Wednesday, September 09, 2009

War: what is it good for?

Two things yesterday:

1) DSEi: This show is known to some as the Death Show and is not popular with those of certain moral view points. Entry was Kafkaesque, involving several queues to be placed in queues, much anger at how slow the entire process was, and even a bag search before you could go in, to the Excel Centre. Felt utterly bizarre. Once inside I saw many tanks, guns, rocket launchers, an Apache helicopter, and various Asian generals wandering around in full military regalia.

On one side of an aisle you've got weapon manufacturers or suppliers with posters and literature proclaiming their weapons can 'pierce the strongest body armour on the market!' and on the other you have body armour manufacturers and suppliers saying 'can stop the strongest weaponry on the market!' And all beneath the brightly lit, air-conditioned, Subway sandwich franchised Excel Centre. Last time I was there was to collect my marathon entry number. Very different indeed.

2) Frontline Club: Access Denied. A talk about reporting from war zones and the implications for journalists. With Richard Sambrook from the BBC, Adrian Wells from Sky News, Jean Seaton and chaired by Tom Fenton.

It was a very interesting chat, and the floor contributed a great deal too, with those in attendance ranging from Al Jazeera reporters, to the London press official for the Dalai Lama. They discussed the use of Twitter, the difficulties of getting certain stories on the news agenda when they cease to have a news currency, and the challenges of trying to get in to areas you're banned from. Wells told us that Sky News tried to access North Korea by asking to cover the North Korean karate championships (and then do some other things on the side) but were politely refused entry. Darn.

It seemed though, due to the most recurring point, that war coverage, or conflicting reporting, is impossible to cover in a way that will ever please everyone, or cover all the necessary angles. Nothing is ever two-sided and war is surely one of the hardest things to pin down as to the causes, the rights and wrongs, the outcomes and so on - almost all wars are debated hotly by historians to this day, despite years of time passing, collation of huge numbers of documents, and even access to the leaders' writings. What chance do news reporters have, often embedded with military staff who take them where they want them to go, have of getting a 'true' story out? Have they ever been able to?

Twitter and the like may give the populations a chance to present views from inside but, again, it just adds more voices that conflict, disagree, present different ideas, to a picture that is already completely confusing and impossible to view in full, objectively. It seems hard to believe war reporting will ever move to a time when 'black holes' of information don't exist, especially when authoritarian regimes like Iran, North Korea and so on, are so staunch in their position on allowing foreign news teams in.

A few people introduced themselves, when speaking from the floor, as 'news consumers'. So you watch TV?

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