Sunday, 22 November 2015

It's natural to care about those we are familiar with

Since the Paris terrorist attack last week, one theme that has emerged is the complaint that the Paris attacks received widespread coverage while a similar attack in Beirut that week received less attention.

It's a fair comment and we should never believe that the lives of people living here in the West are more important or valuable than people living in other parts of the world. In saying this I don't think we should feel guilty about the fact that the events in Paris have affected us more than similar events in other parts of the world.

Here in the UK, France is our next door neighbour. We know France, their culture, lifestyle, and history is similar to our own. The fact that something so awful and horrific has happened to one of our neighbours we naturally have a greater level of interest and concern for them than to other people from places we are unfamiliar with.

Despite some of the comments made in the last week, we shouldn't feel guilty about our feelings on what's happened in Paris. Terrible things happen everyday all over the world but some events are always going to have greater emotional impact on us than others and that may explain why certain stories and countries in the world gain greater media coverage.

When I thought about this, it reminded me about a book I read a few years ago on the Mexican drug wars called Narco. The book tells the story of the drug cartels rise to power and gives you an insight into how they murder and terrorise thousands of innocent people. But when I read the book I didn't just learn about the cartels, I learnt about Mexico itself. Its history, politics and culture. I suddenly thought: 'I know nothing about Mexico'.

Why do we not hear more about Mexico's drug wars when so many innocent people are dying? In reality we can substitute Mexico with so many other countries across the world who we know little about and hear few reports in the news.

In the last week I've read comments about media bias about how the news we receive in the West is too Western orientated. The truth is that all news is biased. When I travel home from work in the evening I read the London Evening Standard. The paper has a bias towards news from London! There's a clue in the paper's name.

When we watch the 10:00 news on the BBC or ITV there is only 30 minutes in which to cover various news stories and as a result choices or editorial decisions are made on which stories take priority and will be of interest to the audience.

At a recent journalism networking event I went to, I got chatting to a BBC journalist from Yemen. I said to her I'd never met anyone from Yemen and knew nothing about the country. She went on to tell me how difficult it is for her to get stories from Yemen covered by her editor despite the fact that there's a war going on over there.

When people complain that we don't hear enough about tragedies and stories from other parts of the world, they should ask themselves whether they and other people would be interested in hearing stories from countries we are unfamiliar with? Or about conflicts and issues we know little about?

My views on the media and our news agenda are certainly influenced by the fact that I've trained in journalism. Journalism teaches you how to find things out. Part of me thinks that if people genuinely want to hear and see stories from other parts of the world then there's nothing stopping them doing this.

With the growth of the internet and more 24 hour news channels, there's never been a greater opportunity for people to learn and discover more about the world around them. If you want to hear stories from Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East you can find these stories if you're really interested and determined enough.

On Twitter I follow news stories from the Japan Times and Brazil Character Lab. I've been to Japan and Brazil and now have a natural interest in what happens in those countries. I don't have the same level of interest in some other countries around the world but we all have our own particular interests.

All news is biased and yes in the UK foreign news coverage is dominated by European and American stories. To some extent that's to be expected but we shouldn't apologies or feel guilty about that.

Monday, 16 November 2015

We must defend our values and take the fight to Islamic State

On Friday when reports starting coming in of the death of 'jihadi John' Mohammed Emwazi it felt that a symbolic blow had been made against Islamic State.

The events in Paris later that day suddenly made us all aware of just how difficult and bloody the fight against Islamic State with be for Western governments.

This attack feels more shocking because of the scale and the fact that Islamic State have taken the war to the heart of Western society in a major capital city like Paris.

The question of what we do next and how we can tackle and ultimately defeat Islamic State is so difficult to answer. I feel that we are at war with Islamic State but it's certainly not a conventional war that most people are familiar with.

My initial thoughts took me back to how I felt following the Charlie Hebdo attacks at the beginning of this year. Like then, Friday's attack wasn't just about killing innocent people enjoying an evening out; it's an attack against our very values and beliefs here in the West.

This is what I said in January:

"On an average day I rarely think about the ideals and values of the society that I live in. The attack on Charlie Hebdo has changed that. The week's act of terrorism is an attack on all of us."

I stand by this, and it's the reason why we should look to do everything we can in our powers to defeat Islamic State. I know that won't be easy, it needs to be done both militarily and diplomatically.

One of the problems I've always had with Islamic terrorism is that it's terrorism which appears to have no ultimate end game. When I say this I mean it's not conventional terrorism that we've previously been familiar with such as the IRA or ETA. With the IRA their aim was for a united Ireland, with ETA they wanted an independent Basque state. What does Islamic State ultimately want?

I do not see a resolution in which they would end their campaign against Western governments and even if we left them alone to consolidate their power in the Middle East would that really be something that would be beneficial for the region and the wider world?

Can we the West really co-exist with Islamic State? If they continue to engage in this war on our values our culture and innocent civilians we will have no choice but to take the fight to them.

Liberté, égalité, fraternité

Monday, 2 November 2015

#RWC2015 The best Rugby World Cup ever

What a great final to end a brilliant Rugby World Cup. This has easily been the best tournament we've seen since the World Cup was first held in 1987.

The games have been played in packed stadiums and if the decision to play matches away from rugby's provincial heartlands was doubted the record number of people who attended games vindicated that decision.

Yes England going out in the pool stages was disappointing but in the end I don't think it diminished the tournament as we had so many memorable games and performances to remember.

It was also a great final with Australia and New Zealand being the two best teams in the tournament. New Zealand have now made history by being the first team to win back-to-back World Cups and win the title for a third time. All the years of heartache between 1987 and 2011 when they couldn't win a World title seem like a long time ago.

The pursuit of excellence

The All Blacks really are something special. If I was a New Zealander I'd be so proud of the team and what they represent for the nation. In my lifetime The All Blacks have always been the team to beat but it's their relentless consistency and drive to always be the best that I find so inspiring.

Many are saying this is the greatest rugby team ever. I couldn't really answer that. My knowledge and history of the game isn't strong enough to make that claim but what I've noticed from everything that I've read and heard is that the All Blacks are simply better at the basics and fundamentals of the game.

Game of the tournament

Like most people I'd have to say that Japan beating South Africa was the best game of the tournament purely for sporting drama. Not only was it the biggest shock in the history of test rugby it has to be one of the great sporting upsets ever!

I was jumping up and down when Japan ran in their winning try. It's moments like that, that make you realise why you love sport so much.

Closely following behind that game was Argentina's quarter final victory over Ireland. Argentina have been my favourite team to watch in this World Cup. Their performance in the first 20 minutes against the Irish was blistering.

The way Argentina's game has evolved just shows you how much they've benefited from playing in the Rugby Championship against Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. They now seem a few steps ahead of the Northern Hemisphere teams.

Biggest disappointment

Has to be England's performance. When you think about the amount of money that the RFU has and the amount of registered players playing in England a place in the semis would have been a minimum requirement. The England team really did underachieve and going out so early really was a wasted opportunity.

It makes you think that the last 4 years has been a waste of time. Compared to other countries it still doesn't feel that there is a core group of England international players who you know and have that collective international experience that's needed at this level of competition.

You can argue that England were drawn in a tough pool but even if they had got out of the group, could you see this England team getting passed the Quarter Finals? When you look at the four Southern Hemisphere teams that made it to the semis there's no way that England could have competed.

Listening to many of the pundits, they spoke a lot about the lack of leaders in the England team and the inability to manage games (I'm thinking against Wales). These comments reminded me of the things we hear about England's football team.

It got me thinking that perhaps our rugby team is suffering from some of the same problems as our footballers. Despite all the money that England has in its professional rugby and football teams and the superior resources we have compared to other nations we still don't appear to be developing the right type of players for elite international competition.

A lot to learn for the Northern Hemisphere teams

Not a single team from the Northern Hemisphere made it to the semi finals. Wales could perhaps count themselves a little unlucky with the number of injuries they had but for everyone else the tournament was a disappointment.

Ireland again underachieved and I really don't know where French rugby is going at the moment. What was clear in this World Cup is that the skill levels found in the Southern Hemisphere teams are just superior to anything in the North. Northern Hemisphere teams have the power particularly in the contact but don't have the subtleties to go with it.

The best attributes of all the four Southern Hemisphere teams all seemed to be on a higher level to anything found from the 6 Nations teams.