rat

Seeing is not necessarily believing

Cartoon RatI had a post half-written, and then life got in the way (as it does). Then this happened…

The Independent and the Telegraph (among others) report that a giant rat has been found near a children’s playground in Hackney. The article has a picture of the monster rodent being held up by the chap who found it. The Telegraph speculates that this might be a cane rat – which apparently do grow to huge size – and that they might be breeding in London’s sewers. [Scream!]

And then, the Guardian also reports on the giant rat, which, it seems, is not as giant as all that. It’s all to do with your perspective, according to the chap the Guardian journalists spoke to. The Guardian article also features a “giant orange fox”, photographed in their very own offices, in case of doubt. Basically, if you hold out an object such as a rat (to take an example totally not at random) in front of you on a stick and get your mate to take a photo from the right angle, it looks as though the common-or-garden rat you’ve got is actually a huge monster rat.

As the Guardian (rather smugly) says, this is why you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet.

Journalistic standards have obviously sunk; one expects this kind of thing from red-top tabloids, but not from the Independent and the Telegraph (as far as I can tell, The Times has preserved a dignified – or lucky – silence). One might speculate that the growth of web 2.0, and the ability of everyone and his brother to stick news up on the internet has meant that real journalists have to make sure they get their news in quick while it’s still news, and before they get scooped by some bloke on Facebook. More expert people than I have written about this problem – journalists, even from ‘reputable’ news sources, leap on a rumour and report it as fact, or with minor hedging-words like ‘reportedly’ or ‘claiming’ – and thus people are deceived.

And that’s being charitable, and putting the misinformation down to carelessness, and not self-interest and malice. The overall standard of reporting on certain hot-button topics like immigration, Europe and human rights can’t be put down to just journalistic ignorance. If it was ignorance, surely there ought to be a few reasonably intelligent journalists out there who would learn from prior mistakes and get better at it. But reporting standards have been awful for years, so it must be on purpose. Adam Wagner, a human rights barrister, got so fed up with the poor standard of human rights reporting by journalists that he founded Rightsinfo, which exists to give people the real facts. With pretty graphics.

I find it depressing, personally. Journalists are very keen to jump up and down about their journalistic privileges being infringed – but they seem to forget that their privileges as regards information gathering and dissemination are in exchange for being the source of information the public relies on. If they are not doing their job properly by giving us reliable information, why should they have privileges?

Of course, I might be wrong. The Independent and the Telegraph might have it right: after all, Sherlock Holmes knew about this stuff. The Giant Rats of Sumatra are obviously alive and well and living in Hackney…