Something curious has been going on around here lately. This blog is very low traffic – it’s a dumping ground for thoughts and occassionally stories which I don’t think have been covered elsewhere, and not intended to generate massive numbers of hits. So why has a small story I posted months ago about one of National Geographic’s photographers hunting down the subject of a cover picture been generating lots of page impressions lately?
I can only asume it’s because the cover in question is a famous one showing an Afghan girl from a rural village with piercing green eyes, and Time’s latest issue is led by a dark homage to this image, which show a young Afghan girl from today whose nose has been cut off by the Taliban. The headline reads: What happens if we leave Afghanistan.
It’s an incredibly powerful story: the brutaility of a culture which mutilates teenagers for shaming their family. Have Time researchers been pummelling my bandwidth to find a link to their own magazine in the run up to publication?
Maybe. It’s a controversial issue that they must have been paranoid about putting out. And Aisha’s story is one that neeeds to be told, that the world needs to hear. But it does feel like Time has come out with some some timely (forgive the pun) propaganda for war, just as support for the Afghan campaign is at its lowest.
If only there was a question mark at the end of the coverline, and more of an attempt to grasp the complexity of the Afghan situation, it would have been a potentially stunning journalistic landmark. (See how useful they are in the bad headline at the top of this post – the Time feature may not be propaganda, it may be a genuine and heartfelt plea, but there’s a question to be rasied about it). The fundamental principle of journalistic impartiality could even demand that at a shot of women and children mutilated or murdered by coalition bombs with a caption ‘This is what happens if we stay’ should be present – sort of like The Economist’s brilliant treatment of its drug legalisation story recently.
I don’t know much about Afghanistan, but what I do know from the media adn going out and talking to Afghanis living in Britain, is that there’s no ‘one size fits all’ way to look at the country. Like Kyrgyzstan, about which I do know more, it’s not just multi-faceted, it wouldn’t be recognisable as a single entity if it weren’t for the map. Kyrgyzstan was relatively stable, and look at what over-simplification of issues did there.
Look at the last part of this story in the Guardian today, about a female aid worker in Afghanistan. Did you know there are also female priests there? No one image can tell the whole tale.
Coming less than a week after the Wikileaks publication of military reports, which document hundreds of civilian casualties and ‘blue on blue’ incidents, Time’s cover feels like it debases its subject and is nothing more than a heavy handed attempt by CNN to drum up support for the ‘war’.
I’m sure that the truth is more complex, and there’s every likelihood the writer and editor were acting in good faith. But at the very least it feels like Time is jumping the shark, at worst it’s an instrument of government propoganda (as one of the BoingBoing commentators points out, using images of disfigured women to inspire sympathy for the campaign was explicitly suggest in a CIA memo – also publushed on Wikileaks – in 2006).
There’s all kinds of conspiracy that can be read into the fact the US government knew pretty much to the day when the New York Times was going to publish a story about the military reports from Wikileaks. Seen from just slightly distant, it looks almost exactly like the plot from De Niro and Hoffman’s over the top parody of the Balkan war in Wag the Dog.
I haven’t updated any contact details yet because I’m a bit snowed under at the moment, but I’ve finally got round to setting up a limited company for all my writing and multimedia work. It’s called AOE Media Ltd (for several reasons I’ll go into later) and has no official home as yet, although there will be one at some point. Hope that clears things up for anyone who arrives at this blog by searching for it.
Anyone still in two minds about the power of social media? There’s been an incredible example Twitter goodness in Brighton/Worthing tonight.
Local artist, Dan Thompson, asked followers to look for 13-year-old Aaron, who’d been missing since yesterday evening. He posted a description and a photograph from Twitpic.
Dan’s a popular character, with hundreds of followers in the area, and asked Worthing residents to “have one last check of alleyways, back gardens, nearby parks” for Aaron as the sun went down around 9pm. Over the next couple of hours, people updated him with sightings of Aaron, narrowing down his location to Vale Road in Portslade, near where he was found by Dan’s wife.
The police had known that Aaron was missing for 24 hours, but two beat bobbies questioned weren’t aware of any search or circulated description. Unlike the police, Tweeters were actively seeking Aaron, walking, driving and cycling the streets to help find him.
Makes me think there’s an opening for a Foursquare/Ushahidi type app specifcally tailored for this kind of appeal.
Amazingly timely discovery over at Bldgblg: the BP sponsored game Offshore Oil Strike. The whole find is beautifully documented – go read.
As anyone who follows my Twitter feed will know I spent the weekend at City University taking part in a Summer School at the Centre for Investigative Journalism. I’d recommend any aspiring writer or seasoned hack to go next year (I will be) – it’s not often you get the chance to rub shoulders with Julian Assange, David Leigh, Mark Lee Hunter, Ben Goldacre and many more incredibly renowned journalists (like Paul Bradshaw, for example) and get the inside story on some of their best scoops.
I can’t begin to list the number of tips I’ve picked up for extracting stories from public and company accounts, analysing science stories, data encryption for protecting sources and so on. Perhaps the most important thing, though, was just a reminder to be more aware, all the time, of the importance of our writing.
Just be warned – it’s easy to get tempted away from the very useful classes on web scraping and datamining held by experts from ScraperWiki and Propublica in order to hear the incredible P Sainath speak about the (under-reported) mass suicide of Indian farmers or Paul Moreira tell you how he discovered that aid organisations couldn’t actually locate the 650+ schools they claimed to have funded in Afghanistan. You can watch that last video here. You really should.
Yesterday Engadget carried a link about attaching an SLR-lens to an iPhone 4, but this is even cooler. An internally illuminated microscope that sticks over any cellphone camera.
According to Wireless Design Online, it’s been designed at UCLA with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and is being used in field trials somewhere in Africa as we speak. There’s been a lot written about cellphone technology in development recently, from distributing HIV/AIDs test results via SMS to finding people trapped in the rubble of Port-aux-Prince, Haiti. This could be massive for low cost healthcare in hard to reach places.
I’ve been aware of Craig Murray‘s blog for a while now, but started reading it religiously as a result of some of his comments on Kyrgyzstan’s recent troubles. He’s incredibly knowledgeable about that part of the world, having worked as British Ambassador to Uzbekistan. His conflict with the government about its refusal to recognise human rights issues was made famous in the book and documentary, Murder in Samarkand.
He’s well known to the British media, and yesterday published a series of letters obtained under the FOI Act that pretty much show the UK government was complicit in the torture terror suspects under his watch in Uzbekistan, and rejected his concerns as not appreciating “the broader picture”.
The letters were picked up by the international press, but not, complains Murray, by the UK media. Which is odd, to say the least.