Is this news?“MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service, 1909-1949,” which was released two weeks ago in London by Keith Jeffrey, a historian at Queen’s University Belfast, is the first - possibly the only - official history of the agency that is written with full and unprecedented access to its secret archives. The Guardian, a leading British daily, reported it under headline, “Graham Greene, Arthur Ransome and Somerset Maugham all spied for Britain, admits MI6.”
Many other media outlets, domestic as well as foreign, also reported MI6’s confirmation of the rumors that Somerset Maugham took part in spy activities. However, Maugham had already made public that he acted as a secret agent during World War I in his spy novel “Ashenden,” which was published in 1928. In the book, he confessed that he acted as an agent to try to prevent the Bolshevik Revolution in St. Petersburg by using his status as a renowned author to evade the suspicions of the Russian authorities.
A similar story was contained in “The Summing Up,” an autobiographical essay published in 1938. He wrote that the various techniques he learned to escape surveillance, conduct clandestine meetings and arrange secret communications with other agents were all important, but they seemed not real to him at that time. To him, they only seemed to serve as material for a novel that he would write some day.
Graham Greene also publicly revealed that he wrote novels, including “The Third Man,” on the basis of spy activities he carried out during World War II. In 1958, when his spy novel “Our Man in Havana,” which caricatured incompetent secret agents, became a bestseller, MI6 was enraged and even planned to indict him for violation of the Official Secrets Act, according to “Spies: The Secret Agents Who Changed the Course of History” written by Ernest Volkman.
Thus to treat all this as news when it was first revealed decades ago seems puzzling. The Independent, another British daily, commented sarcastically in a column on Friday, that the Guardian headline did not make sense to those who had already read the autobiographies of Maugham and Greene. In Korea’s online environment, it is already familiar to see the phenomenon in which exclusive stories that are not actually exclusives are widely distributed because of the ignorance of news organizations.
Moreover, as the incident involving the MI6 book shows, it is also apparent in the old-fashioned offline media as well. Arthur Sulzberger, chairman of the New York Times, on Sept. 8 said that the New York Times would stop publishing hard-copy versions at some point in the future. In a situation where the distinction between online media and the old media becomes blurred, how will the news media maintain the quality of the news? I think it’s a question that should be answered by journalists.
The writer is the content director at JES Entertainment.
By Song Won-seop