Archives for May 2008

Explosive Mixture

Dan Damon Dan Damon | 14:36 UK time, Friday, 23 May 2008

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On this week's Reporting Religion, the other World Service programme I am privileged to present, we're getting ready to talk to Tony Blair about his faith foundation, which he's launching next week.

This week, I spoke to Professor Abdullahi Ahmed An Nai'm at Emory University, a Muslim lawyer who argues forcefully against mixing religion and politics and says there really is no such think as an Islamic state.

If you want any further proof of the explosive mixture that is religion and politics, you need look no further than the row over John Hagee's speech on God's plan for the Jews involving the murder of six million of them by the Nazis just so the rest would move to the Middle East. The original speech is available on the Talk to Action website.

Now I'd like you to help with a bit more preposterous history. What other crimes and disasters could be used to create other provocative interpretations of God's plans?

Hurricane Katrina as a way of getting the inhabitants of New Orleans to move to Texas? Not enough jazz inTexas, maybe? After all, John Hagee also said Katrina was God's wrath because of a gay pride march.

Are global warming and rising sea levels part of a divine plan to get us all to move to higher ground where we'll be closer to heaven?

I'm sure you can get more creative and offensive - go to it!

News You Can Use

Dan Damon Dan Damon | 12:41 UK time, Wednesday, 21 May 2008

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There's a theory that as networks decentralise all kinds of information provision, newsrooms will disappear and people will provide news unto people without professional help.

My family and horse hope this doesn't occur before I've created an alternative source of income.

But it is up to us privileged broadcasters to work effectively to link together and verify the news that people provide, and we're getting better at that.

Here's a new idea from one of the BBC's Internet specialists that might make it easier. It's a search machine that picks up on citizen journalist pictures and video on topics that might make headlines. It automatically puts them on a map so we can see them without searching manually.

At the moment it's experimental and set to search for terms like 'explode' and 'bomb'. Some of the results are obviously taking those words too broadly.

But you can see how in time it might produce lots of valuable news commentary and images.

Fog in Channel, Continent Cut Off

Dan Damon Dan Damon | 11:31 UK time, Wednesday, 14 May 2008

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I'm shocked at the coverage of the China earthquake, or lack of it, on the front pages of British newspapers today.

Only one paper, the Guardian, gives the story prominence. The others, including the Independent which prides itself on its conscience, focus on domestic stories.

The Independent offers predictions of a return to 1970s stagflation; the Daily Mail covers a tax row; and the Daily Telegraph, proud of its foreign coverage, prints a photograph of a minister's speaking notes for this week's British cabinet meeting revealing fears of a slump in house prices.

Yet watching China Central TV pictures from the earthquake zone, it's evident that the disaster is on an unprecedented scale - at least as far as reportable human suffering. The new openness of the Chinese media and the new willingness of the people to express their unhappiness and disatisfaction with the construction of collapsed buildings and rescue efforts mean that this is likely to be one of the biggest stories of the decade with unimaginable consequences for the government in China in a year that has already pushed that country into a brighter spotlight than ever before.

That British newspaper editors have dismissed it to the bottom of the front page or inside pages seems like a very bad miss with uncomfortable implications - do they think China is a place where disasters often happen and so don't make big news? That there are so many Chinese the loss of thousands isn't extraordinary?

There is always the undignified search for the few British victims in disasters like this - we had that last week with the Burmese cyclone, as the newspapers interviewed relatives of British tourists.

But British newspaper reaction to the China story seems for now to be a quantitatively more insular response.

Duty of Care

Dan Damon Dan Damon | 09:09 UK time, Friday, 9 May 2008

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It's a statement of the brutally obvious to say that Burma's military regime doesn't care for its people.

I've never been to Burma. But I've lived or worked in several countries run by an armed elite that operates on the principle that only they know what's good for the country - and miraculously the way they run things matches exactly the increase of the leaders' own personal wealth and privilege.

The population, outwardly and ostentatiously grateful for the strong guidance provided by the leadership, is forced to survive day-to-day by different forms of subterfuge and petty theft.

The determination of the Burmese military to keep foreign aid workers out whatever the cost to life and health of the people sets the international community another challenge it seems ill prepared to meet. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon can ask nicely, but can he go further?

If not, can the coalition of the willing that used massive military force to rescue Kosovar Albanians from forced marches to exile in 1998/9 summon up the will to save a million Burmans from their government's inaction?

Once again, 'international community' might prove to be a modern rewriting of Mahatma Ghandi's description of 'British civilisation' - nice idea when it happens.

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