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Copyright: Ian D. Richardson Email:

From BBC Worldwide magazine, June 1994:

Who Stole The News?
by Mort Rosenblum
(John Wiley & Sons Ltd hardback, £16.95)

Whole Stole the News?

MORT ROSENBLUM is a special correspondent for the Associated Press in Paris. He is also very, very angry. At times, reading his book is like standing in front of a blast furnace fuelled by the trash of journalism and the broken promises of politicians.

The preface sets the tone: 'This book is the result of 25 years with nobody listening. I'm a foreign correspondent. Being ignored never used to be a problem. Now it is a problem. The world is going to hell out there and still no one is listening.'

Few sections of the media - perhaps with the exception of BBC World Service and America's National Public Radio - escape Rosenblum's verbal Exocets.

It is difficult not to agree with his broad view that the media, particularly US television, has let society down in not alerting it to global crises before they become unmanageable. The civil war in the former Yugoslavia is one example. The civil war in Somalia another.

He is also right to attack those journalists who not only allowed the military to manipulate the coverage of the Gulf war but who, in some instances, betrayed those colleagues who tried to break out of the military straitjacket to get to the truth.

Rosenblum accuses television editors and politicians of underestimating the willingness of their audiences to be informed about faraway places; he condemns the 'soundbite culture' in which assumptions are made that any topic that takes longer than one minute to explain is bad, unwatchable television.

He believes that if the editors in the USA would face up to their journalistic responsibilities, many of the world's ills could be minimised with relatively little effort, and unprincipled and self serving politicians could be exposed for what they are.

But the book is not entirely one of unrelenting fury. About halfway through, Rosenblum's anger abates sufficiently to recount some amusing tales from the lighter, if not bizarre, side of a foreign correspondent's lot. I particularly enjoyed the story about the over wrought correspondent who, having used every trick in the book to get a ticket on an overbooked plane, abandoned himself to a nervous habit of tearing up paper into little pieces and eating them - with the result that when he came to get on the plane, he discovered he had devoured his boarding ticket.

Rosenblum's book is well-written and an important, compelling contribution to the international debate about journalism and its relationship with politicians and the public. If I have any complaint, it is that he falls into the trap of seeing journalism almost exclusively from an American viewpoint. And it is a shame that the book is so unrelentingly pessimistic. After all, journalism, even American journalism, is far from being all bad.

He accepts this point, in part, by paying generous tributes to the news coverage of BBC World Service and America's NPR. But I think the book would benefit from more space being devoted to positive aspects, giving hope to foreign correspondents of the future and, indeed, to everyone who cares about the great wide world beyond their neighbourhood.

Ian Richardson
News Development Editor, BBC World Service News