Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Somalia: state of emergency

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on January 13, 2007

Interesting snap just in from Reuters:

BAIDOA, Somalia, Jan 13 (Reuters) – Somalia’s parliament on Saturday declared a state of emergency for three months in order to restore security in the country after several weeks of open warfare ousted rival Islamists, an official said.

“A three-month state of emergency has been passed. If need arises for the government to extend the period then the president will have to ask parliament for approval,” second deputy speaker Osman Elmi Boqore told parliament.

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And once more back to Somalia

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on January 11, 2007

It seems my prediction that Somalia would become a big story in 2007 has proved true..albeit earlier and in a more bizarre fashion than expected. On Monday the US military revealed that they had spent a relaxing Sunday bombing the shit out of suspected Al-Qaeda militants.

Interestingly the news came from the US and not from the ground itself; southern Somalia being so remote no reporters in the country new much about it at first.

And it’s interesting on another level because it marks the first American intervention in Somalia since the imfamous ‘Black Hawk’ incident in the early nineties, which until Monday, caused an utter withdrawal from Africa and (some might say) let the Rwandan genocide continue unheeded.

And up one level more, it hits the interesting mark as the interim government, until two weeks ago holed up in a tiny town miles outside the capital, have supported the foreign intervention.

One Somali in Mogadishu told the BBC on Monday:

“I see that the warplanes that were used in the bombing were chasing terrorists and we Somalis have to support the efforts of the transitional federal goverment”

The interim government are taking a dangerous move in embracing foreign intervention from both the Americans and the Ethiopians, especially when that intervention comes loaded and ready to fire.

Most worryingly it’ll do nothing to salve the divide growing inside the country: interim government, US and Ethiopia on one side, Islamists and Eritrea on the other, each vowing to wipe the other off the map.

As usual with the US War on Terror (c) (TM), the two outcomes were the same:

  1. They didn’t actually kill who they wanted too.
  2. And – according to the excellent Nima Elgabir on site for Channel 4 News – they killed dozens of civilians including a wedding party.

More soon.

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Kenya’s Mobile Revolution: a film you need to watch

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on January 6, 2007

Now I try and keep an eye out for these sort of things, and I haven’t found a genuinely surprising and stereotype-overturning piece about anywhere or anything in Africa since the excellent Inside Africa films I blogged about ages ago.

In fact the only people out there fighting Africa’s corner are the armies of bloggers like E.K. Bensah and Sociolingo – if you read their blogs (and I strongly urge you to do so) you’ll see a different side to the continent; a far cry to the famine, disease and war western newspapers and broadcasters would often have us believe.

Which is why it’s such a great surprise to see “Kenya’s Mobile Revolution” coming up next week on Newsnight on BBC 2 in the UK.

As part of BBC Newsnight’s Geek Week 2.0, they’re showing a film made by their tech reporter Paul Mason. He travelled to Kenya to see how mobile phones are literally changing every aspect of people’s lives.

Mobile Phone in KenyaTwo mobile phone companies have created an 80% network coverage of the country – which I’m sure is better than in the UK! – and even the Maasai nomads in the Rift Valley are texting each other. Even more, mobile operators are pioneering services yet to appear in Europe, like being able to send someone else cash with your mobile.

More and more people are getting them and Paul Mason reckons the mobile could be a democratising tool in a country where the ruling elite’s rife with corruption.

It’s beautifully shot, insightful, and crucially Mason answers the big question for us: “so what?”

When I was last in Ghana back in 2003, I noticed people were using mobiles; hawkers sold mobile phone covers on every street corner. Ironically, I refused to take a mobile phone out there, but if I had, I would have had constant coverage.
So if you’re in on Monday night, watch it. If you’re not, Sky + it. But being the techno-savvy lot you are, I’m sure you’ll watch the online preview now available. It’s 18 minutes long but well worth it.

Click here to watch the online preview

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Think you’ve got a lot of time on your hands?

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on January 4, 2007

Nothing I have seen on this earth (save the Sistene Chapel..which actually I haven’t seen) have required the time, imagination and sheer patience of these two youtubeauties.


Thanks to Shall for the tip!

Happy New Year!

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Saddam Online

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on December 31, 2006

They say if 2006 was anything, it was the year of the video download.

We all discovered Youtube, dozens of internet phenomena were born and died there, from the Lazy Sunday Chronicles of Narnia, to their british counterpart; from the coke and mentos thingy, right up to the sale of Youtube itself for over a billion dollars.

But on the last day of 2006, its tagline as “The Year of the Video Download” has been enshrined in the goriest of ways…the full, unedited version of Saddam Hussein’s hanging’s now available for you to watch at your leisure.

Media democracy in action or just some fodder for the sickos? I don’t think we’ll ever decide. 

No news at Christmas?

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on December 26, 2006

Apparently it’s hard work putting together a news programme over Christmas. The misery of working Christmas Eve/Day and perhaps sipping a bit too much sherry aside, the problem facing journos over the festive period seems to be the lack of news.

“It can be quite tricky putting together a news programme on Christmas Eve… when there’s no news” writes Channel 4 News’ Emily Wilson on Christmas Eve, “surely in the last 24 hours, something other than Mark Ramprakash winning Strictly Come Dancing merits some television coverage.”

But this to me seems extraordinary. No news? If any editor tried looking outside the UK they’d see one of the most important stories of this and the coming year playing out in front of their eyes.

I’ve been writing quite a bit over the past few months about the burgeoning conflict in Somalia.  In August the United Islamic Courts, a fundamentalist Islam group, took control of Mogadishu, ending over a decade of warlord induced chaos. The legitimate government holed up in Baidoa protested, but there were initial talks and a prospect of peace.

But then the two neighbouring countries, Ethiopia and Eritrea got involved. Ethiopia’s a big supporter of the interim government, as its essentially Christian. Muslim Eritrea meanwhile’s behind the UIC.

We’ve all known since September that Ethiopia’s had troops massing inside the country. But on Christmas Eve they finally admitted the fact, and launched several military attacks against the Islamists. As it stands now, the UIC are in a retreat, and Ethiopian troops are about 70 km from the capital.

Why is this important? First off, under the UIC, Somalia became a worry to the west especially as an Al-Qaeda training ground. Whether this is true or not we don’t know. Secondly the real danger emerging is of a proxy war between Ethiopia and Eritrea fought in Somalia – something that could have tragic consequences for ordinary Somalians. This is afterall a country that hasn’t seen stability since 1991.

And that’s before you consider Somalia’s proximity to other hot spots, notably the DR Congo and Sudan.

So a massive conflict on the brink. I think we’ll here a lot more about Somalia next year.

So far, Al-Jazeera English is the only network leading with that story. At the same time I know african conflict isn’t really in the remit christmas domestic bulletins in the UK . But if journalists are so desperate for news, isn’t a burgeoning conflict with immense humanitarian consequences more significant than an indepth report on Leona’s X-factor win?

And as I write, there are devastating floods in Indonesia, four hundred dead in a pipeline explosion in Lagos…oh and a 1 metre tidal wave heading for Taiwan and the Phillipines (2 years to the day after “The Tsunami”.)

No news at Christmas? Yeah right.  

At the Frontline

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on November 17, 2006

Frontline Club logoWent to a very interesting awards/debate event at London’s Frontline Club last night, after an invite from the lovely James, Rachael and David at Westminster Uni.

 

 

Hosted by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, it began with the Kurt Schork Awards, highlighting brave freelance journalists like Kurt himself who was killed reporting from

Sierra Leone in 2000. One award went to Steve Vincent who was killed recently in
Iraq and there was a touching moment as his widow accepted the award from Kurt Schork’s widow, which really brought home the sacrifices some people choose to make.

Then came a debate on the impact of new technology (such as DV Cams and VJs) on local freelance journos around the world. Some were worried that the accessibility of equipment would water down journalism, and others that the equipment’s too expensive for local journalists anyway. But I reckon the flood of “citizen journalists” (if the flood ever happens) will only strengthen the need for accurate, well trained journalists (cough-cough!).

 

But I remembered something the venerable Emmanuel Bensah said a while back when I got excited about new technology:

Video journalism is all exciting, innit, but I have to say that I espouse a visceral belief that journalists are far from dead. In the long run, these are TOOLS, TOOLS, and TOOLS, NOT substitutes. When all else fails, we need our journalists to do the quintessential work of, erm, journalism, no?”

I also got to meet David Dunkley-Gyimah who runs the ever expanding View Magazine site. He’s riding the new media wave big time, and apparently View Magazine’s going to make Minority Report look like Postman Pat before long. Brilliant.

Ruud ElmendorpDavid also mentioned that Ruud Elmendorp just won the International TV Award at the Video Journalism Awards in Berlin. Ruud works freelance in East Africa and his reports are a much needed alternative side reporting in Africa. Definitely check out his excellent report where he meets the imfamous Joseph Kony. Great to see he’s got some recognition.

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The Battle for Afghanistan

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on November 14, 2006

This week Channel 4 News has launched an invasion of Afghanistan, presenting an in-depth series of reports live from the country every night for a week. But the BBC are defending their terrority and pulling out their big guns to win the hearts and minds of the British viewing public. But who will win?

Alex ThompsonChannel 4 News from Afghanistan” is the lastest in a strand of excellent ‘news events’ produced by the C4N team, as part of their nightly bulletins. Earlier in the year Jon Snow reported from Iran, a series which was nothing short of groundbreaking. This time, Alex Thompson’s donned the desert fatigues and is presenting the programme live via satellite all week.

Monday’s programme introduced us to the head of Kabul’s CID, in charge of stopping drug dealers and the Taliban, plus an interview with Pakistan’s President Musharref. Tonight the team are getting dirty with the blooming opium industry.

At least half of the 50 minute programme was dedicated to Afghanistan last night so there’s no messing around and each report is a real in-depth analysis of events.
Alistair LeitheadNot to be outdone, the BBC have brought out their heavy artillery in the form of Alistair Leithead, their correspondent embedded with British troops, who did a special report for the 10 O’clock news.

Now I’m no fan of embedding and I think it tarnished the Iraq War coverage but it served the Beeb well yesterday. At times, I thought the package was an astonishing piece of solo-journalism and was ready to praise Leithead’s VJ skills. But it’s since transpired that producer Peter Emerson and cameraman Fred Scott did admirable jobs on the piece. The troops were open and the footage dramatic.

The winner? I think the Beeb took it this time, but with four days left of live coverage from Kabul, Channel 4 News may well prove me wrong.

  • Watch some of Channel 4 News here.
  • Watch Alistair Leithead’s report here.

Incidentally, the BBC/C4N battle is now a digital one. The BBC’s excellent Editors’ Blog has been challenged by the long-needed Channel 4 News blog

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Darfur Diaries

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on November 14, 2006

For months many bloggers – myself included – have been banging on about how terrible the Darfur crisis is, and how poorly the international media are covering it. But we’ve all been left in the dust by Aisha Bain, Jen Marlowe and Adam Shapiro, who’ve all gone out and done something about it.

Two years ago, they went to Sudan and Chad to make a film:

“After monitoring the worsening political and humanitarian crisis for months and recognizing that the mainstream media offered marginal and inadequate coverage, the team set out with the goal of providing a platform for the people of Darfur (both those displaced inside Darfur and those living in refugee camps in Chad) to speak for themselves about their experiences, their fears, and their hopes for the future.” Darfur Diaries

It’s now available to buy and there’s a preview on their website. I haven’t got a chance to see it yet so I can’t offer a review, but I think it’s a nobel project.

And if you’re in the mood, check out this week’s From Our Own Correspondent on BBC Online. As well as a piece from Jonah Fisher on the difficulties of reporting from Darfur, there’s also a moving piece by Matthew Price on last week’s events in Beit Hanoun. Price is, in my opinion, one of the best broadcast journalists there is.

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Frustration and inspiration

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on November 8, 2006

…all in one day.

Today I’ve been in radio reporter mode, my task: to report for a local station based in North London called EC1 FM.

As part of our training we spend one day newsgathering, and then tomorrow we produce bulletins with our material.

It didn’t look promising as we all rolled in, bleary-eyed, at 9am.  There seemed to be a distinct lack of news in the Islington area: the local rag was already a week old, and council websites were fruitless. But we did manage to scrape together about 20 ideas between us, which ranged from a new CCTV initiative in the area, to a local bikshed being given an award (oh yes.)

Normally days like this are one of complete frustration over stories, rather than anything else. Your best idea falls through when the interviewee pulls out. Or worse still, it turns out not to be a story at all. Not today. This time, I somehow managed to grab 3 different stories: a hard news story about asylum seekers living rough on London’s streets, an interview with a local world record holder and an off diary idea about the lack of poppies on sale ahead of armistace day.

But then the frustrations began.

I recorded some vox pops with students about whether they’d been able to get hold of poppies. Great stuff, but the battery on my Minidisc recorder died halfway through.

Then I went to Highbury, North London, and got a good interview with the record holder (she irons clothes under water). Then to Shoreditch to Amnesty International HQ to record an interesting asylum seeker interview.

I’m a happy man, but when I get back to Uni, I discover the MD has mysteriously erased my interviews. Aaargh!

It’s the worst feeling ever, but at least it’s happened now rather than when I’m getting paid. Definitely going to be more careful from now on.

So I ended the day feeling immensely frustrated. After work, we headed for a talk by some of the team behind Channel 4’s excellent Unreported World. The reporter of last Friday’s programme about gang warfare in Guatemala is Ramita Navai, an ex-City student, who amazingly only graduated from here 3 years ago. Alongside her was David Lloyd, renowned producer, behind Dispatches and Unreported World on Channel 4.

It was a totally inspiring two hours – Unreported World is a brilliant, unique piece of journalism, that goes to the places we never hear about. And Ramita’s story of how she got to where she is, gave us all the real get-up-and-go to do great stuff.  It takes time, perseverance and, it would seem, luck to make it far in television journalism, but I felt far more motivated than ever before.

If you’re in the UK, watch the programme: Friday’s 19:30 on Channel 4. If not, you can listen to the programme in radio, by clicking here.

So a bit of a mix today, but far better than any day at the office!

Damned by debt relief

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on November 5, 2006

This week I came across a charity called WORLDwrite who, among other things, recruit volunteers to make films as a way of fostering global understanding.

They’re touring UK universities to promote a new 28 minute documentary called Damned by Debt Relief which puts a compelling case that the G8/Live8 extravaganca of 2005 didn’t do all it promised.

The documentary was shot in Ghana by a group of WORLDwrite volunteers; Ghana was one of the so-called “HIPC” (Highly Indebted Poor Countries) that had it’s debt cancelled as a result of Gleneagles and “I hate Mondays”. What we weren’t told was all the strings that came attached, that some say, has made the situation worse.

It would appear that the idea of helping poor countries to help themselves has been forgotten and western governments still insist on telling poor countries how they should spend their money.

After living in Ghana for a while in 2003, I’m unabashedly in love with the country; I left feeling that although there was great poverty in places, it is still a modernising country, stable, peaceful, with a bourgeoning middle class and ambitious young people, like the audacious and witty E K Bensah.

Obviously there were some things I missed – see this NYTimes article on child labour in Krete Karachi (on the northern shores of Lake Volta) where I’ve been, but didn’t notice well enough.

Next March is Ghana’s 50th Anniversary of Independence. It was the first country in Africa to gain independence from Britain, so I reckon it’s a big deal. Ideally I’m hoping to go back briefly next year (money permitting), possibly with a camera in hand to see how Ghana stands on the brink of fifty.

And in contrast to all the negative, patronising publicity HIPCountries get too often, Ghana was recently surveyed as the 10th happiest country in the world – above both the UK and the US. So something’s going right!

I’m going along to the next WORLDwrite meeting in a couple of weeks to find out more – I’ll fill you in. In the meantime, watch a shortened version of their Damned by Debt Relief video – it’s a very interesting 3 minutes 30.

Meanwhile in Somalia…

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on October 28, 2006

I’ve been following the major upheavals going on in Somalia over the summer, which has basically seen fifteen years of chaotic warlord rule ended – by a fundamentalist islamic group.

It all unfolded like this:

11th July: the Union of Islamic Courts took control of Mogadishu. The country’s official (but feeble) government holed up in Baidoa, north of the capital. Peace talks between the two sides begin.

20th July: reports came out that the Islamists were advancing on Baidoa to remove the official government. But at the same time, reports appear saying that Ethiopia was massing troops on the Somali border. Which, of course, they denied. It all gets a bit ugly as the Islamists vow a “holy war” on Ethiopia for intervening.

22nd July:  the Union of Islamic Courts calls off talks with the interim government because of the Ethiopia connection.

It’s been a summer of relative peace – and for war-weary Somalians – a tempting hint of a hopeful future. But this silver cloud has a dark lining.

What’s worrying is the development of a proxy war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, both bordering Somalia. On one side, Ethiopia openly supporting the interim government, and massing troops on the border. On the other side Islamic Eritrea supporting the Islamists.

Ethiopia and Eritra, it seems, are gagging for a fight. A bitter border dispute ended in 2000 but it all kicked off again about a year ago. Ethiopia moved half it’s armoured force onto the border and Eritrea sent troops into a demilitarised zone, and tensions rose dramatically. Last October it all looked a bit serious…until you look at a map of the disputed land (from BBC News Online):

BBC Map of Ethiopia-Eritrean border

In other words: it’s tiny. And by all accounts, dusty, deserted waste land. Definitely not worth fighting over. With UN diplomacy, it all calmed down, but with Somalia entering the game, causing tensions between all three countries, it could spiral with worrying ease. This is of course a part of Africa already in turmoil.

This weekend, UIC supporters in Mogadishu are calling for a Jihad against Ethiopia,  while reports are emerging of refugees flooding into Kenya and Yemen in the most horrible of conditions.

(more…)