Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Ex-Reuters Hack Fights for Real Democracy


Reading this former Reuters reporter’s analysis of the news industry is like watching an episode of detective series Columbo unfold.

Like the seemingly innocent Inspector Columbo, Patrick Chalmers at first comes across as disconcertingly naive. But, just like the deceptive detective, his eye for detail and dedicated approach become clear only late in the storyline.

His book, Fraudcast News, charts the Scottish-born Chalmers’ journey from rookie reporter to angry activist as he gradually realises the mainstream media’s support for a corrupt establishment.

Today, Chalmers can still come across as ingenuous, but when asked whether people are thrown by his deceptively innocent personality, he replies: “My deceptively innocent personality? Cue laughter by pantomime villain.

“I emphasised my naivete because I was naive, and maybe I still am. This is me. Remember, though, that it was a child who told the emperor he had no clothes, opening the door for others to say what they’d all been thinking.

“I’m also aware that people are more receptive to criticism from those who admit to having made the same mistakes themselves, as I certainly did.”

Chalmers’ mistake was to assume he could report in the public interest for the mainstream media. He makes so much of his early political naivete that young activists may be surprised by its extent. But such ignorance is common among even seasoned corporate media journalists.

The difference with Chalmers is that he not only sees and admits his shortcomings, he also has an excuse. He had graduated as an engineer, so his focus for most of his young life had been science, not politics.

However, after a late switch to journalism, he eventually landed a job at Reuters as its European environment and transport correspondent, “starting on April Fool’s day 1994”.

In covering the European Union, Chalmers gradually realised – unlike most of his colleagues – that its version of democracy was a sham.

“What shocked me in how things turned out was the way EU bureaucrats went over the heads of elected ministers,” he writes.

“For Europe’s political elite, the idea of citizens having a say was fine for rhetoric, propaganda even, but never for reality. Their behaviour was a classic example of why we must always scrutinise politicians for what they do, not what they say.”

Reuters reported what politicians said and left the scrutinizing of their actions well alone. It is this unaccountability, by politicians everywhere and the reporters who follow them, that is the main thrust of Chalmers’ book.

He recounts how, as Reuters moved him from Brussels to London and on to Malaysia, he began to scrutinize the notion of democracy itself. He found that the commonly held notion of democracy is not the accountable version originally defined by the ancient Greeks – democratia comes from demos “the people” and kratia “power or rule”.

Instead, it is more like the version defined by Harvard political scientist and sometime government adviser Samuel Huntington.

“His widely cited definition of democracy is profoundly unambitious. He defines it as a system whose most powerful decision-makers are chosen through fair, honest and periodic elections…

“Huntington’s democracy is nothing like what we could enjoy with truly accountable governance, something we deny ourselves by accepting his democracy-lite version.”

But Chalmers does not rest the blame solely at the feet of the elite.

“We should all ask ourselves if we personally believe in a system that values our views only as much as our neighbour’s,” he writes. “Perhaps in our hearts we would prefer that ‘democracy’ mean government heed our views while ignoring those of that person living across the road. If it’s that, we shouldn’t kid ourselves we want democracy. Knowingly or not, we fancy something more tyrannical.

“It’s not a flippant question for journalists or would-be ones to ask themselves. The reality is that many probably share their elite targets’ disdain for ordinary voters.”

In looking at more accountable systems emerging around the world, Chalmers mentions Australia’s Senator Online Party. Anyone who is on the electoral roll can register on its website. Policy is determined by any issue that gets more than

10,000 online votes. Its elected senators also vote on bills according to online votes – a minimum of 100,000 votes are needed with a clear 70% majority either way.

However, if people now consume the media that reflect their political views, wouldn’t we end up with a Rupert Murdoch-like government under such a system?

“It’s not as simple as people buying the media that reflect what they feel,” Chalmers responds.

“Maybe a person chooses on the basis of the crossword, the sports coverage or celebrity interview, getting their serving of elite-biased politics coverage folded in alongside.”

There is also the common accusation that people would not have enough time to take part in more accountable democracy. But a more equitable society would free up the time needed by allowing people to work less.

And as Chalmers says: “We are having the cost of our lack of involvement in politics rammed in our faces. People are eager to take decisions out of politicians’ hands. They have to realise that also means they have to get off their backsides themselves and get involved.”

Better journalism would also have to go hand in hand with more accountable democracy in order that people take well-informed decisions.

“Without decent information being made available to a wide audience cheaply or for free, this work will be very difficult,” says Chalmers. “That is where we stand at present.”

Disillusioned with Reuters, Chalmers eventually decided to quit, but was advised by a colleague to wait for a redundancy to come up. His severance pay included a retraining allowance, which he spent on attending the Z Media Institute in Boston. However, he still seems to have doubts about the effectiveness of non-corporate media.

“It’s not so much that I have doubts,” he says. “It’s more that I think we somehow need to do much, much more of it. The audiences for non-corporate media are still tiny versus what they need to be. We must ask why that is rather than blame everything on mainstream media.

“Journalism is still an elite activity, even if that is gradually changing. We need to make change happen faster, to popularise reporting and to do journalism ourselves that speaks credibly across social, political and cultural divides.”

Chalmers is now practising what he preaches, producing activist media cheaply or for free from his base in south-west France.

Democracy may have been murdered, but it seems a solution to that crime could come – as with Columbo – from the most unlikely quarters.

You can download Fraudcast News cheaply or for free at its website.

Video: Patrick Chalmers introduces his book Fraudcast News, and gives some ideas for building better media sustainably.

Mat Ward writes for Green Left Weekly.


More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 27, 2016
Paul Street
An Identity-Politicized Election and World Series Lakefront Liberals Can Love
Matthew Stevenson
Sex and the Presidential City
Jim Kavanagh
Tom Hayden’s Haunting
CJ Hopkins
The Pathologization of Dissent
Mike Merryman-Lotze
The Inherent Violence of Israel’s Gaza Blockade
Robert Fisk
Is Yemen Too Much for the World to Take?
Shamus Cooke
Stopping Hillary’s Coming War on Syria
Jan Oberg
Security Politics and the Closing of the Open Society
Ramzy Baroud
The War on UNESCO: Al-Aqsa Mosque is Palestinian and East Jerusalem is Illegally Occupied
Colin Todhunter
Lower Yields and Agropoisons: What is the Point of GM Mustard in India?
Norman Pollack
The Election: Does It Matter Who Wins?
Nyla Ali Khan
The Political and Cultural Richness of Kashmiriyat
Barbara Nimri Aziz
“It’s Only a Car!”
October 26, 2016
John W. Whitehead
A Deep State of Mind: America’s Shadow Government and Its Silent Coup
Eric Draitser
Dear Liberals: Trump is Right
Anthony Tarrant
On the Unbearable Lightness of Whiteness
Mark Weisbrot
The Most Dangerous Place in the World: US Pours in Money, as Blood Flows in Honduras
Chris Welzenbach
The Establishment and the Chattering Hack: a Response to Nicholas Lemann
Luke O'Brien
The Churchill Thing: Some Big Words About Trump and Some Other Chap
Sabia Rigby
In the “Jungle:” Report from the Refugee Camp in Calais, France
Linn Washington Jr.
Pot Decriminalization Yields $9-million in Savings for Philadelphia
Pepe Escobar
“America has lost” in the Philippines
Pauline Murphy
Political Feminism: the Legacy of Victoria Woodhull
Lizzie Maldonado
The Burdens of World War III
David Swanson
Slavery Was Abolished
Thomas Mountain
Preventing Cultural Genocide with the Mother Tongue Policy in Eritrea
Colin Todhunter
Agrochemicals And The Cesspool Of Corruption: Dr. Mason Writes To The US EPA
October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases