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UFOs and the Media by Nick Pope

Media coverage of UFOs is a thorny issue and one where the grass is greener on the other side. Some ufologists complain that the media don’t give the subject the coverage it deserves and even go so far as to suggest that the media are complicit in a government conspiracy to keep the truth about UFOs from the people. When there is coverage, other ufologists claim it’s the wrong sort of coverage and say that the subject is trivialised. What’s the truth of the matter and what’s really going on? In truth, the media is no more a single entity than is government. There are conflicting agendas and beliefs on all subjects - not just UFOs.

In so far as we can generalise, it’s fair to say that the media exists both to inform and entertain. It’s also important to remember that, generally speaking, when one talks of the media one is talking about businesses.

Media coverage of UFOs has increased significantly in the last year. This has been an international trend. This coverage has varied considerably. Some features are populist and light-hearted, while others are decidedly more mainstream. In the UK, The Sun has played a huge part in this process. They have an ongoing campaign to highlight UFO sightings and have taken the unprecedented action of running a UFO story as their main front page headline twice in the last year. Popular TV shows like GMTV, This Morning and the Alan Titchmarsh Show have run UFO features, while in America, Larry King Live has covered the subject extensively in the last couple of years.

The most interesting trend, however, has been the way in which the UFO phenomenon has increasingly been covered in a straightforward factual way in what one might term ‘Establishment’ media. Examples include The Times, The New York Times, Newsnight, Radio 4’s Today Programme, BBC World Service, ABC News, NBC News and Fox News. Some suggest that this is part of a programme of indoctrination, acclimatising the public to the reality of an extraterrestrial presence, prior to some sort of official announcement - Disclosure, as it has been dubbed. Others (myself included) believe there are other reasons for this - less conspiratorial, but interesting nonetheless.

I believe two factors lie behind the increased and more serious coverage we are now seeing. The first is the undeniable rise in the number of UFO sightings: Ministry of Defence figures show, for example, that the Department received over twice as many UFO sightings in 2008 than in 2007. The main factor, however, has been the ongoing programme to declassify and release to the National Archives the MoD’s entire holdings of UFO files - tens of thousands of pages of documentation. This process, complemented by similar releases in France, Brazil, Denmark and elsewhere, has shown the media that there is a serious side to the UFO phenomenon.

I now work as a freelance journalist and a media pundit and it’s clear to me what’s happened: journalists have - albeit belatedly - woken up to the fact that there’s a big story here. UFOs are not just something seen by members of the public driving down lonely country roads late at night. They’re seen by police officers; they’re witnessed by pilots; they’re tracked on radar; the MoD and the Civil Aviation Authority have reports of several near-misses in their files; the Defence Intelligence Staff has commissioned highly-classified studies into the mystery. Suddenly, this isn’t just a ‘silly season’ story or something that runs in what the media dub the ‘skateboarding duck slot’. 

The bottom line is this: the media are covering the story because they’re interested and because they know the public are interested too.

June 2009

Published in the Exopolitics Leeds 2009 magazine