Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Giles Fraser

National borders exist to pen poor people into reservations of poverty

He is not one of my regulars. From Cameroon, he says. And hungry, poor bloke.

I can tell he’s had to swallow a lot of pride to beg for food at my door. I apologise to him, say that because we’ve just made a delivery to the food bank, the church is out of supplies.

And personally, I haven’t done a shop in days. I rummage around in my cupboards and come up with an avocado and some spaghetti hoops, which really isn’t good enough. Is there any work out there, I ask him. It’s hard to find without the right papers, he says. Bloody Home Office, I say. He smiles.

We are so hypocritical about borders.

We cheer when the Berlin Wall comes down.

We condemn the Israelis for their separation barrier and

Donald Trump for his ludicrous Mexican fence.

But are we really so different? We also police our borders with guns and razor wire as if we had some God-given right to this particular stretch of land.

Through the random lottery of life, I have a UK passport. I didn’t work for it or do anything whatsoever to deserve it. In economic terms, (meaning in freedom to move status) I just happened to be born lucky. My new friend from Cameroon, not so much.

Within our own borders we complain at any suggestion of a postcode lottery. When the north of England has a different standard of healthcare to the south, we consider it a scandal. But when the global north has a radically different standard of healthcare to the global south, we think that’s just the way it is.

In fact, it’s far worse than that – we somehow think it our duty to fence off our advantage, to protect it against those who would share in our good fortune.

And these people we disparage as illegal immigrants, as if they are thieves or terrorists – though they are just doing globally what Norman Tebbit famously advised millions of unemployed in the 1980s to do: to get on their bike and look for work.

In this era of advanced globalisation, we believe in free trade, in the free movement of goods, but not in the free movement of labour. We think it outrageous that the Chinese block Google, believing it to be everyone’s right to roam free digitally.

We celebrate organisations such as Médecins Sans Frontières for their compassionate universalism. But for all this talk of freedom from restriction, we still pen poor people into reservations of poverty. It’s like our own little version of The Hunger Games. And it is so normal to us, we don’t even recognise it as a moral issue.

The free movement of people is what political scientist JW Moses called “the last frontier of globalisation”, implying that it too will fall. Because, in the grand scheme of things, of course, no force on earth can insulate us against billions of people without enough to eat.

Many will tragically drown in our Mediterranean moat, others will be stopped for a while at our fences, but nothing will stop more people from trying to come.

And eventually they will succeed.

Artificial national boundaries, just lines on a map, are no match against the massed forces of human need.

This week I met in London a guy I last saw in Calais trying to get into the back of a truck. It took him months of trying to get past our borders. But in the end he made it. And good for him.

Before the Aliens Act of 1905, the UK had no border controls to speak of. They were first erected to stop Jews coming from eastern Europe.

“England for the English,” was the slogan. The Manchester Evening Chronicle explained what this meant: “That the dirty, destitute, diseased, verminous and criminal foreigner who dumps himself on our soil and rates simultaneously, shall be forbidden to land.”

Border controls have always been racist in character. And it’s much the same today.

They are about locking in our wealth and keeping mosques out of the Cotswolds.

At present, globalisation is a luxury of the rich, for those of us who can swan about the globe with the flick of a boarding pass.

The so-called “migrant crisis” is globalisation for the poor. They are blowing their trumpets around our walls. And our walls will fall.


Styles of compassionate reporting that bring fruits 

Does Jon Snow’s Gaza appeal risks reducing reporting to propaganda? Hardly.

Journalists have cried before ‘something must be done’.
But they must avoid emoting? Why?
What’s so objective in reporting anyway?

Andrew Bossone posted on FB:

Journalists are expected to be the voice of conscience and at the same time to suppress that voice.

When a journalist speaks up about an atrocity, it may cause a stir.

People in the U.S. have often said the turning point of public opinion in the Vietnam War was when Walter Cronkite, “the most trusted man in America” returned from there and criticized what happened.

I don’t know how we are expected to remain silent particularly when we see an atrocity with our own eyes.

The press is hardly objective. We put our influence just by choosing stories.

Here is an interesting documentary about an artist that pointed out how the US press ignored genocide and starvation in Africa:

An elderly Palestinian woman walks through ruins in Gaza
‘The horrors of Gaza have been bravely narrated by reporters fully equipped with compassion and empathy, but not wallowing in their own feelings.’ Photograph: Oliver Weiken/EPA

Faced by the horrors of Gaza, Guardian columnist Giles Fraser last week urged reporters to show more emotion, condemning calm rationality in the face of the slaughter as “a particular form of madness”.

Is this is a dangerous path?

Emotion is the stuff of propaganda, and news is against propaganda. Reporting should privilege the emotional responses of audiences, not indulge journalists.

At the same time, from a slightly different direction, Jon Snow used a Channel 4 studio, but not the channel itself, to show how reporting from Gaza had emotionally affected him. His call on YouTube was for engagement from his audience, promising “Together we can make a difference”.

The same cry that “something must be done” was heard from reporters at the beginning of President Assad’s murderous campaign to hold on to power in Syria – more muted once the full realisation dawned that what should be done was complex, and that the alternatives might be worse than Assad.

It also echoed Martin Bell 20 years ago in Bosnia, asking to be relieved of the duties of BBC impartiality, instead wanting a “journalism of attachment”.

In his appeal, Snow said the world had shown it was not that interested in the death of children in Gaza. Almost three-quarters of a million hits showed that many were interested.

But how did the audience know enough to care? Not from reporters who had put their emotions on show. Instead, the horrors of Gaza have been bravely narrated by reporters fully equipped with compassion and empathy, but not wallowing in their own feelings.

The piece that inspired Giles Fraser to his incoherent appeal that “screaming is the most rational thing to do” – Peter Beaumont’s description of a father gathering the remains of his baby son in a carrier bag – is not reported emotionally. Instead, the writing is poetic in its spare intensity. “ ‘This is my son,’ he said and nothing else, tears tracking down his face.”

The missile that entered the house made a hole “the size of a toaster”. The domestic details take us there, and when we arrive, we find Beaumont, one of the finest reporters of his generation, to be a helpful guide, not an obstacle. He is not in our way telling us how he feels.

This kind of reporting has an honourable pedigree. Of all the situations when screaming might have been the most understandable response, the enormity of the concentration camps in 1945 is high on the list. But instead, when he came to Belsen, Richard Dimbleby reported what he saw with chilling precision: “the awful, ghostly procession of emaciated, aimless people, with nothing to do and with no hope of life”.

There is one significant difference. Reporters now routinely personalise victims in a way that was not done by Dimbleby, or indeed Michael Buerk, reporting the “biblical famine” in Ethiopia in 1984. Then the dead were nameless. But Beaumont tells us that the baby in the carrier bag in Gaza is Mohammad, his father Salem Antez.

With more access to the world at their fingertips than the passive consumers of news in the past, the public demand more engagement and participation from reporters than before. Social media is full of material that is more graphic and more directly emotional than the mainstream media, in Britain at least. News organisations are responding with different ways of editing material gathered by non-professionals, as well as new ways of storytelling.

But Snow’s YouTube appeal carried an implicit message that is more threatening, at least to TV news, than Fraser’s call for emotional reporting. He considered that he could deliver this only online since it might contravene rules governing impartiality in news programmes. It resembled the homilies that used to be delivered by TV anchors such as Walter Cronkite at the end of the nightly news in the US.

These could be highly opinionated, especially during the Vietnam war, stretching the bounds of the fairness doctrine that regulated American broadcasting at the time, similar to Britain’s rules on impartiality.

Ronald Reagan’s abolition of the fairness doctrine contributed to a significant weakening of TV news in the US, releasing a flood of ignorance – a salutary warning to those campaigning for an end to impartiality rules here in order to encourage reporters to be more emotionally engaged.

• David Loyn is the BBC’s Afghanistan correspondent. His report on Afghan war crimes is on Radio 4 on Monday 4 August at 8pm




June 2022

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