Museum of Non-Participation
The Museum of Non Participation
Artangel London launch
Close Window

  • Urdu-English class at the Whitechapel Gallery's Guernica Room

    Preface to a History of the Museum of Non Participation
    Pancho Villa, 2009

    We know enough to make up lies which are convincing, but we also have the skill, when we will, to speak the truth." (The Muses to Hesiod. Hesiod, Theogony 25)

    What is the Museum of Non Participation? Does it have a mission, and collections? Is it an enigma, a paradox, or a joke? Might it be all these and more, or simply one more art-world folly competing for attention? Do its founders ask serious questions, or question seriousness? Is it disinterest or complicity in disguise? Is its title a misnomer? Many questions confront this project; perhaps that is its purpose, because in querying it we are forced to interrogate the boundaries of participation and museums.

Museums are respectable institutions charged with the preservation, interpretation and display of objects. They are good places to visit while on holiday, or on rainy days out with the kids. We rarely stop to question them. Perhaps it is the combination of well-trained smiles emitted from visitor-enquiry desks, the lure of gift shops, proffering ersatz antiquities and the bottled Lethe water sold in air-conditioned cafes that makes museums feel so comfortable and cuddly, and encourages us to avert our eyes from the violence, both mythical and real, that lies at their foundation. Who after all would want to hear the 'hapless soldier's sigh, that runs in blood down palace walls' while trying to grab a bit of culture on a Sunday afternoon?

    But our museums are far from innocent; they are at best a bloody pirate's treasure trove. So why not question them? After all it would be comforting to know that the previous owner of a painting that we so admire had not perished in a gas-chamber, or that the wonderful display of marble sculptures in gallery X hadn't been nicked by an upstart ambassador and bequeathed to the Nation in exchange for some ignoble honour. But even after pushing aside the violence of plunder, our museums still confront us with successive layers of brutality disguised as culture. There is: the violence of restoration, which has erased so many works of art; the violence of sacrilege that denies the religious significance of countless 'curated' objects; the violence of professional discourse that cocoons the initiated and intimidates the 'untutored'; and the violence of desecration, which haunts so many living peoples. Then, least we forget, there is the plagiaristic violence perpetuated by a Frankenstein monster that, with the heart of a rebel and the hands of a colonial despot, calls itself, in true military fashion, the avant-garde. And of course there is the violence of denial implicit in all interpretation. Europe possesses no word to fully express its cruelties, but Mexican Spanish does. It is a word that evokes the Conquest, and the wealth that flooded Seville and drained into the coffers of Italian renaissance banks. It is a word with countless facets; whole sentences can be constructed by manipulating its inflections. It flavours everyday speech with bile. The word is Chinga. It means fuck, rape, destruction, pillage, hopelessness, despair and theft. It evokes a mythical time and place; la Chingada, - the rape of mother earth - which in European parlance connotes the discovery of the New World. Thus: Chinga tu madre! Chingamos los chingones, hijos de la chingada, quien nos chingaron con chingaderas might be politely translated as: for the abuse of your mother lets upset those toffs, the descendents of conquest, who treat us unfairly and lie.

    But la Chingada is not confined to a resentful memory inscribed in the argot of Mexico. It thrives today in countless 'third world' cities. It is carried in the genetic code of AIDS. It is the force that decimates natural habitats in pursuit of profit. It is the life-blood of the global arms-trade. It is the secret sponsor of our museums.

    Our word 'museum' is a sham. The Mouseion (Greek) Museum (Latin) was the temple of the Muses, inspirers of creativity and daughters of Memory. Their house was a place for comtemplation, and debate, the presevation of ideas, creation of poetry and playing music. The idea of a 'museum' as repository of acquisitions is an adjuct to colonialism. Hence the Museum of Non Participation's desire "to swim against the grain". Its collection of metaphors and actions are available for reinterpretation by anyone at anytime. It is a museum of values not valuables, a museum committed to the principles of 'copyleft', not copyright - a museum predicated on the idea that its collections will grow only by giving them away - and the conviction that the reification of Memory is a distortion of her purpose, which is to aid us in imagining our future.

    But where does this leave the idea of Non-participation and the slogan: Participate in the Museum of Non Participation. Like the final lines of the first Dada manifesto if you disagree with this manifesto you are a Dadaist it appears to be a paradox. Personally I refuse to take part and consider this museum miss-named; better that we call it the Museum of Heresies, the Museum of Awkward Buggers, or the Museum of Non-acquiescence.

 Whatever it turns out to be, dont expect to find me dead in it.

  • Artangel Press Release

    Karen Mirza and Brad Butler conceived The Museum of Non Participation in 2007 when - during the Pakistani Lawyers movement in Islamabad - they viewed the protests and subsequent state violence from a window in The National Art Gallery.

    Since then they have pursued ideas connected to their position that day - through conversation, images, activities and narratives following strands of dialogue to different people, places and contexts.

    Working over an eighteen month period with street vendors, Urdu translators, architects, estate agents, housing activists, lawyers, hairdressers, filmmakers, wedding photographers, newspaper printers, artists and writers, they have played out different manifestations of The Museum of Non Participation.

    The project first appeared as an English/Urdu language class in September 2008. The free class invited English and Urdu speakers to exchange conversational language under the guidance and mediation of Hasan Navid. It became a space for cultural and linguistic exchange travelling from the Oxford House community centre in Bethnal Green to an invited space behind Yaseens Hairdressers on the Bethnal Green Road and to a public performance at the Guernica room in the Whitechapel Gallery.

    Hosted by artist collective VASL, Mirza and Butler returned to Karachi for a second time in December 2008, where they occupied a space at the Pakistani Arts Council; this open space became a location to work through ideas with (non) participants and a base from which they conducted interventions outside in the streets of the city. They distributed newspapers as packaging for food sold by the tandoor wallas, presented performance interventions at Sunday Bazaar, and worked with sign writers to produce text banners and wall paintings that demarcated the Museum as a pop-up institution, announcing a new way of moving through and looking at the city: in a city with almost no museums, the city itself becomes the museum.

  • The scars of colonialism, partition and subsequent post colonialist ventures of improvement run deep in Karachi. Representations of Pakistan by Western media portray a rogue state suffering from conflict, extremism, natural disasters and sporadic martial law, made more fearsome by its nuclear status. The Museum of Non Participation seeks to discover the patterns and realities of everyday life and to find other languages and other voices.

    The project has variously taken the form of film, an Urdu/English language exchange, street interventions, a radio show and performances. On 20 September 2009 a newspaper publication featuring some of the different voices and interpretations of the title was distributed across the UK as a supplement of The Daily Jang - the international newspaper from Pakistans oldest and largest media group.

    This newspaper preceded the official launch The Museum of Non Participation, a month-long festival (25 September - 25 October 2009) behind Yaseen barbers shop on Bethnal Green Road. It brought together the multiple faces of the project in a programme of film screenings, talks, discussions, Urdu poetry, and performance.

    The Museum of Non Participation raises questions about resistance and the choice and consequence of action vs inaction. The strictures of conflict, class and monetary divisions within a globalised world provoke engagement with the problems of participating or not participating in such a system, whether in Karachi, London or elsewhere; The Museum of Non Participation examines how our lives in one space have implications on the other.

  • The Museum of Non Participation
    25 Sep - 25 Oct 2009
    Behind Yaseen Hairdressers
    277 Bethnal Green Rd
    London E2

    The Salon and the Public Sphere
    A series of salons held behind the Barbers, an intimate gathering for conversation and an exchange of ideas.

    On Language as Violence
    Thursday 1 October
    Award-winning investigative journalist Nick Davies led an informal discussion on the role and power of the media in an international context drawing on ideas in his controversial expos of the truth behind the headlines, Flat Earth News. Nick Davies has been named Journalist of the Year, Reporter of the Year and Feature Writer of the Year for his investigations into crime, drugs, poverty and other social issues. He is currently freelance, working regularly as a special correspondent for the Guardian.

    Audio: Nick Davies - On language as violence

    Writing the City
    Friday 2nd October
    Kamila Shamsie is the author of four novels, and a regular columnist for the Guardian. She lives in London and Karachi, and is presently teaching in New York State. This salon took the form of a discussion on the relationship of writing and literature to the way we imagine the metropolis.

    On Collections
    Thursday 8 October
    Artist and curator Alana Jelinek delved into the politics and ethics of museum and gallery collections. Alana Jelinek is currently a fellow at the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

    Future Imaginary
    Thursday 15 October
    Critic and curator Fatos Ustek discussed the future of the Museum of Non Participation with Karen Mirza and Brad Butler as a real institution. What might the collection be, and where would it exist? Fatos Ustek is a freelance critic and curator, and edits the online contemporary arts magazine nowiswhere.

    Audio: Fatos Ustek - Future Imaginary

    Flat Earth and Other Stories
    Saturday 17 October
    John Phillips gave a reading and led a discussion under the title Flat Earth and Other Stories, dont participate if you want. Plus a history of non participation through artistic, political and literary examples. John Phillips co-founded the Paddington Printshop (now the London Print Studio) in 1974. He has devoted much of his life to the running of this highly successful non-profit printmaking workshop, now an established model for many global art-activism initiatives.

    Audio: John Phillips - Flat Earth - 17th Oct

    Sunday 18 October
    The British Pakistani Foundation hosted an informal poetry recital focusing on Iqbal's Shikwa and Jawab-e-Shikwa. Themes of identity were discussed in terms of the relevance of Iqbal's vision in today's political climate.

    The Architecture of Destruction
    Wednesday 21 October
    Architect and theorist Eyal Weizman along with other members of Goldsmiths Centre for Research Architecture led a discussion which interrogated the political relationship of architecture to violence across the globe. Eyal Weizman is an architect, curator and writer based in London. He also directs Goldsmiths Colleges Centre for Research Architecture.

    Miss Bs Salon behind the Salon
    Thursday 22 October
    Artist Ruth Beale hosted a salon event with Dave Rushton on media and autonomy. Dave Rushton was a member of Art & Language in the 1960s, he is the founder of the Institute of Local Television and has been a powerful voice in campaigning for media freedom since the 1970s. Ruth Beales salons take the form of open debates at public galleries taking subjects pertinent to art discourse and artists practice. In the last year subjects have included artists' political responsibilities; copyright; uses of the word 'space'; psychoanalysis and film; attraction to fascist cultural products; and the regulation of social space.

    Audio: Ruth Beal and Dave Rushton

    The South Asian Womens Creative Collective:
    Friday Night Social - Fun and Games Behind the Barber Shop
    Friday 23 October
    The South Asian Women's Creative Collective hosted an evening of participatory art, fun and chat - an evening of 2 halves.
    Artist / comedienne Yara el-Sherbini hosted 2 rounds of her alternative pub quiz, Lahore-based video journalist Farzana Fiaz gave the latest from the ground and a sneak preview of some unseen clips, artist/ photographer Sara Haq offered individually tailored 2-5 minute holidays as part of her project: Space/ Time Travel Holidays Inc and Sonia Mehta brought the evening to a close with one of her unmissable unaccompanied vocal performances.


    Women's Only Events

    An ongoing discussion and series of performances around the issue of The Body, Social Space and the Aesthetic of Resistance led to the decision to create a women only space, posing questions about how women might reclaim space, and imitate, accelerate and "own" everyday encounters. Tuesdays in The Museum of Non Participation sought to intervene in the assumed power dynamics of the everyday social space in Karachi, London and elsewhere. Women were invited to use this day as they wish, groups and individuals were welcome to initiate as well as participate.


    Tuesday 6 October
    Publisher Rukhsana Yasmin and playwright Yasmin Whittaker Khan hosted a special women-only Mushaira, or poetry reading. A poetic symposium held in Urdu and English.

    Writing and Activism workshop
    Tuesday 13th October
    Founding member of Southall Black Sisters, journalist and writer Rahila Gupta drew on her experiences to lead this workshop which explored the relationship between writing and activism.

    Audio: Rahila Gupta - Writing and Activism

    Language Classes
    For Urdu speakers wishing to learn English alongside English speakers wishing to learn Urdu. Three versions of The Museum of Non Participations original Urdu/English language exchange including beginners drop-in sessions, womens only classes and a continuation of the previous terms activities.

    Introductory class
    Saturday 10 and Saturday 17 October
    A taster language class based on exchanging skills in Urdu and English.
    Intermediate/beginners class
    Wednesday 7, 14 and 21 October
    Led by translator and language teacher, Hasan Sheikh, a continuation of our Urdu/English language exchange.

    Tuesday 29 September and 6, 13 and 20 October
    Arjum Wajid has worked as a journalist both in English and Urdu for over 25 years. Her informal language class provided an environment where English and Urdu speaking women could begin to learn and/or practice and improve their spoken English and Urdu through exchange, activities and conversation with some basic teaching structure.


    Scriptwriting Workshops
    Saturday 26 September, 3, 10, 17 October
    The Museum of Non Participation and Zammurad Naqvi led a series of experimental scriptwriting workshops for a pilot television soap opera in order to develop characters and plot lines that explore Pakistani life in the UK.


    Film Screenings
    Zinda Laash
    Friday 16 October
    Come to the Museum of Non Participation for a special Friday night film screening. Between 6-8pm we will be showing the infamous Zinda Laash - Paikistani director Khwaja Sarfraz's Urdu-language version of Dracula, made in 1967. Also known as Dracula in Pakistan and The Living Corpse, this Lollywood classic was the first film in Pakistan to be x-rated.

    Film Premiere
    The Exception and the Rule
    by Karen Mirza and Brad Butler
    London Film Festival
    Sun 25 October
    Shot primarily in Karachi, The Exception and the Rule employs a variety of strategies in negotiating consciously political themes. Avoiding traditional documentary modes, the film frames everyday activities within a period of civil unrest, incorporating performances to camera, public interventions and observation. This complex work supplemented The Museum of Non Participation.

  • On 20 September 2009 a run of 10,000 newspaper publications featuring some of the different voices and interpretations of the title was distributed across the UK as a supplement of The Daily Jang - the international newspaper from Pakistan's oldest and largest media group.

  • The Museum of Non-Participation, By Maxa Zoller

    For one month last October, a small room behind a Pakistani barbershop on the Bethnal Green Road in East London served as the main site of the Museum of Non-Participation, an art project by London-based artist duo Karen Mirza & Brad Butler. One could easily assume from its title that the Museum of Non-Participation (MNP) was a form of archive, conserving and presenting documentation of actions of non-participation: a shrine of relics of resistance, of artists refusal to partake in capitalist production. Far from it. The MNP is a conceptual construct that unlike normal exhibitions has no fixed physical locus or temporal limit. The first materialisation of this work-in-progress literally took place in the space behind Yaseens Barbers, which perfectly exemplified the heterotopic space by becoming a cinema, a shelter for gatherings, meetings and workshops, a library, a classroom for Urdu language courses and container for Mirza & Butlers ascetic conceptual artworks. In the middle of the room a long table displayed stacks of supplements, specially edited by the artists, of the Pakistani newspaper Daily Jang, while also serving as a screen for a slide show projected from the ceiling onto the table top. The slides, and a television monitor in the far right corner, presented public interventions of The MNP in Karachi and Islamabad, while on the left-hand wall hung a framed print, a taxonomy of newspaper headlines titled Disturbances Pre planned. The artists new experimental film The Exception and the Rule , which played on a small monitor, was hot during a residency in Pakistan and London. The 40-minute film explores the relationship between power and image production by playfully confusing the conventional roles allocated to subject, filmmaker and audience. Interweaving time-lapse shots of Karachis busy street life, documentation of performative interventions in the urban space and re-enactments of works by modernist artists Robert Morris, Richard Serra, Ryszard Wasko and Vito Acconci, The Exception and the Rule addresses the issue of colonialisation through the image, a phrase coined by the French anthropologist Marc Aug to whom this film owes much of its theoretical gravitas.

    Artists working in the decades subsequent to periods of economic euphoria (the 1960s following the post-war economic miracle and the 1990s in the aftermath of 1980s derugulation) tended to consider participation a good thing. In contemporary western society participation sprawls interactively and unbounded at the distance of a mouse-click through the stream of digital data, producing new marketing terms such as widening participation and crowdsourcing, which are becoming catchphrases in the art world (see Jennifer Thatchers Crunch Time AM 332). In this light, the relational aesthetics works of, for example, Rikrit Tirvanija and Tino Seghal can be seen as conduits for rather than as forms of resistance to the commercialisation of communication in post-industrial, neoliberal society. The MNP offers a less self-assured, more precarious mode of participation refusing to conform to a simple application of the strategies of Institutional Critique, by which I mean the attacking of a hostile power that is allegedly exterior and separate from the artist whose liberalist intervention is based on moral superiority and political correctness. The events at the MNP, in contrast, provided a discursive platform focusing on debates around the politics of the public sphere and art, investigating basic modes of communication and language, not only through various open seminars, with titles such as On Language as Violence and Writing the City, but also by focusing on Urdu the fourth most spoken language in the world and Pakistans main language through free Urdu classes as well as the production of the specially-commissioned supplement of the Daily Jang newspaper. Published in English and Urdu, the newspaper focuses on what is lost in translation (for instance the Urdu word for museum can only be translated as the House of the Unexpected).

  • More event and idea than exhibition or object, the MNP proposed an open relationship between artwork and audience, one that stretched beyond the control of the artists. Questioning the very foundations of their own practice, Mirza & Butler consciously include themselves in the problem that is the MNP. In fact they prefer to describe the MNP as an action or gesture. Following the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agambens observation that gesture occurs at the limits of language, the MNP can be seen as a symptom of an art language in crisis, whose precarious state is open rather than established, gestural rather than verbal. By an art language in crisis, I mean that the economic breakdown of the art industry that flourished post-1989, the paralysis of conventional artistic and theoretical strategies in the face of global politics which, combined with the crisis of the Left and the impotency of political activism, have given rise to numerous debates, thinktanks and conferences that have discussed the question of agency (criticality as a post-avant-garde placeholder), new paradigms (Nicolas Bourriauds notion of the altermodern) and art practice in the so-called post-medium condition (New Institutionalism).

    Returning to Agamben and his notion of a politics of gesture as a means without ends, it could be said that the MNP has turned art into gesture, in the sense of an incomplete act or movement whose destination is, as yet, outside form and language. This is also reflected in the relationship between the MNP and Londons contemporary art scene. Commissioned by Artangel Interaction Projects, which places emphasis on process rather than product, the MNP is supported by Britains institutional structure while carving out a space in the larger social sphere both physically, outside the gallery context (a room behind a barber shop), and conceptually, through its paradoxical and open condition. This in-between state was deeply inspired by a political event that occurred during Mirza & Butlers artists residency in Islamabad in 2007. While visiting a nude exhibition in the National Gallery of Islamabad, the artists witnessed first-hand the Lawyers Movement riots which rose as a result of Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhrys refusal to obey military ruler General Pervez Musharrafs order to resign from his position of the Chief Justice of Pakistan. This refusal sparked a chain of events, including massive rallies and so-called Long Marches, then, in November 2007, General Musharraf imposed a state of emergency, an act reserved only for the countrys president.

    Watching the violence unfold from the window of one of the most disputed art exhibitions in the National Art Gallery, the city outside and the gallery inside were transformed into sites of confrontation. Sandwiched between these two manifestations of protest the artists found themselves in a liminal space, which became the inspiration for the MNP. The museum visitor experiences this paradoxical experience at face value: upon entering the room behind the barbershop, the visitor was confronted with the question: how can I not participate in this museum now that Ive entered it? Following the artist Andrea Frasers claim that we are the institution the intelligence of The MNP lies in its impossibility to be captured because it is everywhere where we are not. This paradoxical experience leaves its audience in a moment of uncertainty, or non-closure, and arguably of self-agency, which differentiates the MNP from the first social turn of 1990s relational art.

  • Printed in Kaleidoscope Magazine: Download: MNP 30 page spread


    When commercialization penetrates journalism, the once-essential profession is bound to die from the very same disease it was originally supposed to fight: misinformation. Words by NICK DAVIES

    Theres an unwritten rule in Fleet Street: dog doesnt eat dog. This is a Fleet Street saying. What it means is that we will write about everybody else but not about ourselves.

    The reason I decided to break this rule was because of the global misinformation propagated by the stories about the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. I would think that every media outlet on the planet carried stories claiming that these WMD existed. However after the invasion, when it became clear that those stories were false, we, the media, then wrote about that error as though it were a problem created by government and intelligence agencies, without recognizing that the shape of the misinformation had more than two corners. In fact, it had three, and that third corner was ourselves. With very few exceptions, the media didnt acknowledge that fact, and so we didnt ask the obvious question, which is: Why would we get the most important news story of our era wrong? If you ask that question of people outside the news media, many will respond by stating that you cant believe everything you read. Yet if pressed to say why you cannot believe everything, those individuals tend to fall back on theories which are themselves misinformation. For instance, lots of people think that the media dont tell the truth because the owners of the media lean down from on high and impose their political agendas. That is true only on a very small scale. Murdoch appears in my book as an unscrupulous bully. There are examples of him injecting lies into his media outlets to serve some kind of political or commercial interest. And yet that kind of owner intervention happens on a much, much smaller scale than people think.

    Others believe that misinformation has to do with advertising, and that advertisers have a lever over newspapers and therefore can engineer whole stories in order to satisfy their needs. Youll find that such situations occur occasionally, particularly in specialist magazines, which can be hugely dependent on a single advertiser. However in the international media, I cant find a single example of an advertiser who has successfully distorted an editorial line. Clearly, there is something else going on, the origins of which are in the commercialization of the newsrooms.

    In the last three or four decades, all over the developed world, newspapers by and large have been taken over by big corporations, and those corporations have ransacked the newsrooms in search of profit. The internal logic of the news organizations has thus changed. Instead of running on the logic of journalismi.e. lets find the important stories, check them, and put them out in the
    worldthe logic becomes commercial: lets do anything we can to squeeze more profit out of this organization. My book, Flat Earth News [Chatto & Windus, 2008] is about the numerous, subtle ways in which that commercialization penetrates journalism, so that the media fail to tell the truth about all kinds of things, from weapons of mass destruction down to the tiniest stupidities that run day by day in newspapers the world over.

    If you work in a newsroom that has been commercialized, what you want to do is to find the story that you can cover quickly and safely, so that you can then race onto the next story. Various implications follow from this. One is that there are certain ideas that we can take for granted because they are already in the mainstream; they are consensus ideas. The easiest way to illustrate this is to go back to see how newspapers used these ideas in the past. For example, in the book, I went back to newspapers published in Texas in the 1890s, where white people who produced and read newspapers took for granted their hatred of black people. One of the riveting examples is the reporting of lynchings. In one case, a young black man had been accused of some sort of sexual intentions toward a white woman in a town called Conroe to the north of Houston. The white men of the town tied the black man to a tree with the intentions of burning him the following day. The Houston Post reported this lynching party with enormous approval. There was no sense of fear of the law intervening, nor, indeed, of any kind of guilt. None of those ideas was current; it was thus perfectly safe to report the lynching. A bit more recently, I found a review in the New York Times that talked about a particular book in terms that seemed like Al-Qaeda propaganda. The mainstream assumptions that were flowing through New York in the 1960s made it such that the New York Times could write a book review in which the concept of revolutionary violence could be discussed reasonably. There are safe ideas that we circulate as unspoken assumptions. Today, for example, we take it for granted that the natural way of organizing things is capitalism, that a small portion of the population owns all the wealth and people can only access it if they sell their labor power. That assumption wouldnt have been made in the years between 1880 and 1980, when socialism was part of the mainstream. This is how ideology infiltrates journalism as a commercialized outfit. Masses of people working in journalism are trade unionists or Marxists, but many of them write stories that take for granted capitalism because such stories are safe. There are also safe sources which are basically official sources. If theres a demonstration, and those who are organizing it say that there were 20,000 people in attendance, while the police say there were 6,000 people, the media will go with the police estimate because it is safe. For if the demonstrations organizers complain, who the heck are they? Whereas if the police complain, youre in trouble.

  • Andrew Gilligan from the BBC did his famous report in which he said that the governments intelligence dossier had been sexed up. This sparked a horrific sequence of events in which there was an inquiry led by Hutton, and Hutton used the killer word unfounded to describe Gilligans report. As a result, Gilligan was almost destroyed professionally. Compare what happened to Gilligan with all the other journalists who ran stories in the buildup to the invasion of Iraq that said there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. All of those stories were unfounded, but none of those journalists were subjected to the persecution that Gilligan experienced. I think this is the case because all the WMD stories were based on the consensus account. They had the power on their side.

    I think the concept of objectivity in journalism is bogus. Sometimes, when people talk about objectivity, they put it on a spectrum with subjectivity on the other end. I dont think thats the right way of speaking about it. When youre talking about the representation of reality, the opposite of objective is not subjective, its selective. The problem is not that were all dragged along by our prejudices and biases and are unable to tell the truth about the world. Rather, imagine theres reality: a gigantic bramble of event and process and emotion. Anytime a human being approaches this reality and says, Im going to record it as truth in the form of a painting or poem or sculpture or a photograph or a news story, that human being always has to make selective judgments. For the news journalist, these judgments start with covering one news subject and not one of the myriad other news subjects out there. Having chosen this subject, a countless number of things could be said, however the journalist chooses one particular angle. And having made these two really important judgments the subject and the angle then the journalist goes on to make more selective judgments: about how long the story is going to be, whether it will appear on the front page or page 16, what will be on the headline All of these selective judgments are legitimate and can be described as producing truth, so long as whats written is built on statements that reflect reality. What we can never claim, however, is that its the objective truth. Once you understand that journalism is constructed out of these selective judgments, then you must ask, according to what criteria are these judgments being made?

    Newspapers are run by corporations; their goals are to cut costs and increase output. In preparation for the book, we took a huge survey of national newsrooms, and found that national journalists now fill three times as much space as they did back in 1985. What that means is that on average, journalists have only a third of the time to write each story. That has fundamental
    implications, because if youre a journalist, your most important working asset is time. As a result of this time crunch, the journalists selective judgments are now being infiltrated by outsiders in the form of the public relations industry. Press officers make these selective decisions about what is presented in the news, because if they present to the journalist a nice package of information, the journalist can convert that into a story in something like half an hour. The PR firms select the content, the subject, the angle and we convert it into journalism. Weve lost our immune system as journalists, which consists in checking and constantly rejecting anything that is false, like a body rejecting germs.

    The mass media are dying because its business model has been broken by the Internet. It could be that within the next fifteen years, the profession will die, and journalists will become like arrow makers once essential, now obsolete. Many say this doesnt matter, because instead of professional journalists we will have citizen journalists who will distribute news through the Internet. I think that is a dangerous myth. Its dangerous because it becomes an alibi for corporations to sack journalists and close down newspapers, effectively shutting off the one profession that could conceivably provide reliable information. The weakness of citizen journalism is that the ordinary punters dont have the time or the resources or the skills to check their information. You could call this an era of information chaos.

    NICK DAVIES is the bestselling author of Flat Earth News: On Falsehood and Distortion in the Media, and a former Journalist of the Year, Reporter of the Year and Feature Writer of the Year for his investigations into crime, drugs, poverty and other social issues. Hundreds of journalists have attended his master class on the techniques of investigative reporting. He has been a journalist since 1976 and is currently a freelance writer, working regularly as special correspondent for The Guardian. He also makes TV documentaries. He was formerly an on-screen reporter for World
    In Action. His four books include White Lies (about a racist miscarriage of justice in Texas) and Dark Heart (about poverty in Britain). He was the first winner of the Martha Gellhorn Award for investigative reporting for his work on failing schools and recently won the award for European Journalism for his work on drugs policy. Flat Earth News was published in hardcover in February 2008. The paperback came out in January 2009 and, in May 2009, won the first Bristol Festival of Ideas bookaward, conferred annually for a book which presents new, important and challenging ideas, which is rigorously argued, and which is engaging and accessible. It is now being translated into Thai, Vietnamese, Greek, Dutch and Chinese. In November 2009, the University of Westminster made him an honorary fellow for services to journalism