Author Archives: Shona Ghosh

About Shona Ghosh

Shona Ghosh is a freelance journalist.

Starsuckers filmmaker accuses UK tabloids of increasingly ‘murky newsgathering’

The tabloid press is adopting increasingly ‘murky newsgathering’ tactics according to a documentary maker who exposed UK tabloids for publishing false celebrity stories.

Speaking at a Media Society debate on Wednesday night, ‘Starsuckers’ director Chris Atkins called for better self-regulation among British newspapers and accused them of colluding to keep the public ignorant of media malpractice.

“When pharmaceuticals and the police are up to no good, everyone reports it. But when journalists are up to no good, no one reports it,” he said.

Atkins focused his criticism on the News of the World after it attempted to stop the release of his film, which showed one of the newspaper’s journalists taking details of a false story.

“They will fight privacy laws and restrictions, but when you criticise them, they will do everything to shut you down.”

In the course of making the Starsuckers documentary, Atkins’ team planted a fake story about Amy Winehouse’s hair catching fire.

“It’s the same journalists who write about Amy Winehouse’s hair [catching fire] who then write something about global warming,” he said.

He added that a tabloid tendency to promote showbiz reporters to senior editorial positions took the problem beyond celebrity gossip stories. “Why do [the Sun’s] Bizarre reporters get to be editors? They don’t check facts, and then you have the Sun saying there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq,” he said.

But former editor of the People Bill Hagerty defended tabloid behaviour:

“I disagree that people lie about news across all areas. I reject the thought that many journalists start out to falsify news. It’s a few bad apples, and it’s not huge.”

Hagerty also held the online ‘welter of media’ responsible for falling standards in print journalism, but maintained that false reporting was not a widespread practice:

“It’s true that reporters don’t go out any more, and news is often web driven. The press is in very bad shape, but it isn’t driven by people who want to make up stories.”

Related reading on

Documentary’s legal battles reveal ugly truth about UK media culture

Starsuckers’ Chris Atkins: ‘Every news organisation is churning every other. It’s like a Barium meal’

Former News of the World journalist defends phone-hacking at lively debate

Science journalism needs fewer science writers and more editors, says Goldacre

Science journalists were subject to intense criticism in a debate between science minister Lord Drayson and Bad Science blogger Ben Goldacre on Wednesday night.

Current standards of ‘dodgy coverage’ are having an impact on public health, argued Goldacre, who is a medical doctor and writes weekly for the Guardian exposing inaccurate science journalism.

He attributed the problem to a ‘systems failure’ within media organisations, with editors making ill-informed decisions about how science stories are covered.

“We should get scientists to talk about stuff in their own way. There should be fewer science writers and more editors shaping academic ideas,” he said.

Goldacre also encouraged academics to promote good public engagement from their own departments and to start their own blogs. His key criticisms against the mainstream press were a reliance on press releases and a failure to engage with the ‘nerds’, he said.

“There is nothing out there for the people who did biochemistry 10 years ago and now work in middle management at Marks & Spencer,” he said.

But Drayson insisted there was an ‘admirable and improving standard’ of science reporting in the mainstream press, saying that Dr Goldacre’s criticism ‘risks undermining’ the trust between the academic community and the media.

Sensationalism was not necessarily a bad quality in science stories, Drayson added.

“The very nature of the media means that to get that communication, it has to cut through the noise. But sensationalism must be accurate and based upon good science – I don’t see them as mutually exclusive,” he said.

Drayson also countered criticism levelled against journalists interpreting academic ideas and particularly praised specialist writers: “It’s very important for us to support our journalists within their media organisations and recognise when they are doing a good job. They are vital to the general public and we need to have this access.”

Drayson refused to be drawn when the audience raised the issue of libel laws as a barrier to investigative science journalism.

After concluding the debate, however, he did tweet his e-mail address to help those who feel misrepresented by the media.

Shona Ghosh is a freelance journalist. She blogs at