Thursday, 21 July 2016



ANALYSING ASSAD


On Wednesday 13 July, my favourite journalist, Bill Neely finally achieved one of the things he had desired most - an interview with President Bashar Al-Assad. After visiting Syria at least ten times, requesting each time and being refused, he finally got his wish. After talking many times to Assad's Deputy Foreign Minister Faisel Mekdad, he finally got a chance to question the man at the top. This is what I thought of both the questions from Bill and the answers from Assad. And remember: I am just a viewer with an opinion. So here goes. 

An interview with a world leader can go either exceptionally well or very very badly. For instance, had Bill ever asked some of the questions he asked here to someone like, say for example, Kim Jong-Un, I suspect he would have ended up in the gulag or worse, probably executed.

This interview was neither good nor bad. It was somewhere in the middle. Or, to use an old saying, "It fell between two Chippendale stools".

The first mistake was NBC calling this an exclusive. Exclusive usually means no-one has ever done this before. Except plenty of people had. Including the BBC's brilliant reporter Jeremy Bowen, for which he won the RTS award.

 It was pretty clear from the start that Assad had praise for Russia and Vladimir Putin. It was also equally clear that he had contempt for The United States, no matter who was in charge. But lets elaborate. 

Bill asked him how long it would take to win the war and as usual, like Faisel Mekdad before him, he said it would only take a few months, which is clearly nonsense.. Bill challenged him on that very fact as it was clearly a ridiculous statement.

He claims that when he asked President Putin for help in defeating the "terrorists", the Russian leader didn't ask anything of him in return. Which sounds fantastic, but also sounds completely implausible. Bill then said, "So, you owe President Putin...a lot?" Assad's answer was that he didn't owe him (Putin) anything, because other countries have helped in their own way. too. And the deal was of mutual values and in the interests of the Russian people. Which is odd because at one point even Putin allegedly told Assad it was time he should step down.  Yep, even his closest ally was getting fed up with him! And the only reason Putin even cares about Assad is the access it gives the Russians to their warm water ports. Not that Assad is ever likely to admit that. 

Assad also said that other countries should basically butt out. He said Syrian issues should be decided by the Syrians, and if the Syrians "want me to go, then I will go now, today". And he didn't approve of American airstrikes, saying they were illegal and counter-productive. He also said the Americans didn't have any good intentions towards Syria and their credibility was at an all-time low in the world. OUCH! He said he didn't care what the Americans want, only what the Syrians want.  

Of course talking of the Americans, led Bill to ask about Donald Trump and the US Election. This I am afraid to say is where Bill fell down, not in a major way, but he really over-played the election thing. He asked Assad about Obama leaving and about Trump possibly (God help us!) coming in. President Assad made it clear up-front that he wasn't interested, "It means nothing to us!", and yet Bill kept pushing even though Assad had made his view very clear. Bill then tried the same thing with Hilary and still got the same answer. He asked Assad if he intended warning the United States if a missile was going to hit them. His answer was, "In principle", which I think really means no. The one thing Assad did say in the Trump conversation was. "Richness is diversity" and that Trump shouldn't be spouting such racist rhetoric. That is one thing Assad and I agree on.  Of course, he also asked Assad what he hoped the relationship would be with the future President, which to me was irrelevant because there isn't a new President, yet. 

Now, Bill confronted him on some of the terrible things that had happened in his country. Assad basically denied it, even though Bill said he had seen some of it himself. Bill pressed him about the use of sieges and indiscriminate killing of civilians. Assad said that no-one had any proof, even though it had been witnessed by organisations like the U.N, the Red Cross, the UNHCR and of course Bill himself. Speaking of journalists, this is the point in the interview where I finally wanted to scream, and Bill began to lose his composure too. This is why:

Bill talked to him about the fact that the family of American Reporter Marie Colvin, who was a great friend of Bill and someone I admired too, were filing a lawsuit against the Syrian Government for her death, claiming that she and her friends in the media centre house were being deliberately targeted. It was something her best friend Paul Conroy , a photo-journalist for The Times has always believed and still does. Bill's question was straight to the point: Did your forces target Marie Colvin and her colleagues with the intention of killing her [and presumably her colleagues]? 

Assad said that his forces didn't even know of Marie Colvin's existence. What?? He followed this up with. "She came illegally to Syria and (I quote) "worked with" the terrorists. And then the bit that really made me want to scream abuse at my laptop: "Because she came illegally, she was responsible for everything that befell her!" He was kidding, right? No, he wasn't. He dropped himself in it though, by saying that lots of journalists came to Syria illegally and they didn't die, so why would they target this person? Which is exactly the point Bill was trying to get across. Why did he target Marie? I couldn't believe it! His forces effectively murder her and Remi Ochlick and all he says is he didn't know she was there, or even acknowledges her existence. As a fellow journalist and someone who admired Marie a lot, I really felt angry that not only could he not take responsibility for the death of his own people, but won't take responsibility for slaughtering journalists either.

Bill's interviewing style changed after that. He didn't hold back. He said Assad - through his words - gave the impression that "he feels he bears no responsibility to the things done - in HIS name - to the Syrian people". He basically kept saying the equivalent of, "Not my fault" and "This is war, people die". Bill asked if he'd seen pictures of children in rebel held areas, only to basically get back that there is no proof they were even in those areas. Assad had casually shrugged off the fact that an estimated 400,000 people had died in his country.  Bill's outburst of, "See! There you go again!" every time Assad denied something, clearly showed that Bill was very wound up. This is not a criticism, though, because by this time, I was just as wound up.

Bill said, "You know what the first draft of history is saying: that you are a brutal dictator with blood on your hands. How do you think people will remember you?"

Assad said, "I hope people with remember me as a Patriot who tried to save his country"

Well, he is actually both.  Yes it is possible to be both. However he also said, "What's most important is how the Syrians see me!"

Basically, President Bashar Assad is a man who is confident of his power and that he is staying exactly where he is.  He is equally sure that he is not responsible for anything, only that what he does is for the good of his country. He came across as a very intelligent, and very charming man. He batted Bill's questions very well, but equally Bill was very good at pushing back, determined to try and get Assad to take responsibility for what are believed by many to be war crimes.

All in all this interview was interesting and gave an insight into how Assad feels about his Presidency, his staying power and about the war itself. And Bill Neely did an excellent job.

NBC's Bill Neely and President Assad




Friday, 8 July 2016



NERDY AND PROUD OF IT


It has been a long standing pastime no matter where you are in the world to make fun of people who are lovers of sci-fi shows. We are the strange, barmy people. We are that little group of people who it is fine to treat with contempt and derision. I used to be one of those people who felt that way. If anyone said they were a sci-fi fan especially a Trekker (fan of Star Trek if you were wondering), I avoided them like they had the plague. Mainly because there are people who get way to involved in their hobby to the exclusion of all else. I dated such a man (not a sci fi fan, something else) and it was the most miserable four years of my life. However, there can be an equal balance between your hobby and your life. Most fans of sci-fi are those people and not the obsessive fans others believe them to be. I watch science fiction, but only to relax on an evening, not because I'm obsessed with it. For the most part I don't give it a second thought.  

My opinion of sci-fi changed when I turned on the TV one Tuesday night and Peter Davison, who I had always liked, was on wearing the weirdest outfit I had ever seen, until Colin Baker came along, that is. 
I thought this looked weird, until....

.....I saw this!


When I then saw Maurice Colbourne from Howard's Way I was even more confused. Then I saw something that is familiar to even the most reluctant TV watcher. A dalek. I was watching a Doctor Who story called Resurrection of the Daleks. And when I got to the cliff-hanger, I really wanted to know what happened next. Sadly, the character of Tegan left in this story, before I even got to know who she was. And as Turlough left in Planet of Fire which followed, I didn't get to know him either. So, my first companion was actually an American botany student called Peri Brown. 

That began my love of Doctor Who, and eventually was followed by Star Trek's various incarnations, Red Dwarf, and thanks to Don, a love of Andromeda, which is partly why my Twitter name is Trance Dance Gemini. 

Of course, 'nerds'(forgive me) are not just sci-fi fans. We love anime and manga, gaming, and we love to have our head in a book. People say nerds are weird for going to conventions, sometimes in a costume. Why? Why is that any different to going to a football or soccer game on a weekend? Is the stadium not your convention, and your team scarf or sweater your costume? Are you not cheering on your heroes of sport as we are cheering our heroes of well, nerdiness? Yes. There is no difference. So to vilify a nerd is not only inaccurate, it's stupid. 

Yes, there are some people who take their fandom slightly too far. The young woman who thought turning up to jury service in a Starfleet uniform to be perfectly acceptable is one example. But most of us are just fun loving who like to watch our manga and our sci-fi. We love it and we are unapologetic about it.  

Here a few things I love:

Doctor Who:

Favourite Doctor: Peter Davison/ Colin Baker
Favourite stories:  Caves of Androzani (Davison) Mark of the Rani (Baker)
Favourite quotes : He sees the threads that bind the universe together and he mends them when they break", "To some, small beautiful events is what life is all about".
  
Andromeda         

Favourite Story : The Pearls That Were His Eyes, and the teaser of The Ties That Blind.
Favourite Quote : To hell with the odds. All that matters in life is that we try (from The Things We Cannot Change)

Manga

Favourite Manga: Battle Royal, Case Closed, The Prince of Tennis, Kabuto, One Piece.
Favourite Anime:  Case Closed The Prince of Tennis, Full Moon 
Weirdest Anime :   Kanazuki no Miko (Priestess of the Godless Month)

Gaming

Favourite console: 3DS
Favourite games: Anything featuring Super Mario/Luigi, PilotWings Resort, and Go Vacation (love the horse riding and the skateboarding!)


I'll leave you with a tune for anyone who like me is a nerd and proud of it!





HELLO, HELLO!! I RECOGNISE YOU!! PART II


Hello, Bill! 

I thought it was time I updated my "Hello, hello, I recognise you" blog!

As you know, I have admired your journalism for years, and I'm glad I can finally (bit late possibly) pursue my own career in broadcast journalism. 

The first time I saw you was that happy day in 1993, when you were still a presenter at ITN, having only just started your career there a few years earlier. Since then I have wanted to follow you into journalism but circumstances, which are too in depth to go into here, prevented me from doing so. Now I have an opportunity and am jumping on it. I've got a shot. I'm taking it!

Remember if it wasn't for you I would never have realised what I was capable of. You have shown me I have a talent for writing, for thinking for myself, for having opinions, for being able to see beyond myself and see the world around me. You have made me see that the world can sometimes be a nasty place, but we have to shine a light. We have to show people this, so no-one is forgotten. You have also made me realise I'm braver than I knew. My parents shielded me even as an adult from things they believed could upset me. But I have found that I can face those things without a problem. Yes, things upset me, but it has to do with compassion, not fear. There have been some horrific images in some of your reports and they have often made me angry, but I faced them and tried to understand why people sometimes behave in ways that sometimes affect our sensibilities so strongly. 

I also realised I had a talent for running. Now I can run a 5K with the best of them. I an not very fast, but the point is, I can do it.  

Having you as my hero has only been a good thing. I know I have been a pain in the arse at times, but it's only because I admire you so much. 

Through all of it, you have been kind, patient, understanding, and you have always answered any questions I have. For that, I am more grateful than you will ever know. 

You have given me good advice, been one hell of a teacher, and a wonderful mentor and supported me in my dream to be like you (well, maybe not exactly. No-one could be 'exactly' like you. You're too damn good!!).

Of course, my ultimate dream is to work for you, whether it be at NBC or ITN. And I will continue to follow your amazing advice, and do whatever it takes to get there. Of course, I may end up being completely useless at journalism, but as someone once said, "To hell with the odds. All that matters in life is that we try".  I just want to discover this for myself. Hopefully, with your continuing support and friendship, I will. 

It has been an honour to have you as a hero, but even more to have you as a friend. I know how lucky I am to have you in my life and I don't take it for granted for a second. You are one of the sweetest, funniest, and most compassionate people I know. And it has been fun to spend time talking to you about news, CRY, your running, your family, including Max (yes, you've even talked about Max) and various other odd subjects that pop up.    

I want to thank you for being my hero, my inspiration and my friend. I can't wait to follow in your footsteps, and when I do get to finally work with you at some point, it will be an absolute privilege. 

Thank you for everything! And don't forget to be awesome.












Saturday, 2 July 2016



     MY FIRST REAL EXPERIENCE OF JOURNALISM 


I've been asked by a friend to talk about how the #Brexit was covered here in the UK by the media. As I am more interested in broadcast journalism, I am unqualified to talk about how the press covered it (badly by all accounts).  However, here is my experience from Friday the 24th June 2016, the day we voted to leave the EU and how it was covered by broadcast journalism.

Like everyone else I sat up all night on Thursday night/Friday morning, watching from 10pm, as ITV News's former political editor Tom Bradby put his other talent into play - presenting - to pull an all nighter to tell us results of the EU referendum as they came in. He finally went off the air around 5am having declared the result was a Brexit as the remaining results wouldn't change this outcome, so there was no point going on about it. I stayed until the bitter end. I was shocked at the result, and never believed it could happen. I should not have stayed up as I was travelling that day but it was irresistible. The whole night, guest politicians, pundits, analysts, economists, came in and out of the studio giving their take on this whole thing. Alastair Stewart who is just as amazing, came on at 9am but this was sadly where I had to discipline myself and get ready to travel. One thing I had learned was that the broadcast media where piling into Westminster Gardens, so I headed to London, dumped my stuff and went to join them, no settling in, no shower, nothing. Just straight into my room, dump my stuff, grab my camera/camcorder and out again. Which is probably why I look a bit untidy on my vlog.

First I had to find where the media where. It took all of five minutes. There, right opposite Parliament in the garden of Parliament Square were a load of broadcast tents, for both TV and radio.  Everyone was allowed on there as long as they didn't interfere with the media, they could sit and watch, even picnic, as long they liked. To stand on the lawn with some of the most amazing broadcasters and people I've admired for years was pretty awesome I have to say. It was a privilege. But like those wonderful people I had a job to do. So I tried to forget who was around me and got on with it.

We all did basically the same thing. Stood on something that made us slightly taller, so we could have the Westminster clock in the background: me on the wall, the professionals on one or even two equipment boxes. A TV in front so you could take cues from London or New York studios, and lights. Very bright lights. That's why my vlog has a green line down it, my camera reflected them.

Keir Simmons and his handy equipment box. 


Some broadcasters actually interviewed politicians right there on the lawn, but not while I was there, and lots of them filmed the protesters who, thankfully, were happy to stay the other side of the fence. Until later in the week that is, when it became completely insane and even a little dangerous.

Some broadcasters had their broadcast tents on the ground as a marquee-type set up while others had their makeshift studio on a scaffolding balcony:

ITN on the balcony


Some of the other professionals and yours truly, thought "sod that" and just found whatever space we could on the grass. The atmosphere was wonderful. It was so good that even my husband Don was getting into the spirit of it, even though he doesn't enjoy journalism the same way I do.

The one thing that is important to note is that journalists have loads of kit! It's absolutely everywhere! Camera, track, scaffolding, tripods, lights, kit boxes, you name it. Oh, and the one other essential piece of kit. The umbrella, though this is used more in regard to lighting than because of the weather:

The trusty filming umbrella

There were people coming and going the whole time: journalists, pundits, politicians, cameramen, protesters, onlookers. It was like everyone had come out to Westminster to share the amazing and weird event of Britain telling the EU, "Sorry, I've decided I don't want to be your friend anymore. Goodbye and good riddance".

So basically covering a story from a particular location (with the exception of war zone obviously) tends to involve sitting around waiting a lot especially if you are on the technical side. And basically a kind of impromptu camp-out. But it is a lot of fun, and very, very exciting. And I hope one day to be among the professionals doing this. Can't wait.