The Daily Truth – Awards

When did The News become so… well so un-newsworthy? In this age of 24hr rolling news when reporters in the field are more than ever supported by ordinary people feeding in stories and footage via social-media as it happens, what excuse can they have to get some stories so wrong? Yes we know all about the cowed media machines of dictators and totalitarian states, who basically reframe and lie all the time. But what hope do we have when supposedly free western news agencies start manipulating the truth?

Last month I was slightly baffled after watching an interview with one of CNN’s top reporters Christiane Amanpour (her of the perennially refurbishing face), in which she decried some country or other for basically feeding its citizens a distorted story by holding back certain facts. However, any regular viewer of CNN will know that the same act of omission is quite often played out a lot closer to home. Yesterday I watched a 26-second anti-rape clip on Youtube, made as a counterpoint to a CNN report on a famous rape case, which went viral with over a million hits in the first 24hrs. It got me thinking, as I often do after watching some news channels: who the hell decides what is and what isn’t news nowadays? Also and perhaps just as importantly, who ultimately decides what angle the story is taken from?

Aaron Blanton and his partner, Samantha Stendal, just won a Peabody Award for the below Youtube clip, made in under an hour, which was the first clip ever to win this prestigious award.




In 2013, two Ohio teens were sentenced to a year in prison after assaulting a teenage girl passed out at a party, filming it and posting the footage on Twitter. The story garnered national coverage after countless internet trolls and townsfolk sent the victim and her family hundreds of death threats and several months’ worth of hate mail. During the sentencing, CNN aired a six-minute segment with two anchors in the studio, a reporter in the field and a separate analyst.

“I’ve never experienced anything like it, Candy,” CNN reporter Poppy Harlow said. “It was incredibly emotional, incredibly difficult even for an outsider like me to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures — star football players, very good students — we literally watched as, they believe, their life fell apart.”

Blanton was floored. “It was amazing! The fact that even one person in that room – thought to take it from that angle, let alone everyone at CNN.” he said, “Oh, and by the way – CNN never mentioned the victim. Never! In the entire segment! And then it ended!” For more on the story click here.

News, distorted or otherwise has never been so available or disposable. It’s here today gone tomorrow and often fed to us in a coldly calculated way intended to protect the national or commercial interests of the company’s host nation or worst still, to pander to the whims of the all powerful sponsors and advertising companies. Perhaps CNN aired the above decried news segment in the middle of a football game, thus ensuring their audience member profile more closely matched that of the male perpetrators than the innocent female victim? Whatever the truth it won’t be the first time and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Even companies that sell themselves with labels such as honesty and integrity and who sniff at more commercial channels are not innocent. Just look at the coverage control the British Government exerted over the BBC in the decade after George Bush declared his War on Terror on behalf of everyone – whether they wanted it or not.

We have all been baffled by the ranking of headlines and could, I am sure, recount a ‘Cat up a tree’ story appearing before ’300 people were killed today in some train crash in Asia.’ Just this week the BBC lead item was about the stabbing of a single Israeli girl somewhere in the West Bank. This came up before 3 other items that day: A suicide bomb that took over 50 lives; The Russians once again invading the sovereign territory of Ukraine, and The total deaths in the Syrian War reaching 200,000. As awful as the girl’s death surely was for the family, that same day there were 9 stabbing fatalities in South Africa and possibly twice that amount of gun related deaths in the USA.

Niccolo Machiavelli once said “History is written by the victors.” He was referring to older military victories, which often ended in the destruction of the country that lost a war—when, effectively, few people survived to describe events from the point of view of the vanquished. However, in societies that have ever decreasing attention spans, today’s events are increasingly being recorded, for the benefit of future generations, as a collection of news sound-bites, Youtube clips and tweets of 140 characters or less, a number Twitter believe is the longest the majority of their users can manage to hold their attention for.

So in 5 or 10 years time will history recall that November 2014 was famous as the first time a space probe was successfully landed on a speeding comet half a billion kilometres away or will it be remembered as the month Kim Kardashian, a woman simply famous for being famous, took her clothes off for the cameras? Where did this dumbing down all start? The USA is of course notorious for having a large majority of citizens who are rarely bothered by external events or the history of any place beyond its own borders, so is it an American thing?

When it comes to history I, like a lot of Brit’s, have often been bemused and on occasion quite annoyed by the US’s depiction, either in fiction or via some Hollywood movie or other, of historical facts and in particular those surrounding event from the 20th Century’s two World Wars. The movie Saving Private Ryan, which opened with the beach landings on D Day in 1944, did not show a single British, Canadian or other allied soldier in the opening 20 minute depiction of heroism and brutality despite the fact the Americans only landed on two of the five designated beaches. So anyone without a keen interest in history could be forgiven for believing that it was entirely an American success.

Another damning inaccurate attempt at grabbing someone else’s glory came in a film called U-571 about a US submarine crew’s attempt to steal an Enigma machine from a German U-boat in 1942 so the Americans could crack the code. Enigma machines were used by the Nazis to encrypt secret messages before and during the second world war. However, several machines and codebooks captured by the British had allowed the Enigma code to be broken at Bletchley Park on 1 June 1941, at the height of the Battle of Britain, which was a long time before America even entered the war. The achievement is now regarded by many as the most important moment of the whole war as it allowed the allies to intercept top secret messages between the Germans for years before they realised. So at the time of the film’s release in 2000, Tony Blair condemned U-571 in parliament as an insult to the Royal Navy. Although a far more entertaining response would have been for the UK to fund a big-budget revenge epic, in which a small platoon of foppish yet plucky British lads, led by Hugh Grant swans over to Vietnam in 1968, defeats the Viet Cong, and wins that war. Moreover, it would be nearly as accurate as U-571 was.

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Anyway, I am minded to hold my own awards ceremony for News Channels based not on content or the faux empathy displayed by some field hack-reporter or other. No there are too many of those back slapping events already – so mine would be ranked on things like: The truth, that days relevance, the angle and other things such as the legacy quality of what is reported. I will award the best as well as the worst of course. So please let me know, name and shame! either to my email address or you can always send them to me via Twitter.


Another Accident – What a Boar?

Earlier this week I reluctantly got out of bed and looked in the mirror. I think there was a part of me half hoping that what had happened the night before was somehow just a bad dream – but it wasn’t. My nose was just a bloody mess and there were also distinct scabby grazes around my right eye, which would bruise to black over the following days. Looking around at my blood stained sheets and pillow, which I didn’t even try to wash before putting in the bin with a ruined favourite shirt I began to wonder if I should have tried harder to get to a hospital. At the time the torrential rain and the thunder and lightning of the night before, which also knocked out my power had made that decision for me.

Here in Turkey, the poor condition of the roads and the appalling level of driving skill amongst most Turks essentially mean you can almost count out on all your fingers the potential fatal and near fatal accidents you could have been involved in if you drove at anything less than 100% alert, during even the shortest of journeys. “Always expect the unexpected on the roads” was one of the earliest and most valuable pieces of advice that I was given when I first arrived 14 years ago. However, not even that could help me avoid being felled by a herd of wild boar.

greenmamba
Photo by Michael Ransburg

Despite sounding like something from an amusing kids TV cartoon, the damage to my face makes it a little hard to laugh about it right now, although I am sure I will do one day. Just like I can laugh now about some of those other near death experiences from my past: the drama surrounding being scratched by a rabid cat in north Africa, the ridiculous circumstances that led to me being poisoned by a deadly green mamba in Kenya, or when I woke a very angry and venomous Vietnamese centipede, when I tried to put on the T-shirt it had decided to snooze inside. For a while I began to think that I was simply unlucky, indeed my mother still braces herself for news of some incident or other every time I go anywhere. Indeed, she now so often answered any phone calls with “What’s happened?” I try not to call until I can say I am safely home again.

No I am not unlucky – it is more a question of the law of averages. Yes I have had some close shaves many of which I have not even listed but that is more to do with my love for travelling and exploring and because I have seen more places than some people could see in a few lifetimes. Ok many of those places may have had health risks associated with them – I’ve suffered from Malaria, Dengue fever and Dysentery at one time or another; or they may have been regarded as just plain dodgy. But the world is now so crowded that often the most interesting and beautiful places can only be found well away from the usual tourist trails or way off the map like one of my visits to the upper Amazon a few years ago, where the map quite literally said ‘Terra Incognita’ meaning unknown land.

Unless you spend your money on hermetically sealed tours, where every ounce of danger and as many health hazards as possible have been safely pasteurised from your journey, there will always be a degree of risk, be it medical, physical or psychological associated with most journeys. For many people this danger has become an absolute requirement mainly because it is that elevated potential for jeopardy that excites and draws them in the first place. However, you can find danger anywhere. Try wandering around any big city in Africa or South America after dark or even in broad daylight. Although you can still be vulnerable much closer to home, even in the most affluent of neighbourhoods. I discovered this for myself when I was stabbed, knocked unconscious and left for dead in Istanbul almost a decade ago. The thieves secured only a cheap watch and a few lira – almost my life for just £3 or $5 worth of gains.

Returning to the other night – if you have read up to here, then you really do deserve the gory details of my encounter with the wild pigs or Turkey.

wildboar
Photo by John Beukeboom

Driving home late, trying but failing to beat a thunderstorm, I came upon a herd of about 20 wild boar. There’s nothing unusual in this where I live as they are almost as common as urban foxes are in London. They are considered haram or unclean in Muslim Turkey, so they are rarely hunted for their meat and although the authorities do try to control them through culling some years it often feels like they are everywhere, especially in the late summer when the males or bigger females flip over large metal dumpsters with very little effort to raid the trash inside. That was how I encountered this particular herd partying by an upturned dumpster just a minute from my home. Boars are surprisingly bad climbers so as I approached they ran off along the road, quite unable to escape to the left or right because of walls. So I did what I normally do, as I had done two nights earlier, I just slowed down and drove right through them, because at the point of being passed they usually just double back to their late night feast. However, on this night of lightening and rain-wet roads I really should have been more cautious.

After a few seconds I had passed most of the young and juvenile boar and only had a big wiry male and a nursing mother, heavy with milk, ahead of me when a flash of lightening spooked the female across my path. I braked before I hit her but I was soon lying in the road with blood pouring from my nose and with my scooter pinning my long suffering right leg to the road. As I was lying around a blind bend in the dark I needed to get up as quickly as possible. However, when I heard an almighty shriek and then a lot of snorting coming from the bushes just off to my left I couldn’t understand why the adults had not gone back to their buffet; that was of course until I looked to my right and saw a terrified piglet frozen to the spot just a metre away from my head.

There are some dangerous situations you must definitely hope you never find yourself involved in. One of the worst is standing between a 500lb (220Kg) wild boar parent with deadly tusks and one of its babies. So what do you do if you are lying between them…? You clap and you clap and you clap your hands until your piglet finds its courage and runs to its furious parent. Then, and only then, can you safely stagger to your feet and count yourself lucky that you only ended up with a smashed-up face.