

Despite warnings of "Riots, terrorism and a health crisis" and "all trace of pension contributions could be wiped out", the much-feared millennium bug caused little more damage than the failure of a tide gauge in Portsmouth harbour. This journalistic feeding frenzy based on the specious notion of computer meltdown was, according to Davies, "a stunning example of a failure in truth telling by the global media". He has no shortage of material for his masterly dissection. Other "Flat Earth News" stories include the death toll from Chernobyl estimated at 2,000 to 90,000, though the only established figure is 56, the invention of "zero tolerance" policing in New York, and the fiction that heroin addiction is inevitably fatal. Dickens would sympathise with Davies's incredulity that our hopelessly ineffective criminal justice system goes unreported. Aside from the herd instinct of journalists, Davies points to other factors that assist a fake news agenda: reporting resources cut to the point of atrophy; editors desperate for cheap stories; PR fixers adept at the distorting slant. Propaganda is easier because, as a US general points out, global media "gravitate towards packaged information". If this wasn't enough, one UK paper runs stories "with peculiar aggression" that "mislead readers" and "distort the whole political process". According to Davies, the Daily Mail is "simply achieving from inside the news factory what other powerful voices are achieving with such ease from outside".

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