DAY 51: WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY, 3 May

An international day of action, but sadly not in my neck of the woods

Nasty headache again this morning. Decided to have quiet day. Watched the Marr Show where we were treated go a superb, clear and informative contribution about the coronavirus from Dr Maria Van Kerkhove of WHO. Would that we got such clarity and confidence from the shower now running the UK.

Late breakfast re-watching The Thick Of It – I had forgotten how brilliant and hilarious it was.

Made some bread and fed the chicks then find my son and grandson No. 3 on the door step! The latter has twigged that if he comes to see Grumps he can get a snack and maybe even some chocolate. He picked a bad day today as his cousins came yesterday and had the last of the chocolate goodies. But there are crumpets and cheese and chocolate biscuits to be had instead.

And games to be played. I had picked up a long white plastic rod which, at my son’s instigation, becomes my magic wand. With it I am able to persuade my son to walk around the planters against which they are sitting. My grandson is enthralled and wants me to ‘magic’ him. He too follows my instructions after an appropriate incantation, and suddenly  I am Merlin. This is a dangerous power to have with young children and my imagination and ingenuity is sorely exercised by his continuing demands! 

Then he gets his own wand and the roles are temporarily reversed. Great fun, especially after some passers-by play along with his instructions. I pity all those he comes into contact with for the rest of today. But what a delightful spell for me!

Today is World Press Freedom Day and a time to think about all those colleagues who’ve suffered for their craft. Years ago I set up the Refugees, Asylum-Seekers and the Media (RAM) Project which led to the creation of the Exiled Journalists’ Network, providing support and training for more than 200 journalists who had fled persecution and come to the UK. Many had suffered terribly, and we made a powerful short video called ‘On the Receiving End’ to help explain what asylum seekers had gone through and how they suffer from inaccurate, sensational and nehative media coverage here.

My criticisms of colleagues in the print and broadcast media were sometimes seen as being censorious, but our motto at PressWise and MediaWise has always been ‘Press Freedom is an responsibility exercised by journalist on behalf of the public’.

Our aim has been to support and promote ethical journalism. The defensive nature of those who own and run Britain’s newspapers over the years – rarely willing to admit errors and make amends – and  the shambolic self-regulatory system, have contributed to a loss of confidence among the public. Yet all those I have worked with whose lives have been badly affected by poor journalism have invariably believed that a free press is vital to democracy. They just wanted mistakes to be admitted and corrected. 

There should always be public support for journalists especially when they are under attack from politicians and the powerful as now. For many years I worked with the Belarus Association of Journalists, much to the displeasure of the KGB which remains very active under Lukashenko. BAJ members are independent journalists who risk their lives almost daily – several have died under mysterious circumstances, and many have been imprisoned – to tell the truth about what is happening in their country. Most of the media is controlled absolutely by Lukashenko and his cronies. Journalists have suffered under similar conditions in many of the countries where I have worked – in Azerbaijan, Egypt, Hungary, Iraq, Kosovo, Turkmenistan, etc, etc. Press freedom is one of our most valuable rights. We all need to fight for if the powerful are to be held to account. But we journalists do ourselves no favours if we sell out our independence for a fist full of dollars, or by conceding that so-called ‘state security’ should over-ride our commitment to the public interest.     

That said I feel impotent today, unsure how to contribute to the Day apart from Tweeting about it. I have done little else today but was still intent on doing some exercise, which is why I am still not fully dressed at teatime! And why I am not joining the street’s Sunday tea-time ‘get together’ this week. There are plans for VE-Day street parties on Friday at both ends of the street. Programmes have appeared on-line smothered in the union flag, setting out a detailed timetable for the day. There is nervousness among some of us that these might deteriorate into some sort of xenophobic nostalgia rather than celebrations of solidarity during the pandemic.

I have now almost finished two books: George Alagiah’s The Burning Land, which looks at consequences of xenophobia in a post-apartheid, post-Mandela, corrupted South Africa; and An Accidental Bookseller, the extremely readable and charming personal memoir of Foyles by Bill Samuel, grandson of the founder of the world famous bookshop in Charing Cross.

My only other task of the day, apart from phone calls, text and emails, was to  prepare the Iftar meal. I opted for a Mediterranean spread. Homemade humus with hot peppers and garlic; a green salad with herbs from the garden; avocado; boiled eggs, from the chickens, some cheese, homemade buckwheat bread, and lots of olives. Healthy, refreshing and not too heavy on the stomach.

However within minutes of putting the bins out, I suddenly come over all tired. Feeling like lead I head for bed, just summing up enough energy to complete this diary entry. Very odd to feel so knackered having done so little today. 

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