BBC Worldwide magazine, June 1994:
REVIEW: MORTIFYING THE MEDIA
Who Stole The News?
by Mort Rosenblum
(John Wiley & Sons Ltd hardback, £16.95)
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
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
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.
News Development Editor, BBC World Service News