Unreliable Sources

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 May, 2010, 12:00am

Unreliable Sources
by John Simpson
Macmillan, HK$157

In Unreliable Sources, readers will sense John Simpson's dislike of fellow journalists as he wades through 100 years of reportage. He shows how they have misreported news, practised jingoism and censorship, and pandered to popular taste. In 1941, he writes, 'the British desperately wanted to believe all would be well [against the Japanese], and the correspondents there were not prepared to suggest anything to the contrary'. If journalists had been as outspoken as war reporter Martha Gellhorn, who called Hong Kong a ticking time bomb, 'Churchill might have done something about the weak, fatalistic leadership that was evident in Hong Kong, Singapore and Rangoon'. From the Boer war to Iraq, from the first world war to the Edward VIII abdication crisis, the writer takes aim at reporters who had been lazy or cowards morally and intellectually. But Simpson, a journalist of 40 years, could be accused of imprecision in allowing the subtitle, How the 20th century was reported, to stand: it should be how the British press reported some events during that time. Readers may be less trusting of news reports because of this book. That is probably a good thing.