Wednesday, 28 June 2017





THE POSSIBLE END OF AN AL JAZE-ERA


Ah, Al Jazeera. I honestly never believed when I first started watching this amazing TV channel, that I would spend most of the next five years defending it, rather than just watching it. I don't regret doing it. It's just not what I thought would happen. It started with the jailing of the Al Jazeera four: Abdullah el-shami from Al Jazeera Arabic and the three people from Al Jazeera English: Peter Greste, Baher Mohammed and Mohammed Fahmy. Then there were their collegues who got charged in absentia, including Sue Turton. Now, I'm standing up for them again, after unreasonable demands from the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) and Egypt to have them shut down.

Do I want to see Al Jazeera shut down? Well, yes..........and definitely NO.

We'll start with yes.

The spat between Egypt and Qatar is no secret. Unfortunately Al Jazeera were willing to endanger their journalists to put the point across. When the AJ Staff were in Egypt, the then bureau chief Mohammed Fahmy, asked Al Jazeera time and time again if they  were legally working in Egypt. Did they have the right press passes, etc. He was told to butt out, under the pretence of, "It's all under control, Fahmy. You just do your job as Bureau Chief, and let us worry about the rest of it". Except it wasn't all under control. The company knew damn well that they were there illegally and the AJ staff got well and truly dropped in it.

In fact, Qatar were probably thrilled when the AJ four got jailed because it gave them more ammunition to criticise Egypt. The longer they were in jail, the more publicity Al Jazeera got. And when the company began the 'zipped lips' campaign, everyone began to hear of Al Jazeera, which is exactly what Qatar were after. The unfortunate thing was, millions of people were sucked in by this, assuming that they were fighting for press freedom. Yes, we were, but underneath, it was all posturing to help Qatar stab a finger at Egypt, and by following our conscience and shouting for free speech, we became actors in this shameful piece of political theatre. That's not to say I didn't believe in what I was standing for - the release of the journalists and press freedom. Of course I did. I still do, otherwise I would not even be writing this. I support those journalists even more now, knowing as I do that they were basically used as pawns.

Any company who manipulates the good conscience of people in such a major way or is so cavalier about the safety of their reporters is a disgrace to journalism and quite honestly should be shut down. But this would again be punishing the fine journalists who work there because of two opposing governments acting like five year olds in a playground.

Which leads me on to the reason why Al Jazeera should carry on broadcasting and should not be shut down under any circumstances.

Many people in the Middle East have no voice. If they speak out they are silenced, or - as the AJ Staff have discovered - jailed, and sometimes even tortured and killed for saying what they believe. Al Jazeera gives a voice to the voiceless, speaks truth to power where no-one else can and their coverage is  second to none. They have some of the most experienced and impressive journalists in the world (take a bow Kamahl Santamaria!). When the Arab Spring was taking place across the Middle East, they covered it excellently and were the voice to many of the protesters and many of the other people in the region affected by it. Al Jazeera does exactly what it is supposed to do: Shines a light and gives people a voice. It's also about speaking truth to power, which via programmes like Inside Story, it does incredibly well.

Their programmes are of the highest quality and the highest professionalism. Their history documentaries are amazing. For instance, I never knew anything about the Sykes/Picot agreement until I saw the history programme Al Jazeera made about it.

To shut down Al Jazeera English would not only be a big mistake but would also be very sad. In Egypt, the station is already banned, Al Jazeera America has also gone. Let's not see the same fate happen to the brilliant Al Jazeera English. Let's stand for up for these guys and show Saudi Arabia how amazing our collective voices really can be. I want to shout one last thing: I STAND WITH AL JAZEERA!!







"Our job as journalists is to speak truth to power, shine a light in the dark places, be a witness to history and sometimes speak up for those who have no voice" ~ Bill Neely

Thursday, 15 June 2017





MAY MAY OR MAY MAY NOT



Oh dear, oh, dear! Theresa May, what has she done? Well, put simply, she cocked up!

In a recent piece, my hero Bill Neely described this monumental disaster-fest as, "From hero to zero". This to be honest, is stretching the truth just a tad. She was never a hero to me or I suspect to anyone else who has suffered under her policies.

This all started in June last year, when the country decided, by a perfectly democratic vote, to leave the European Union. Most people (except possibly Nigel Farage) thought it was an atrocious idea. To clarify this, the result was 52 - 48. Incredibly close. Which proved that there were many sensible people who thought Brexit was the dumbest idea imaginable! As the journalists stood on their designated spot outside Parliament, a protest was taking place on the road running alongside it. Two days later, the journo's spot became swamped with protesters.

I am not going to lay Brexit at the feet of Theresa May, as David Cameron was in charge at the time. It was what happened afterwards. On the morning after the vote, he stood down claiming, "I do not think it would be right for me to be the Captain that steers our country to it's next destination".

We were left with several contenders to replace him. Boris Johnson had led the Brexit campaign, but when it came to leading the country afterwards, he lost support and had to back out. Eventually, after several more people backed out, the country was left with two choices. Two female bigots: Andrea Leadsom and Theresa May. Andrea Leadsom then also backed out. So Theresa May became PM of the UK, although, not exactly a hero. She said there wouldn't be an election until 2020, no chance of a second EU referendum and above all a strong and stable leadership.

Unfortunately, 'strong and stable' to her meant undermining the welfare system and crippling the emergency services by removing their funding, and talking about a repeal of the ban on fox hunting. Oh and then there's the 'dementia tax'......! She promised to do something about immigration. And then she promised to do something about terrorism saying, "Enough is enough", while simultaneously doing deals with Saudi Arabia. And, of course she sucked up to Donald Trump. After all this, she still believed she had the popular vote, which she did....to a point. So she decided to get devious. It was to be her undoing.

For a reason no one could understand, other than perhaps her delusion that she still had support, she then called a general election out of the blue. We call this a 'snap' election. Unfortunately, her campaign was absolutely terrible! She refused to do any interviews or take part in any debates. Not exactly the actions of a responsible leader. And let's not forget that she also refused to visit the families affected by the Grenfell disaster, even though the Queen did.

Meanwhile Jeremy Corbyn finally convinced people he was worthy of the political Premiership. His campaign was amazing and did exactly what it was supposed to do - convince people.

It was clear pretty early on as the votes came in that David Davis, who persuaded Theresa May to call a snap election in the first place, had basically shot his colleague not just in the foot, but in the head.

The election results were close, not to mention an absolute disaster. Theresa May won, except technically she didn't, and Jeremy Corbyn lost, except he didn't.  Let me explain.

Theresa May did win, in the fact that she got the most votes. However, she didn't win because she didn't get the majority vote of 326 seats. Jeremy Corbyn didn't win, however, he did because he got a high score as people showed their disillusionment of May's government. Labour scored an unprecedented 262 seats.

However, as May had not won a majority, this meant a hung parliament. It resulted in her having to go into a coalition with another party. Unfortunately, she picked the DUP, a group of Northern Irish unionists.

There were several reasons why this was a bad idea. First there was the anti-abortion stance. Then there was the fact that they are in favour of bringing back the death penalty. Which century are they living in!? They are climate change deniers and believe creationism should be taught in schools. They also are anti-anything to do with LGBT+ rights, including same sex marriage. For goodness sake, the Republic of Ireland - a staunchly Catholic country have realised that gay marriage is okay! The DUP are literally living in the dark ages. They say they are for a 'soft' Brexit meaning they don't want a hard border with the Republic. However, as Theresa does want one they may get one whether they like it or not.

Which leads on to the discussion I wish we could avoid. The whole Northern Ireland thing. People who say this won't affect the peace agreement are a little na├»ve because it very well could. And this would be very, very sad. I have an Irish background, so when the Good Friday Agreement was signed I was so happy. I thought that my countries were getting their act together and learning to move on. Amazing.

And now here we are again possibly. Power sharing has already collapsed and here is Theresa May doing a deal with the DUP which, if nothing else is going to make Republicans like Sinn Fein very unhappy, as the UK are supposed to be impartial. How the hell is climbing into bed with the DUP impartial? Clearly it isn't. We have had nearly 20 years of relative peace, and what happens? Theresa May comes along and to all intents and purposes rips the Good Friday Agreement to shreds!

Nice going, PM. You have potentially given us a situation that could re-ignite the Troubles. So, I apologise now to all my fellow Northern Irish men and women for our leader being a complete idiot. We already have radical Islamic terrorism and now we will possibly have Irish terrorism too? Thanks for nothing, Theresa!

So, what's next? Well, someone mentioned a second election. Fine. If it means removing this awful coalition and Theresa May, then good. I'm all for it. Until then, we're stuck with it. It's not going to be fun.

I just hope that the Good Friday agreement stays in one piece. Thirty years of violence in the tortured province was thirty years too many. No more. Or as Theresa May would say: Enough is enough!








Thursday, 1 June 2017






THE HELL OF HEATHROW



On the morning of 27 May, complete chaos ensued after a computer system failure at Heathrow airport. This affected primarily British Airways (BA), who, let's be honest, have not been doing themselves any favours over the last year or so. There are three instances that spring immediately to mind.

1) A mouse was running around a plane, which a lot of people found quite humourous and were making jokes about it, which is good, but when it comes down to it, rodents should not be loose on aircraft.

2) A man went on one of their flights and suffered severe bites from the seat he was in. It was apparently covered in bed bugs. 

3) A prominent NBC journalist lost his luggage on a trip back from the Rio Olympics and had to wait at least a week to get it back. When he asked BA where his luggage was he was told to talk to a different airline he also flew with.

4) At the time of writing this, another prominent journalist was flying to New York and ended up landing in Boston. He said he wasn't too worried and it wasn't BA's fault, but it doesn't change the fact that he didn't land where he was supposed to.

Which leads us back to the situation on 27 May. I went to the airport and went into Terminal 3. What I saw amounted  to a refugee camp. People were on the floor with camping mats and blankets. Which is at least something. The people in terminal 5 where I went an hour later didn't even get that. I arrived at about 9pm. A lot of them had been there since 9am the same day. Twelve hours 

I interviewed two girls who were trying to get to Miami and had been at the airport since 6am. They asked if they could get on an American Airlines flight instead only to be told this wasn't possible. At 10.40. they were told they wouldn't be going anywhere. They asked BA staff for more information, but no-one would tell them anything. They again asked American Airlines for help and were refused. They had to queue to get their luggage back. Some people didn't even get their bags back. They were given no food, water, or anything else. They were told to try and find their own hotels, some of whom were charging £2,000 a night! They tried for a third time to get American Airlines to help them and were told, according to these two lovely people, that BA had actually told American Airlines not to help any of their BA customers! And they only just got blankets (at 10pm!). They said, "We are never, ever flying with BA EVER AGAIN!"

Then I met a young person trying to get to Kuwait with her friend. She arrived at 5pm to find out her flight to Kuwait was also cancelled. She managed to rebook a flight okay, but it didn't go until the following morning. Her only option was to get a hotel miles away from the airport where they would be cheaper.

There are lots of stories like this. The people in terminal 3 at least got camping mats and fluffy blankets, not that it was any consolation. I tried to get a statement from staff but they (not surprisingly) refused to comment.

I interviewed a man heading back to France. He said, after this, that he is never coming back to the UK. He said it was too expensive and his experience with BA has put him off completely.

This whole thing has been a complete and utter shambles. And BA should be ashamed of themselves. A computer system failure is no excuse for this appalling cock up.

My husband Don worked for a company whose business relies solely on computers. They would have regular contingency tests to ensure that if the main network went down there were always back-ups. And if something did fail, it would be a minor issue, easily corrected.

BA and airlines in general really need to have a contingency in place for major computer failures, so this kind of nonsense can never ever happen again. Of course, they would probably complain about how much it would be to instigate this. but compared to the compensation they are going to have to pay out from this incident, it's a very small price to pay.

The price of air fares is already ridiculous, which is putting a lot of people off travelling to start with, so they can certainly do without the hassle of being screwed over by a simple computer glitch.

I'm afraid BA are going to be dealing with the aftermath of this for quite a while. When all it would have taken would be a regular contingency to prevent this in the first place. Ridiculous.

I know one thing: I, along with I suspect most of the people sleeping at Heathrow, will no longer be flying with British Airways. As one passenger simply said to me: "NEVER AGAIN".