Writing this column is not a dangerous business, but some journalists do put their lives on the line in pursuit of their stories.
Recently we had the shooting of Dutch journalist Peter R de Vries in the Netherlands and he’s still in critical condition at the time of writing. On Times Radio Breakfast last Saturday Jenny Kleeman spoke to Jeremy Dear of the International Federation of Journalists about the problem. It used to be journalists in war zones that were most at risk, and Ms Kleeman in her time as foreign correspondent had colleagues who were killed in such circumstances. But now journalists could be targeted on home ground, even while bringing their children to school. It was a timely item on an issue that deserves more widespread coverage.
During last week’s by-election some journalists didn’t cover themselves in glory though many provided incisive reporting and commentary throughout the count. It seemed particularly unfair that Aontú was the only Dáil party to be excluded from the high-profile debate on the edition of The Week in Politics that preceded the vote. And then RTÉ issued an apology for inadvertently, they say, broadcasting a programme close to voting that featured poll winner Ivana Bacik in a favourable though not necessarily political context. However it was more in the print media that I found Ms Bacik getting nudge-worthy promotion. Prior to the vote several commentators on radio and television spoke of ‘front runners’, presumably relying on polls and experience, though there is a certain self-fulfilling prophecy about it. I wouldn’t agree with many of Ms Bacik’s policies but at least with her and activists like her you know what you’re getting, unlike those from the main parties who seem to have a portfolio of principles to choose from, depending on which way the ‘woke’ wind is blowing.
If only ‘woke’ applied to its core definition of being aware and awake to social justice issues we wouldn’t have such polarised public debates. Irish missionaries have been inherently aware and committed to social justice for so long. I was impressed by the contribution of Sr Orla Treacy, a Loreto sister from Bray on The News at One (RTÉ Radio One, Friday). On the occasion of South Sudan’s Independence Day – it’s the tenth anniversary – she spoke of the challenges facing her work as director of the mission in Rumbek. The Loreto sisters have brought education for girls to the area – initially the idea of education for girls was new and unfamiliar but now their school in Rumbek is over-subscribed, and despite some internal conflicts since independence, there is hope and optimism. As with journalists, security can be an issue. As Sr Orla pointed out, with civil war and internal conflict comes greater instability and proliferation of guns, even in the hands of young people, though in Rumbek they’ve been largely secluded from national conflicts.
Back on Times Radio Breakfast on Sunday morning the issue of Britain’s cuts to overseas aid was discussed. It seems a group of philanthropists is planning to make up any resultant shortfall in order to protect various projects in the developing world. The effect might be to shame the government, even into changing its mind. No doubt there are many worthy projects deserving of support, though when I heard ‘reproductive health’ being mentioned I wondered what they have in mind. Like the ‘woke’ concept, the basic meaning of the words should be appealing – who could object to better healthcare for pregnant women? However, the phrase is often used as a euphemism for abortion. As regards the cuts, many in Britain seemed okay with them provided they were temporary and had the approval of parliament, but the government seems to be making a hash of it. I was struck by a question from presenter Jenny Kleeman – she wondered about unaccountable and tax-avoiding billionaires having influence on government policies. Now there’s another topic to explore more thoroughly.
On a more calming note, I enjoyed last Sunday night’s Vaticano (EWTN) an exploration of the work of Renaissance artist Raphael who died 500 years ago. The art historian Elizabeth Lev gave us an enthusiastic overview of his work in the Vatican for the reforming Pope Julius II. She described the harmony and peacefulness in his work, the patience desirable to appreciate it and the spirit of teamwork that he exemplified.
Now there are some qualities worth cultivating in these fractious times.