Friday, January 30, 2004

So it looks like I'll be keeping my NUJ card a while longer.

Andrew Gilligan has finally resigned from the BBC over the story which led to the whole Kelly/Hutton affair.

I've been very careful about what I've said about a (now former) BBC colleague -- but I'm sure my opinion has been pretty obvious.

I wouldn't have manned a picket line because of Andrew Gilligan and thankfully now I don't have to cross one because of him.

But still the National union of Journalists misjudges the general mood.

"We are very saddened by the fact that Andrew felt the need to resign," says NUJ deputy general secretary John Fray.

"I believe he could have stayed on but obviously he has been under immense pressure.

"He holds the fact that he believes that his journalism is substantively correct."

Call me old fashioned but I consider it my job to get my journalism completely correct -- not just substantively so.

Will Andrew Gilligan's resignation prompt a spontaneous staff protest in the same way that Greg Dyke's did?

What do you think?
Gilligan resignation statement -- full text:

"I am today resigning from the BBC. I and everyone else involved here have for five months admitted the mistakes we made. We deserved criticism. Some of my story was wrong, as I admitted at the inquiry, and I again apologise for it.

"My departure is at my own initiative. But the BBC collectively has been the victim of a grave injustice.

!If Lord Hutton had fairly considered the evidence he heard, he would have concluded that most of my story was right. The Government did sex up the dossier, transforming possibilities and probabilities into certainties, removing vital caveats; the 45-minute claim was the `classic example' of this; and many in the intelligence services, including the leading expert in WMD, were unhappy about it.

"Thanks to what David Kelly told me and other BBC journalists, in very similar terms, we know now what we did not know before. I pay tribute to David Kelly.

"This report casts a chill over all journalism, not just the BBC's. It seeks to hold reporters, with all the difficulties they face, to a standard that it does not appear to demand of, for instance, Government dossiers. I am comforted by
the fact that public opinion appears to disagree with Lord Hutton and I hope this will strengthen the resolve of the BBC.

"The report has imposed on the BBC a punishment far out of proportion to its or my mistakes, which were honest ones. It is hard to believe now that this all stems from two flawed sentences in one unscripted early-morning interview, never repeated, when I said that the Government "probably knew" that the 45-minute figure was wrong. I attributed this to David Kelly; it was in fact an inference of mine.

"It has been claimed that this was the charge which went round the world, but a cuttings check shows that it did not even get as far as a single Fleet Street newspaper. Nor did the Government mention it in its first three letters of complaint.

"In my view, this helps explain why neither I nor the BBC focused on this phrase as we should have. I explicitly made clear, in my broadcasts, that the 45-minute point was based on real intelligence. I repeatedly said also that I
did not accuse the Government of fabrication, but of exaggeration. I stand by that charge, and it will not go away.

"In Greg Dyke the BBC has lost its finest director general for a generation. He should not have resigned, and I am extremely sorry to see him go. I would like to thank the BBC for its support throughout the extraordinary and terrible ordeal that has been the last seven months. It has defended the right to investigate and report accurately on matters about which the public has a right to know. Save for the admissions I and the BBC have made, my reporting on
the dossier's compilation fulfilled this purpose."

"I love the BBC and I am resigning because I want to protect it. I accept my part in the crisis which has befallen the organisation. But a greater part has been played by the unbalanced judgments of Lord Hutton."
More from the resignation statement:

"I love the BBC and I am resigning because I want to protect it. I accept my part in the crisis which has befallen the organisation. But a greater part has been played by the unbalanced judgments of Lord Hutton."
In his resignation statement, Gilligan said:

"I again apologise for it. My departure is at my own initiative. But the BBC collectively has been the victim of a grave injustice."

In a short statement the BBC said "We recognise this has been a very difficult time for him."
Andrew Gilligan, whose Today programme report sparked the Hutton Inquiry, has resigned from the BBC. More soon.
I'm Huttoned out.

Can we talk about something else now, please?
My final comment on the day's affairs before I trudge home through the snow.

1) Weapons of Mass Destruction have not been found -- David Kay blames the intelligence agencies.

2) Weapons of Mass Destruction have not been found -- Lord Hutton blames the BBC.

Downing Street and the White House escape censure -- even though one of the main reasons for going to war and sacrificing hundreds of lives still has not been proved.

The spin wins.
John Pilger writes about what sounds like an outstanding film about the Khmer Rouge, which I'll be aiming to see as soon as possible.

I went to S-21 in November and found it one of the most harrowing and haunting places I've ever visited.

Pilger says:
"The film has such power that, more than anything I have seen on Cambodia since I was there almost 25 years ago, it moved me deeply, evoking the dread and incredulity that was a presence then."

Thursday, January 29, 2004

So, at the end of what's possibly been the most traumatic day in the history of the BBC it's time to begin taking stock and to look at what the fall-out from the Hutton Report means for the future of the corporation -- and for journalism in Britain.

Whatever your opinion about the conclusions in the Hutton Report, it was hugely damning of the BBC. Nothing short of senior resignations would have satisfied the government, not to mention many of those who pay our wages -- the licence fee payers. The decisions of Gavyn Davies and then Greg Dyke to fall on their swords was good enough even for Downing Street. The government is no doubt reflecting tonight on a comprehensive knockout in its vicious punchup with the Beeb.

Despite what the doom merchants may say, the BBC and its journalism will survive this crisis. The implementation of new safeguards will slowly restore its reputation. And I'm sure that if a story on the scale of September 11th happened tomorrow, most British people would still look to the BBC for impartial and comprehensive news coverage, as I understand a Guardian survey will show tomorrow.

The public demonstrations by staff at the resignation of "Greg" -- as he always signed himself on his staff e-mails -- is hugely significant, a sign of his charisma and the genuine respect with which he is held within the BBC. In how many companies would the workforce down tools in a spontaneous show of support for their former leader?

But we still have not heard from one key player in this sorry affair.

That person was responsible for bringing this crisis about and for tarnishing the reputations of all of us who work for the Corporation.

Tonight, he is still a member of BBC staff.
As I predicted three hours ago:
Media Guardian: Sambrook will not face BBC axe

Following on from the stupendously tedious Flash Mob craze of last year comes subway party cars.
The new front page for BBC News Online -- or so Downing Street would wish.
Gilligan wants to stay at the BBC -- others (no names, of course) believe he doesn't deserve to.

National Union of Journalists General Secretary Jeremy Dear says "It is my understanding that Andrew Gilligan wishes to continue working for the BBC.

"There have been no discussions today because of events but he needs to have talks with a union official and BBC management.

"We are backing him and I would like to hear him back on the Today programme."

Much more on this later -- but I'm getting perilously close to returning my NUJ membership card.

Colleagues in the BBC newsroom in West London say Greg Dyke has just made an emotional address to them.

He walked into the newsroom and climbed onto a table to a huge round of applause before telling the amassed journalists that they are the "bedrock" of the corporation.
BBC Washington joins the protest!!

Colleagues at BBC buildings across the country have apparently joined the protests.
Colleagues in London say hundreds of staff have walked out of Television Centre to show their support for former BBC Director General, Greg Dyke.
Blair has accepted the BBC's apology. My take is that this will bring an end to the human sacrifice at the BBC and save the Head of News, Richard Sambrook.

Acting BBC Chairman Lord Ryder says "I have no hestitation in apologising unreservedly for our errors."

He adds: "The departure of Gavyn Davies and Greg Dyke will be regretted throughout the BBC....The BBC must now move forward."

Acting DG Mark Byford says "my task is to lead the organisation through what is a very turbulent period."
Mark Byford appointed acting DG.
Dyke addresses the troops in an e-mail:

"This is the hardest e-mail I’ve ever written.

"In a few minutes I’ll be announcing to the outside world that I’m leaving after four years as Director General. I don’t want to go and I’ll miss everyone here hugely.

"However the management of the BBC was heavily criticised in the Hutton Report and as the Director General I am responsible for the management so it’s right I take responsibility for what happened.

"I accept that the BBC made errors of judgement and I’ve sadly come to the conclusion that it will be hard to draw a line under this whole affair while I am still here. We need closure. We need closure to protect the future of the BBC, not for you or me but for the benefit of everyone out there. It might sound pompous but I believe the BBC really matters.

"Throughout this affair my sole aim as Director General of the BBC has been to defend our editorial independence and to act in the public interest.

"In four years we’ve achieved a lot between us. I believe we’ve changed the place fundamentally and I hope that those changes will last beyond me. The BBC has always been a great organisation but I hope that, over the last four years, I’ve helped to make it a more human place where everyone who works here feels appreciated. If that’s anywhere near true I leave contented, if sad.

"Thank you all for the help and support you’ve given me. This might sound a bit schmaltzy but I really will miss you all. I’ve enjoyed the last four years more than any other time in my working life."
Dyke says the BBC is "an incredibly important organisation in this country" and he hopes his resignation will allow for a "new start" in the corporation.
Dyke says "I hope a line can now be drawn under this whole affair" in resignation statement.

Greg Dyke has resigned as Director General of the BBC. More soon.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

The Independent reaches similar conclusions to the one I outlined in this posting over Iraqi WMDs:
Independent: WMD: Now it is Bush's turn to face uncomfortable truths

The Indy spies trouble ahead:
"There is a sense that the WMD issue could present a problem for Mr Bush as he campaigns for re-election.

"The comments he made about the threat posed by Saddam will be held up to scrutiny.

"Senior officials have admitted that the question of flawed intelligence is something the White House will be forced to confront sooner or later."

BBC bosses say they'll wait until the governors have met tomorrow before commenting further on the Hutton Report.

The damage limitation strategy is becoming clear.

The corporation is so shell-shocked by the scope of Lord Hutton's criticisms that it's waiting to see what the morning papers say, and how much support the BBC gets from the press, before deciding whether to put any more heads on the block after Gavyn Davies.
CNN's Michael Holmes talks about yesterday's Ambush near Baghdad, in which two CNN staff were killed.
Channel 4 News's Jon Snow springs to the BBC's defence:

"The likelihood is that the BBC and its fate will now come to dominate the debate rather than the issues surrounding the war.

"As regards the BBC, whatever mistakes were made, government clashes with the state broadcaster are dangerous, there are implications for every journalist. This is very dicey territory.

"We could find that the death of David Kelly ends up robbing Britain of the best public service broadcaster in the world. To the great joy of several newspaper magnates and their empires."

So does media commentator, Emily Bell:

The overall impression, albeit a highly personal and biased one, is that the BBC is still more concerned with the dissemination of unspun fact than either Mr Blair or Mr Campbell.
BBC News Online picks up the landmine-detecting cress story -- and rightly points out that it's a load of old nonsense.

...From Tory MP for Henley, Boris Johnson, who says:

"The BBC should tough it out.....We're now going to hear a lot of sanctimonious humbug and piffle from journalists and politicians who've never got a story as good as Andrew Gilligan's -- and quite frankly aren't fit to lick his boots."
The right-wing bloggers (such as Reynolds and Jarvis) can barely type this afternoon, so gleeful are they at the BBC's discomfort.

And who can blame them. It's a black day for the Corporation and I'm as dismayed as anyone at the finding that the BBC's editorial processes were lacking,

I'm not going to defend the indefensible but I would say this.

The BBC is the biggest newsgathering organisation in the world. It employs thousands of journalists and produces hundreds of hours of news on radio, television and online every single day.

The Hutton Report, damning as it is, focuses on one story, put together by one journalist and broadcast by one programme. It does those of us who go to extraordinary lengths to get the facts right a huge disservice to tar all BBC journalism with the same brush.

Andrew Gilligan made a mistake when he claimed the government had "sexed up" its dossier on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. As a result, one person died -- Dr David Kelly. That's tragic.

But let's look what's happening as I type over at the Senate Armed Services Committee, coincidentally at the same time that the Hutton firestorm is raging. David Kay is telling senators that the intelligence agencies also made a mistake about Iraqi WMDs.

So far more than 500 American soldiers have died.
Too many Mojitos last night at Ceiba (I can recommend the Grilled Beef Ribeye Churrasco) means today is going to be a looooong day.

I have no-one to blame but myself.
I'm going to have to take the rest of the day off. My editorial systems have suddenly come over all defective.
Media Guardian: Hutton delivers damning verdict on BBC

Let's dig out our donkey jackets and fire up the brazier -- it's time to man the picket line.

You go first...I'll join you in a minute. Honest.

Media Guardian: Back Gilligan or face dispute, union tells BBC
We're all fired -- thank God I'm over here.
BBC castigated in Hutton report

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Following on from this posting, Reuters has gone public and made a stand on the issue of the safety of journalists in Iraq and other hostile environments.

Reuters' stance is brave and deserves the support of all major news organisations.

David Schlesinger, Reuters Global Managing Editor, says:
"For several months, Reuters has patiently and cooperatively attempted to work with the government to resolve....serious issues relating to the safety of journalists in areas of military conflict. Unfortunately no progress has been made. Immediate action is necessary to address these issues.

"...The safety of journalists in Iraq is not improving. The detention and mistreatment of our staff combined with the military's highly charged statements have only served to raise the risks for all journalists working in Iraq. We think it absolutely necessary that this be addressed."

Pentagon -- it's over to you.

Another BNI exclusive...and a real one this time.

In the 2000 American presidential election, the veteran consumer affairs campaigner Ralph Nader was accused of helping to put George Bush in the White House by standing as the Green Party's candidate. Critics said he took votes from Al Gore in a number of key states, including Florida.

Nader dismissed the criticism -- and has set up an Exploratory Committee to decide whether he should run again in 2004.

Described as "one of the hundred most significant persons of the Twentieth Century" by Time magazine, I spoke to Ralph Nader in Washington.

As always, the interview's been heavily compressed to keep the file size down. It's 5'19" long and is a 625Kb download. E-mail me if you want it at a higher bitrate.

The dam is cracking and the truth is finally trickling out -- there are no major WMD stocks in Iraq.

What we've seen over the past 48 hours or so has been fascinating; David Kay, then Powell, Bush and Scott McLellan all finally conceding what critics have been saying all along -- that Iraq probably did not have large chemical or biological stockpiles.

The finger of blame is currently being pointed (especially by former Iraq Survey Group chief, David Kay) at the intelligence agencies for providing dodgy intel. Whoever's at fault, the end result is the same -- the British and American people were sold a pup.

President Bush this afternoon skirted around the issue by saying that "There is no doubt in my mind the world is a better place without Saddam Hussein."

There's no doubt in my mind either -- but that's not why we went to war. Bush's comments represent a retrospective justification for the Iraq conflict that just doesn't hold up.

Paul Koring from Canada's Globe and Mail is is among those to spot how the war is being re-spun.
Swansea may not have landmines (I think) -- but it does have bad-tempered pensioners just waiting to rob people of their limbs (thanks, Alex):
BBC News: Parking rage - driver loses leg
More on the death of two CNN staff in Iraq:
BBC News: Two CNN staff die in Iraq ambush
Theatre of News? Theatre of Shite more like.
Media Guardian: Unveiled: ITV's 1m 'theatre of news'

ITN would be better off spending its money on good old fashioned newsgathering rather than virtual reality gimmickry.

It's not very often I hear an album that blows me away -- it happens once a year at best.

It happened last night.

In a package from London, along with a bundle of essential spares for my artificial leg, which I'd neglected to bring to Washington and subsequently regretted, came a copy of Up All Night by Australian folksters The Waifs.

I heard one of their tracks on a compilation from Tony and I finally decided to splash out for the CD.

I'm glad I did. It's a rocking mix of country, blues and folk. Go buy.

(See a video of The Waifs at last year's Cambridge Folk Festival here.)
Anyone know anything about this?

Never mind dodging bullets and mortar fire, last night I risked severe frostbite to bring you my first videoblog from Washington.

I headed down to the Lincoln Memorial after work with the DV camera to catch it, and the surrounding monuments, while they were still dusted with fresh snow.

The videofile is 1'22" long and is a 1Mb download.


Monday, January 26, 2004

Working in Washington isn't always the jet-setting fun it's cracked up to be.

Take this evening, for example, Being in DC means I'm missing the new series of I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!

It's times like this that I pine for home.....or not.

More Cambodia news...this article in the New York Times is excellent -- far superior to the crap that Nicholas D. Kristof has been writing from the Kingdom.

Wi-Fi on the back of a moto, in a project developed by First Mile Solutions.

It's a fascinating initiative -- and I wish I'd come across it while I was in Cambodia in November because it would have made a fantastic piece.

As the Times article makes clear, the project doesn't just enable Cambodian websurfers to download porn and MP3s. It's helping doctors make more accurate diagnoses and save lives as well.

A good news story about Cambodia -- and it's not about prostitution. Wonders will never cease.

(Read more about the Motoman project here.)
A follow up story on the assassination of Cambodian trade unionist, Chea Vichea.

"This assassination will surely exacerbate the climate of fear for workers, journalists, environment and human rights activists who speak out or publicly demonstrate to express their views," says Human Rights Watch.

Meanwhile, there's plenty of food for thought in HRW's annual global survey, which is out today.

Here's a definite candidate for Amputee of the Week, although the media circus surrounding Bethany Hamilton's story is thoroughly distasteful, if utterly predictable.

Maybe I should take a leaf out of her agent's book. Brand Stuart Hughes. I like the sound of that.
Danish researchers claim they've developed a genetically modified plant which changes colour when there are landmines present.

Great idea -- but how are they going to sow the seeds in a minefield in the first place?
My recent postings about the non-unionised workforce and companies such as Wal-Mart prompts a colleague to give me a copy of Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich.

Ehrenreich, a journalist and commentator, takes a variety of low paid, deadend jobs -- a waitress, cleaner, nursing home assistant and Walmart "associate" -- in an attempt to discover whether it's possible to live on the borderline poverty wages on offer.

Ehrenreich paints a depressing picture of poor diet and healthcare, despotic managers and workers who've had the life sucked out of them by their daily struggle just to survive.

It's a sparsely written and powerful insight into what life is like for millions of blue collar Americans.

Glad I brought the thermals I bought for Iceland with me because I sure need them today.

CNN: Cold clamps down on Eastern U.S.

I've come to realise that the relationship between producer and correspondent is rather like the bond between a faithful dog and its owner (although I'll leave you to decide which is the dog and which the owner.)

A radio producing colleague returned from Iowa late last week to find me working away happily with Justin Webb -- "her" correspondent, as she put it. The experience, she said, was rather like coming home early to find your husband in bed with someone else.

I knew exactly what she meant because she'd been working in Iowa with someone I regard as "my" correspondent.

Once you've worked with a correspondent for a while you get to know their little quirks and foibles....when to stand back and let them stamp their feet and when to upbraid them like the spoilt children they so often are.

Sometimes, the process leaves you with a deep loathing for the person you spend your working life trying to get and keep on air. When it works, though, it leads to a strong friendship born out of shared experiences under extreme stress -- rather like a perverse media marriage of sorts.

We proposed a Reality TV-style "Correspondent Swap" -- she could have my reporter and I'd have hers.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

My new cafe of choice for weekend brunch -- Tryst up in Adams Morgan.

Great coffee and good vibes. Unbeatable!

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Lots of interesting stuff in the WaPo much so that I've spent the day reading it instead of blogging.

Firstly -- and most importantly, of course -- is a report on the news that Jaromir Jagr has left the Caps for the bright lights of Broadway.

Michael Wilbon uses the trade as a peg to ask the question Why is Washington DC such a graveyard for sporting superstars?

I'm just glad I'm able to say that I saw Jagr's last home games in a Caps shirt, although when I told a colleague this over brunch her response was "Who's Jaromir Jagr?"

The Post also reports on attempts by everyone's favourite corporate bogeyman, Wal-Mart to improve its image -- and after the New York Times story I referred to in a posting a few days ago it certainly needs an image face-lift.

I saw the feelgood TV ads the Post refers to after reading the New York Times's story of how the company locks its employees in overnight and nearly fell off my chair laughing at the rose-tinted, air-brushed image of the company it portrays.

Find out more about the company's employment, environmental and social impact at Walmart Watch.

Alternatively, this page probably tells you everything you need to know about the company's ethos.

Then there's the news that General Wesley Clark's campaign to become the Democratic presidential candidate is running out of steam.

His performance at the New Hampshire debate on Thursday night was certainly less than convincing and it seems his decision to skip the Iowa Caucuses and go straight to New Hampshire was a strategic mistake.

With Howard Dean now reduced to a figure of fun, all the momentum is with John Kerry. He's12 points ahead in the polls and is looking unstoppable right now. Unless he slips up badly between now and so-called "Tidal Wave Tuesday" on February 3rd, the Democratic nomination is looking to be his for the taking.

Talking of Dean, he was the subject of a piece I produced with Justin Webb for Radio 4's PM programme tonight.

We wanted to explore how the Dean campaign has collapsed as a result of his poor showing in Iowa and his subsequent, now-infamous yelp -- and look at whether he can get back on track.

There are two interesting parallels in American political history.

On the negative side: In 1972, Edmund Muskie was a front-runner for the Democratic nomination. During the New Hampshire primary, he choked with anger and seemed to cry following a number of negative newspaper articles about him and his wife. The result was that he was perceived as weak and incapable of leadership, and his campaign collapsed.

More hopefully for Dean...In January 1992 Gennifer Flowers caused a scandal by claiming she was Bill Clinton's lover for 12 years. Bill Clinton appeared on television alongside Hillary to present their side of the story and try to salvage his presidential hopes. Clinton finished second in New Hampshire and he dubbed himself "the Comeback Kid."

My feeling? Dean is finished...there'll be no comeback.

You can hear the finished report for PM here. It's just under 3 minutes long.

One final news story I want to mention....Colin Powell's concession that Iraq may not have possessed any stocks of weapons of mass destruction before the war.

I hate to say I told you so....but I so told you so.

Ever get the feeling you've been lied to -- and then lied to again and again?

Friday, January 23, 2004

The BBC's Alastair Leithead visits Halabja -- the site of some the earliest reports on this blog.

I should add that if all goes well with visas and schedules I'll be heading back to Iraqi Kurdistan next month, filming for the BBC Wales documentary I'm making about my accident and recovery.

More details to follow.
NASA's Spirit Rover has made short contacts from Mars with the scientists back down on Earth -- the first significant communications since a major fault cut off its stream of data.

BNI has been given exclusive access to these limited transmissions from the surface of the Red Planet. Hear them here.

Vindication of my posting from a few days ago, accusing journalist Nicholas D. Kristof of monumental wrong-headedness in his article about Cambodian sweatshops.

As Kristof praises the sweatshop owners for making lives better for millions of people in poor countries, Cambodia's most prominent trade union activist -- Chea Vichea -- is murdered in broad daylight.

The Cambodian government's statement that there is "no reason to conclude his death was for political reasons" is laughable. Human rights campaigners say Chea Vichea had received death threats and his killing was linked to his work organising unions in the garment industry, which is the nation's biggest foreign exchange earner.

AP's report on the murder can be read here.
An instant audioblog analysis of tonight's Democratic Debate in New Hampshire, lifted from an interview I've just done with the World Service.

It's 57 seconds long and is under 200Kb.

Audioblog: New Hampshire Democratic Debate Analysis (.mp3)
Listening to, and reporting on, the Democratic debate so no time to discuss this further but the report below touches on the mobile newsgathering technology that's being introduced in London:
BBC to arm journalists with mobile video phones
Pete e-mails me with photographic proof of what I was saying earlier about vehicle crime on Mars.

Thursday, January 22, 2004


BNI tunes in to the "random meaningless data" that NASA says the malfunctioning Spirit Rover is transmitting from the surface of Mars.

Spirit is obviously up on bricks with the CD player stolen and the engine burnt out. Damned Martian Kids!

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

I wasn't impressed with Nicholas Kristof's recent dispatch from Cambodia -- but today's report from Poipet has even less merit.

Kristof forks out $203 -- which he'll doubtlessly claim on expenses when he gets back to New York -- and buys not a Cambodian prostitute's freedom but an easy story with which to fill his the chance to boast to his friends and readers about his philanthropy.

He "bought" a girl's freedom. Good news for the teenager involved, of course -- but so what?

As I said when I was in Cambodia, writing about prostitution is what journalists do when they can't be bothered to come up with another story idea.

And as for buying a prostitute's freedom -- it's the cheapest journalistic stunt imaginable.

Still in a daze after working until 3am on the State of the Union.

I'll leave the analysis to others but for me it was a flat and uninspiring speech in an election year, lacking any clear focus or big ideas to energise voters.

The most bizarre sight of the evening, though, was seeing Dick Cheney arriving in Statuary Hall with a team of medics trooping along behind him carrying doctors' bags and medical equipment.

If the Veep unexpectedly keels over, there's no way he'll be waiting for hours on a trolley to see a doctor.

Meanwhile, it's becoming increasingly clear that Howard Dean yelped himself out of the race for the Democratic nomination with the now infamous Dean Scream.

In case you missed it, here it is in all its child-frightening horror:

The Dean Scream (.mp3)
This is an absolute outrage.

I've been a regular CD Wow customer for quite a while -- their service is first class and their prices unbeatable. Now the company is being penalised for shining a spotlight on the artificially inflated prices charged by the record companies.

The BPI's action seems utterly suicidal.

At a time when global sales are on the slide, CD-Wow was offering British consumers competitively priced, legalally obtained music.

Now, they'll just go to Kazaa instead.
A State of the Union audioblog...I got reaction on Capitol Hill to the President's speech from Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.

The interview is 3'11" long and is a 562Kb download.

Audioblog: Reaction from Sheila Jackson Lee (.mp3)

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Heading up to the Hill this evening to cover the State of the Union address from Statuary Hall.

Unfortunately, this means I won't be able to participate in the State of the Union Drinking Game.

The president is, of course, famously tee-total, but I'm sure Jenna will be playing along at home.

Monday, January 19, 2004


As the news networks here begin their all-night coverage of the Iowa Caucuses, I know I should be getting excited and wishing I was in Des Moines rather than Washington DC.

Frankly, though, in a nation of 300 million people it's difficult to get worked up about who 100,000-odd Mid Western farmers (pursued by a similar number of journalists....and those are just the ones from the BBC) pick as their Democratic presidential candidate.

Anyway, there are still 288 days to go until the election. I don't want my excitement levels to peak too early.

Doesn't that flag look a little bit......French?
Reporters Without Borders accuses the US military of criminal negligence over the deaths of Taras Protsyuk and José Couso at the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad last April.
I quite enjoy Jeff Jarvis's blog...but he has an increasingly irritating habit of talking out of his arse about the BBC.
Spent the weekend reading Greg Palast's The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, in which the investigative journalist takes aim at the IMF, the World Bank and corporate America.

Although Palast's conspiratorial "and then another batch of secret documents landed on my desk" tone gets tiresome after a while, one of the corporate big guns he turns his firepower on in the book is Wal-Mart....and coincidentally, the New York Times reports on the very labour practices at Wal-Mart that Palast so abhors.

The Times claims that an injured member of staff on a night shift at a Wal-Mart subsidiary had to wait an hour to get to hospital because the store had locked the workers in. Managers had warned workers that they'd be sacked if they used the fire exits for anything other than a fire.

Wal-Mart insists that by treating its staff liked caged animals it's actually protecting its staff from intruders -- and not trying to boost its bottom line by preventing them from stretching their legs or taking cigarette breaks.

If you missed my report on Cambodia's Women Deminers on Radio 4's Woman's Hour programme, you can hear it here.
I watched the NFC Championships this evening and by the time the post-game show began the Carolina players were wearing "NFC Champions" T-shirts and caps and "Panthers: Champions" merchandise was being touted in the commercial breaks.

So what happens to all the "Philadelphia - NFC Champions" gear? It must have been printed -- but where does it go? Is it instantly shredded? Or is there an underground legion of E-Bay collectors who seek out "winners" memorabilia from also-ran teams?

Sunday, January 18, 2004

When I first visited the States a decade ago I was entranced and exhilarated by how different it seemed from the country I’d grown up in. The films on show at the cinemas were six months ahead of the ones back home, the newspapers and magazines seemed to report a world very different to the one I lived in -- even the choices on offer at the corner sandwich store left my head reeling.

I remember visiting Boston in the early 1990s. Back then, I was happy to spend days just walking the streets, soaking in the sights, smells and accents of a country I’d only experienced through TV and the movies. One souvenir of the trip I took home with me – and still have – was an insulated coffee cup from Starbucks. For me, Starbucks represented everything that was different between the US and Britain; exotic coffees sold in glistening chrome and wood cafes and served by baristas with plastic smiles epitomised everything that was great about the USA.

Now, just ten years later, there’s a Starbucks on every corner in London. They’re about as exotic as a wet Sunday in January (although the service in the branches around Dupont Circle, where I’m staying for the during of my visit to DC, is still light years ahead of those on Ealing Broadway).

But as the globalised and interconnected world (have I been reading too much Thomas Friedman?) becomes more homogenised there are still some things that make me realise the Transatlantic gap hasn’t narrowed completely.

Although a TV viewer can watch re-runs of Friends or the Sopranos in Washington or Walsall, one thing we’re not allowed (yet) in the UK is adverts for prescription medicines. I’ve been amazed and appalled in equal measure by the way Big Pharma peddles its wares in the US.

The media here treats anti-depressants, cancer drugs and impotence medication as though they were any other fast moving consumer goods. The voiceovers on the TV ads even make the side effects sound almost desirable, as they warn of “possible dizziness, fainting, insomnia, dry mouth, and irritability” in honeyed tones.

My favourite advert so far is for the dementia drug Aricept. It shows a soft-focused pensioner (sorry….senior) spending quality time in the park with his grandson. The ad makes senility seem like a trifling challenge to be overcome, like a nasty case of the flu, rather than a devastating neurological condition. Madison Avenue has managed to make Alzheimer’s Disease seem desirable. Now that’s a tough sell.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

I'm now officially a member of the Capitol Hill press corps!

Did a British soldier lose his leg in Iraq because of equipment shortages?
Al Jazeera reports on the landmine problem in the Palestinian territories.
Over dinner with my new colleagues last night the story of my accident gradually unfolded.

As the (male) colleague sitting to my right learnt about my artificial leg I saw a look of relief break out across his face.

"I was getting really nervous," he said, "because you kept rubbing your leg up against mine and I thought you were coming on to me."

I insisted my real leg had been completely oblivious to the messages the artificial one had been sending out all evening.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Ian Rimell, the deminer killed in an ambush in Northern Iraq last September, is to receive a permanent memorial in the town of Hatra.

Here's the MAG press release:


Release: 17 January 2004

THE BOMB disposal expert, ambushed and killed in Iraq four months ago, is to have the school he was helping to rebuild in northern Iraq, named after him in a dedication ceremony on Sunday 18 January.

Ian Rimell, who worked for Nobel Peace prizewinning landmine charity Mines Advisory Group, was shot, and his colleague Salim Ahmed Mohammed seriously injured in September last year. They were on their way home after discussing with community members what to do with the funds Ian had raised from the valuable metals retrieved from munitions during the course of his bomb disposal work. These metals can be sold in Iraq and the money, in this case, an earmarked for the rebuilding of the Girls’ Secondary School of Hatra. Ian’s vehicle, clearly marked with the distinctive MAG skull and bones emblem, was ambushed on the journey home from work that day.

The ceremony will announce the renaming of the school to ‘The Ian Rimell School For Girls’ and unveils a dedication message on the school’s wall. The mayor of Hatra, city council members, the chief of police, Ian’s work colleagues, members of the US Army and the 60 children and teachers from the school will attend.

MAG’s Executive Director, Lou McGrath said: "It was such a tragic event and for something like this to have come from it shows just how valued Ian was and not only to MAG as an expert in clearing mines out there but to the local community in Iraq. We are so pleased for Ian’s family that he is going to be remembered forever in this way and it shows just how much the people of that area appreciated Ian’s heartfelt support."

Ian’s wife Jennifer Rimell was so moved by the dedication she had this to say: "My children and I are so very proud of what Ian did for the local community. We are pleased that the school will be named after him as it means he will never be forgotten amongst those he helped. We would like to thank all those people who have given money and support to the Ian Rimell trust fund and enabled it to do so well."
A short audioblog of a pre-recorded contribution I made to Radio 4's media programme, The Message, which asked in this afternoon's edition whether diaries (and weblogs) are a more honest form of journalism.

The whole discussion should be on the programme's website, but doesn't seem to have been uploaded yet.

The MP3 is 1 minute 44 secs long and is a 307Kb download.

Audioblog: Radio 4 "The Message" (.mp3)
Advance warning that the radio report I compiled on Cambodia's Women Deminers will finally get its outing on Radio 4's Woman's Hour programme next Monday, 19th January, between 1000 and 1100GMT.

It'll be archived on the Woman's Hour website.

My fingerprints have been scanned, my mugshot has been snapped and I'm up and running in the nation's capital.

News-wise, all eyes are on Iowa, scene of the presidential caucuses on Monday. For the next few days, the Hawkeye State will be the centre of attention.

The news channels here have wound themselves into a frenzy of almost non-stop coverage of the upcoming caucuses. They're picking over every statement made by Howard Dean, John Edwards, Dick Gephardt and John Kerry, pausing only to get even more hysterical over Michael Jackson's arraignment.

Watching CNN, Fox or MSNBC it's difficult to believe that the presidential election is still 10 months away. Vote 2004/America Decides/You Decide 2004 (depending on your choice of news network) is already in full swing.

At the moment, the race for Iowa looks too close to call, with all four front runners virtually neck and neck in the polls.

I've got to mention an article by Nicholas D. Kristof I read in the Herald Tribune on the flight over here. Kristof visits Phnom Penh -- and reaches some staggeringly wrong-headed conclusions.

He uses the case of a teenage Cambodian garbage scavenger to sing the praises of sweatshops for raising living standards for workers in some of the poorest countries in the world. Kristof's argument:

"The fundamental problem in poor countries of Africa and Asia is not that sweatshops exploit too many workers; it's that they don't exploit enough."

Clearly, working in a Cambodian garment factory is preferable to picking over the contents of a stinking rubbish dump. But before we congratulate the factory owners for their enlightened employment practices, it's worth remembering that a BBC Panorama investigation uncovered sweatshop working conditions and child labour at a Cambodian textiles factory.

It seems that Nicholas Kristof is becoming the sweatshop owners' biggest cheerleader. His latest column is a virtual re-write of a piece he penned about Pakistani sweatshops in 2002.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

A Welsh nurse credited with saving the life of a man who lost both his legs in the Staten Island ferry disaster last October is suing New York City for ten million dollars.

Kerry Griffiths from Swansea is apparently suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.

"She keeps reliving the horror of that day over and over again in her mind," her lawyer says. "She really went through a lot that day."

Although not -- I suspect -- as much as Paul Esposito, who lost both his legs below the knee.

Ms Griffiths' legal team is led by former O.J. Simpson lawyer Johnnie Cochran. Enough said.

Off to Washington. More later.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

As the dramatisation of the Alan Clark Diaries hits the screen, Barry Griffiths e-mails with news of an upcoming event in Westminster looking at the new generation of memoir-keeping Parliamentarians.

Barry is Project Manager for the Hansard Society's e-democracy programme. The programme "is exploring the potential for interactive technologies to enhance Parliamentary democracy and create new channels of communication and participation between Parliament and citizens."

Given that only four out of 10 registered electors bothered to turn out for the 2001 general election -- the lowest figure since 1918 (Source: The Guardian) -- any attempt to engage voters in the parliamentary process must be welcome.

I can't get to the debate on January 27th because I'll be in Washington but for anyone interested in going along, here are the details:

The All Party Group for e-Democracy, administered by the Hansard Society, have just agreed a new format for the group meetings modelled on the Select Committee style inquiry.

There will be two sessions; the first open to the public and envisaged as evidence gathering. The second for members only to look into the evidence and the report will be written by the special advisor to the group, Professor Stephen Coleman, at the end of the inquiry.

The first inquiry of the APPG will be held on Tuesday 27th January 2004, from 5.30-7.00pm in the Boothroyd room, Portcullis House. The topic of the inquiry is "MPs and Blogging" which aims to look into the pros and cons of members keeping diaries.

Though the focus would be on new media we thought the debate might cover MPs experiences of how keeping a traditional diary has affected their political careers especially near election time. Issues such as the importance of staying connected with citizens and accountability of elected representatives will be addressed.

We think that the speakers will be an excellent contrast to each other as they each favour different ways of keeping people informed.

There will be four keynote speakers: Tony Benn, Tom Watson MP, Clive Soley MP, and James Crabtree, Director, iSociety, The Work Foundation followed by a Q and A session.
BREAKING NEWS....Harold Shipman is still dead.
Peace at last for Tom Hurndall the British activist left in a persistent vegatative state after being shot in the head in Rafah. An Israeli soldier has been indicted on six charges over the incident.

Having seen members of the International Solidarity Movement at work in the West Bank I've got to say that I don't necessarily agree with their methods. Their campaigns of nonviolent direct action put idealistic and sometimes naive young activists recklessly in the line of fire.

Even so, Tom Hurndall died while standing up for what he believed in and in these apathetic times that deserves respect.

Note to all journalists covering the Harold Shipman suicide.

When hang means "to die by hanging," hanged is the correct past tense and past participial form, as in "Harold Shipman was found hanged in his prison cell."

If I hear the phrase "Shipman hung himself" on the news again I'm going to scream and, quite possibly, hang myself.

Paintings and clothes are hung. People are hanged.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004


The audience strikes back at the monumental pomposity of our friend Mr Megalith, who's doubtlessly basking in his shortlived spike in traffic before he disappears back into obscurity.
The BBC pledged to make rolling news channel News 24 more distinctive and innovative following the publication of the Lambert Report in December 2002.

To this end, News 24 has been blazing a trail and setting new records such the most unwatched channel in the BBC's digital portfolio.

Another first for News 24.

Media Guardian: Audience with no one: 55 days on TV
"IF YOU DON'T SHUT UP WE'LL FUCK YOU" -- US soldier to Reuters cameraman

A highly disturbing report on the treatment of three staff from Reuters by American forces in Iraq.

The US military is alleged to have claimed that the Reuters journalists were "enemy personnel" who had opened fire on US troops. The journalists were brutalised and humiliated for 72 hours.

Reuters has lodged a complaint with the Pentagon. The cases of Taras Protswuk, Mazen Dana and my own BBC colleagues in the "Friendly Fire" incident in Northern Iraq, however, suggest that any investigation will lead nowhere.

I've just called Ticketmaster to buy a ticket for the Washington Capitals Vs Toronto Maple Leafs on January 21st. I need a hockey fix or two during my stint in DC.

I can't be sure that work commitments will allow me to get to the game so I went for the cheapest ticket available up in the gods at $10, thinking that if I can't go it'll be no great loss.

To the face value of the ticket, Ticketmaster added an order processing fee of a few dollars.

Then they added a Convenience Charge, a euphemism if ever there was. I couldn't quite work out how they justified this fee so I enquired further. Apparently, " This fee covers costs that allow Ticketmaster to provide the widest range of available tickets while giving you multiple ways to purchase." What does that mean, exactly? It would seem to translate as "this fee enables us to make even bigger profits by passing on the core costs of running our business on to you, even though we've hit you with one surcharge already to book the ticket in the first place."

Then -- explain this Ticketmaster -- I was charged a third fee because I'm ordering the ticket from outside the US. I'm picking up the tickets from the box office so there's no postage involved. I'm paying by Visa so it should make no difference where I'm ordering from. I'm paying for the cost of the transatlantic telephone call. So how can Ticketmaster possibly justify this? I book hotels, hire cars and broadcast facilities overseas every day. I've never been charged extra before for the privilege.

The total cost, after the 3 fees were added, was $19.10. That represents a booking fee of a staggering 91% of the face value of the ticket.

You can be damn sure I'll be going to the game now.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Full marks to my prosthetics team for their multidisciplinary approach to the job.

At a hospital visit this afternoon for some minor adjustments to the new artificial leg I complained that it kept squeaking like a rusty door, meaning you can hear me approaching from 100 yards away.

Coming from an Irish farming family, prosthetist Heather had discovered the perfect solution. She slipped a tiny elastic banding ring over the long metal pin which connects my real leg to the artificial one.

Banding rings are used by farmers to cut off the blood supply to lambs' testicles until they fall off....but they also do an excellent job of curing squeaky artificial limbs.

I just hope my leg doesn't drop off.
Self-styled "decipherer of the megaliths" (the what?) Andis Kaulins gets sniffy about this blog over at Punditmania, describing it as "juvenile" and insisting he would not visit again.

Oooooh -- get you.

Punditmania attracts an average of 4 viewers a day.

I may be juvenile but at least I'm juvenile and popular.
The Guardian goes big on Tony Blair's comments regarding Iraqi weapons of mass destruction during yesterday's Breakfast with Frost interview, viewing them as "his most downbeat assessment of the contentious issue so far" and "his first admission of fallibility over the central justification he gave for going to war with Iraq."

Expect to see Blair distancing himself more and more from the WMD issue in the weeks ahead as he tries to convince a public with a short memory that it wasn't the main justification for war at all.

And when he does, remember these quotes:

"We have absolutely no doubt at all that these weapons of mass destruction exist" (Source: Prime Minister's Press Conference, March 25th 2003)

"I have absolutely no doubt at all that they will find the clearest possible evidence of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction" (Source: House of Commons, June 4th 2003)

"I have absolutely no doubt at all that we will find evidence of weapons of mass destruction programmes" (Source: House of Commons Liaison Committee, July 8th 2003)

It's becoming increasingly clear that the Prime Minister was absolutely wrong.
My report on the preparations for the Olympics -- outlined here on the blog -- can be found here.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

The ultimate justification -- were it needed -- of the comments I made last week about whether darts should be regarded as a sport.

The Lakeside World Darts competition was won tonight by Andy"The Viking" Fordham.

Fordham has the physique of a refrigerated lorry and a mullet the likes of which has not been seen since Chris Waddle teamed up with Glenn Hoddle in 1987 and reached number 12 in the charts with Diamond Lights.

Andy Fordham's darts weigh 25 grammes. Unlike their owner.
Probably the first of many videoblogs from Athens, where I'll be spending the whole of August covering the Olympics.

Following my recce last week I've put together a vlog of the sites I toured; the as-yet-unfinished Olympic stadium, Panathanaiko Stadium and the BBC's live broadcast position overlooking the Temple of Zeus and the Acropolis.

The vlog is 1'06" in duration and is a 835Kb download.

Videoblog: Athens Olympic Preparations (.wmv)
A campaign by philosopher Professor Simon Blackburn of Cambridge University gets my full support.

He's trying to reclaim lust as a life-affirming virtue, rather than a deadly sin.

Perhaps while he's at it he can do the same with pride, envy, gluttony, anger, greed and -- especially important in my case -- sloth.
The BBC's Frances Harrison reports on a camp for rebel fighters injured in Sri Lanka and on the demining work taking place there.

Saturday, January 10, 2004

I’m finally home in west London after the Plane Journey From Hell.

We boarded BA 633 on schedule and headed down the runway bound for London Heathrow.

But during the taxi one branch of the air conditioning on our Boeing 767 packed up; not a problem…unless the cabin filled with choking smoke mid flight.

The plane returned to the stand, the engineers got their spanners out, and after about an hour we were back on our way. But something was still clearly not right. My ears started blocking up repeatedly, as though I’d suddenly picked up a head cold.

The captain came back on the tannoy. The pressurisation system had failed.

Back to the stand. More engineering.

By this time some lily-livered passengers were getting edgy.

They wanted off.

The captain said they could disembark and promised they could pick up another flight in the morning. I was dismayed by their lack of confidence in the world’s safest form of travel but understood their misgivings. A coach pulled up alongside the plane and about a third of the passengers left – far more than I expected (a sign of the paranoid times we’re living in.)

Then, disaster struck.

Just as the (cowardly) passengers were preparing to return to their terminal they received word from the Greek ground staff that they WOULDN’T be allowed to change to a morning flight free of charge because they’d CHOSEN – of their own free will – to walk while the captain was still trying to get the plane airborne.

Pandemonium. Tears. Raised voices. Accusations.

Some financially challenged waverers got back on board, deciding to put budget before safety. Others threatened to sue BA for ever-increasing sums.

More delays as the Athens handlers tried to recover the cowards’ bags (personally, I think they deserved to forfeit their luggage on account of being cheese-eating surrender monkeys.)

Finally, after almost five hours on the tarmac, the engineers changed the oil and air filter, topped up the windscreen washed and cleared us for take-off for the third time, although by this time our ETA had slipped from 2115GMT to 0145GMT.

This time the engines started, the wheels rolled and we headed skyward, leaving the cowardly cowards who’d disembarked to fight it out at Athens Airport for an alternative flight home.

I tried to convince the BBC team I was travelling with that – like Captain Scarlett -- after my accident in Iraq I’m indestructable. No plane will crash while I’m on board (although try telling that to cameraman Mo Amin, who died in a plane crash some years after losing his arm in an explosion.)

Ultimately, though, we were all far more reassured by the words of our captain. As a father and husband, he said, there was no way he was going to take off if he thought the plane under his control was suspect.

He didn’t want to die, any more than we did.

Friday, January 09, 2004


Even those of you who search google for "19 years old girls pissing in nappies."

You know who you are...although I'm not sure this site is quite what you're looking for.

Here in Athens, the signs that the Olympic Games are just months away are inescapable – and it’s not just the Olympic adverts and billboards that assault you from the moment yuou step off the plane . The city is one big building site; Roads are being dug up, tram lines laid, stadia built, and the skyline is studded with cranes.

There’s no doubt about it – the pressure is on.

Greeks are all too aware that the world expects them to fail. It’s a matter of fundamental national pride that the country proves wrong those who believe Athens won’t be ready in time for the opening ceremony on August 13th.

The logistics involved in hosting the Games are breathtakingly complex: A budget of almost 2 billion Euros to prepare for 5.3 million spectators watching 28 sports in 35 different venues, covered by 21,500 media representatives and policed by 41,000 security officials. Yesterday, I visited the International Broadcasting Centre, where I’m likely to be based for the duration of the Games. At the moment it’s just an empty shell of breezeblocks and steel. It’s difficult to believe that for a few weeks in August it’ll be home to thousands of journalists and technicians and powered by enough electricity to maintain a city of 40,000 people.

From what I’ve seen, the signs that the city will be ready to host the Games are generally encouraging – the main Olympic Stadium is taking shape and the new Olympic roads are gradually opening up. Still, the timetable for completion of some of the major projects is nailbitingly tight. Any unforeseen delays, however small, could cause huge problems. The feeling here is that the weeks running up to the start of the Games will be like an episode of “Changing Rooms” with builders rushing frantically to apply the paint and put the carpets down before the owners arrive to see their transformed house.

Ultimately, though, everyone knows that even if there’s traffic gridlock on the streets and chaos outside the Olympic villages, provided that the athletes are happy and the events look good on television then the Games will be judged a success.

Not that many Athenians will be watching. For one thing, the relatively high ticket prices mean many of the city’s residents can’t afford to see the sports taking place in their own backyards. For another, thousands of people who live here are planning to escape for the mad month of August. They’ll be heading abroad or to their hometowns. There’s big money to be made renting out city centre apartments while are the Games are on.

Other Athenians, though, are choosing to stay put. The Olympics represent a huge cash bonanza for the city. Bar owners, hoteliers, shopkeepers and taxi drivers intend to make hay while the sun shines.

So, with just over 200 days to go until the Olympic flame returns to the spiritual home of the Games, the countdown is very much on. Will Athens be ready in time? The city has no choice but to ensure that it is.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

It's 25th years to the day since Vietnam invaded Cambodia and ended the Khmer Rouge's genocidal rule.

A quarter of a century on, those responsible for that dark and bloody period in Cambodia's history still have not paid for their crimes.

Many of the Khmer Rouge leaders have already died -- at peace and at liberty. Those still alive are advancing in years.

At last there are signs of some sort of justice for the estimated 1.7 million Cambodians murdered under Pol Pot's tyranny in the form of a UN sponsored tribunal.

But any convictions that follow will be too little, too late.

BBC News: Cambodia marks fall of Pol Pot
CNN: Cambodia marks Khmer Rouge fall

Belatedly, I've just spotted that some of the work done in Cambodia by myself and Sean Sutton from MAG has been posted online. Despite what it says on the webpage the photos are Sean's, the words mine.

Ian Flintoff of London SW6 asks in the Guardian’s Notes and Queries section (which doesn't seem to have been reproduced online):

“Why are television news reporters made to stand in all weathers outside public buildings at funny hours, such as the Foreign Office late at night (when everyone has clearly gone home) or No 10, when the reporter hasn’t even been inside or spoken to anyone?”

A very, very good question, Mr Flintoff. It’s one of the great mysteries of television news. But remember – it’s not just the correspondents who have to stand around like morons in the cold for hours waiting to do lives on location in order to give a “sense of place” to the viewers at home….and anyway, they’re paid enough to be expected to grin and bear it. Spare a thought instead for us lowly producers, as well as cameramen, soundmen and satellite truck operators who are also freezing their brass monkeys off behind the lens. If I added up all the hours I’ve spent standing in the dark outside Number 10, an EU summit venue or another live position where absolutely nothing was happening I could probably write off the community service I’ve still got to complete.

That’s why I try and stick to radio whenever possible. You can say you’re at the summit of everest when you’re actually lying in a jacuzzi surrounded by Thai hookers and the listeners won’t know any different (not that I would, you understand.)

Various media outlets are carrying the story today that people with dementia are receiving unequal drug treatment.

A survey of NHS spending on dementia drugs has found that one Northern Ireland health biard is spending £10 for every person over 65, compare with just £1 in Lothian, Scotland.

And the survey was carried out by statisticians from...Pfizer.

Which makes....Aricept.

Which is..."the number one prescribed Alzheimer's drug" (Source: Aricept website).

That’s not to say that “postcode prescribing” isn’t a problem. I’m sure it is. Certainly in my own case I’ve been told that I’ve been able to receive more expensive prosthetic limb components (which are “prescribed” just like a course of medication, although they’re harder to swallow) because the health authority in Wales I get them from is relatively well funded compared to, say, another authority in London.

Nevertheless, it’s clearly in the interests of Pfizer to highlight the fact that spending on Alzheimers drugs varies widely across the country despite the recommendations of the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice) that the drugs should be available to all that need them.

If health authorities can be named and shamed into spending more on dementia drugs, Pfizer will sell more Aricept and make bigger profits. It’s a simple and obvious equation.

The Department of Health has said that it’ll look at any evidence that Nice guidelines aren’t being followed, suggesting that Pfizer’s publicity offensive is already paying off.

If I were editing a news bulletins today instead of working out here in Athens I would feel very uncomfortable about running this “story” at all. It treads too fine a line between News and PR.

Campaign group Reporters Sans Frontieres has published its annual tally of journalists killed, injured and censored.

As with several other such reports published recently, it makes for grim reading.

Describing 2003 as a "black year," RSF says 42 journalists were killed. Every other indicator was also up: arrests of journalists, physical attacks, threats and censorship all increased alarmingly.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

This week, my TV licence fee and yours will help pay for 45 hours of coverage from the 2004 Lakeside World Professional Darts Championship.

Every time I switch on the television at the moment I seem to be confronted by Bobby "Mr Glitter" George and Ray "Ugly Bastard" Stubbs propping up the bar at at Frimley Green.

Check out the BBC's darts coverage and you'll find match reports from the Lakeside in the Sports section. Phil "The Power" Taylor and Ray "Dutch Bloke" Barneveld are mentioned in the same breath as David Beckham and Paula Radcliffe, which seems ludicrous.

Why don't we go one further and put Pro-Am celebrity masturbation in the sport section as well, alongside tonsil hockey.

But with synchronised swimming and beach volleyball now recognised as Olympic sports, maybe it's just a matter of time before Ted Hankey and Mervyn King slug it out at the oche for a gold medal.

Talking of which, I'm heading to Athens at the crack of dawn to get a first look at preparations for the Athens Olympics, where I'll be spending a chunk of my Summer.

Details to follow...
Just spotted this story on the Reuters newswire.

It may raise a smirk but in fact it raises a very serious issue.

As I found in Cambodia in November, most Cambodian amputees have woefully primitive artificial limbs -- if they have them at all. I often felt ashamed and embarrassed comparing my state-of-the-art prosthesis with those worn by most Cambodians -- and reported on it for the Today programme at the time.

(Read more about one charity's rehab efforts for Cambodian amputees here.)

Cambodia blames old legs for shaky Games showing

PHNOM PENH, Jan 6 (Reuters) - Cambodia's disabled athletes are blaming their relatively poor showing at a recent regional paralympic games on old and outdated artificial legs.

The deeply impoverished nation's team of 13 men and two women won 10 medals at the Second ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) Para Games in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi last month.

However, the squad was disappointed to fall short of the 13 medals, including six golds, notched up at the inaugural Para Games in Malaysia in 2001.

"We earned fewer medals because the athletes used more than three-year-old artificial legs," Yi Veasna, head of the National Paralympic Committee, was quoted as saying in the Cambodia Daily newspaper.

Despite contributions from Cambodia's revered King Sihanouk and Prime Minister Hun Sen, athletes had to make do with old legs worth only $1,000, compared to modern $8,000-limbs for competitors from neighbouring countries, he said.

Cambodia, which is slowly emerging from decades of civil war including the 1970s Khmer Rouge genocide, is still littered with landmines and unexploded bombs, leaving it with one of the world's highest disability rates.

Since I got back from my New Year break I've repeatedly come up against "What has Iceland ever done for the world?" type cracks, a la "bet you can't name 10 famous Belgians."

For a population on a par with that of Cardiff, Iceland hasn't done badly, especially when you compare it with Cardiff's most famous sons and daughters (Charlotte Church, me Stevens.)

So, in an attempt to silence the critics, here's a list of 10 GREAT ICELANDERS (apart from Björk):

Jon Stefansson: Basketball player. Joined NBA side the Dallas Mavericks after stints with KR Reykjavik and TBB Trier of Germany. He was named the Icelandic League Player of the Year in 2002 and was member of the All-Domestic Team and played in the Icelandic League All-Star Game.

Snorri Sturlason: 1179-1241. Celebrated Icelandic historian. Snorri is the author of the great prose Edda and the Ileirnskringla or Sagas of the Norwegian Kings.

Magnús Ver Magnússon: Alias "The Champ," aka "The Taurus of Iceland." Four-time winner of everyone's favourite truck-pulling-with-teeth-fest The World's Strongest Man and "the greatest winner in power athletic of all times." Born in Egilstaðir, you wouldn't want to cross Magnús in a dark fjord.

Hofi Karlsdottir: The Icelandic beauty queen was hotly tipped to win the Miss World pageant in 1985 -- and she didn't disappoint, returning north with the tiara and the sash. Journalist Ricardo Guiraldes, who covered the pageant for a Chilean newspaper in 1985, commented: "When we journalists put our eyes on Miss Iceland there was no doubt that she would become Miss World. She's one of the most stunning women I've ever seen!"

Baltasar Kormakur: His name sure doesn't sound Icelandic -- a result of his Catalan-Italian-French Icelandic roots. However, the director's debut feature "101 Reykjavik" -- about a slacker's dysfunctional family life -- ushered in a New Wave of Icelandic cinema. Kormakur tries to show a new side of Icelandic society. "I don't necessarily identify myself with the Icelandic filmmakers," he says. "It pisses me off that big multicultural cities want to see romantic images of Iceland, old food and old clothes, and we fall into that pit of giving them that."

Bubbi Morthens: Born in Reykjavik in 1956, Ásbjörn "Bubbi" Morthens moved with his mother to Denmark at the age of 13. After failing to school he returned to Iceland and took up work in the fish factories. However, after becoming interested in the music of Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly, Bubbi went on to become one of Iceland's best-loved musicians, both as a member of the group "Utangardsmenn" (The Outsiders) and as a solo artist.

Olafur Eliasson: Is he Icelandic? Is he Danish? No one seems quite sure, but in the confusion Iceland is claiming him as one of theirs. Born in Copenhagen of Icelandic parents, Eliasson attended the Royal Academy of Arts in Copenhagen from 1989 to 1995. He has participated in numerous exhibitions worldwide and his work is represented in public and private collections including the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, the Deste Foundation, Athens and Tate. He's currently wowing the art-going world with his installation The Weather Project at the Tate Modern in London.

Eidur Gudjohnsen: The Reykjavik-born footballer started his career with Valur Reykjavik before making the move to Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven in 1994. After overcoming injury he joined Bolton Wanderers and at the beginning of the 2000-2001 season made it to the Premiership, signing a five-year deal with Chelsea.

Halldor Laxness: The undisputed heavy-weight champion of Icelandic literature, Laxness won the Nobel Prize in 1955. He published his first book, Barn Natturunnar when he was 17 and went on to gain recognition as a writer with the 1931 novel Salka Valka. It is the novel Independent People, however, which is regarded as his masterpiece -- and the encapsulation of the spirit and values of Iceland.

Briet Bjarnhéðinsdottir: Born in 1856, Briet worked as a teacher and in 1885 became the first Icelandic woman to have anything published in the country -- an article on women's education published under a pseudonym in a Reykjavík newspaper. She went on to lecture on womens' rights and later edited a magazine for women. Briet established the Icelandic Womens' Rights Association to press for female suffrage, leading the way for voting rights for Icelandic women. Iceland would later become the first country in the world to elect a woman as head of state: Vigdís Finnbogadóttír was president of Iceland from 1980 to 1996.
Following on from my earlier link to the Sunday Herald article about alleged Kurdish involvement in Saddam's capture, the NY Times fleshes out the details of a reported deal that's shaping up between Washington and the Kurds.

"The Bush administration has decided to let the Kurdish region remain semi-autonomous as part of a newly sovereign Iraq despite warnings from Iraq's neighbors and many Iraqis not to divide the country into ethnic states," the Times claims.

Looks like the White House could be gearing up to repay the favour for leading them to the Ace of Spades, under the guise of time pressures for Iraqi self-rule to be established.

Monday, January 05, 2004

I'm finding Shattered -- the new Channel 4 Reality TV show from the makers of Big Brother -- strangely compelling.

The show, in which the contestants try to go a week without sleep in order to win up to £100,000, represents a new sadistic landmark in the Reality TV genre.

For me, sleep is as much a recreational as a relaxational activity. I'm usually hard-pushed to stay conscious for 7 hours without a lie-down, let alone 7 days.

So, first thing tomorrow morning I'm taking these pitches to the bosses at Channel 4:

Starved: 12 contestants...60 calories.
Hijacked: ...In which the last entrant to succumb to Stockholm Syndrome wins a luxury holiday in Sweden.
Tortured: Filmed entirely on location at the former S-21 detention camp in Phnom Penh, Tortured pits former Khmer Rouge guards against a group of hopefuls aiming to walk out with 50 grand -- and the majority of their fingernails intact.
A belated audioblog from the interview I did with Julian Worricker on BBC Radio Five Live on Christmas Eve, now I've finally tracked down the archive recording.

The full interview with myself and Steve Priestley from MAG was 15 minutes long, so I've edited the "highlights" down to a more easily digested 8'15". The file is 1.4Mb.

Audioblog: Julian Worricker Interview (.mp3)
I've just booked next week's flight to Washington DC, where I'll be working for 3 weeks.
No prizes for guessing which flight I chose not to travel on.
BBC News: Washington flight delayed again
Scotland's Sunday Herald has more on alleged Kurdish involvement in the capture of Saddam Hussein.

The paper's Foreign Editor, David Pratt, senses that a deal may have been engineered between the Kurds and Washington:
"If the Kurds did indeed capture Saddam first, and a deal was struck about his handover to the US, then it’s not inconceivable that the terms might have included strong political and strategic advantages that could ultimately determine the emerging power structure in Iraq.
The Associated Press has a preview feature, ahead of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia on Wednesday.
Apologies to everyone who's had their name knocked off the Guest Map...I've had a string of e-mails from people thinking I've deliberately deleted them.

Not so.

The reason is that the suppliers of the service, Bravenet, charge $10 a month if I want to be able to have more than 100 entries.

I do -- but not at that price.

Let me know if any other companies are offering a similar service at a lower cost.
Today's juxtaposition of headline and photograph award goes to CNN.
Poor Princess Anne -- she can't help the way she looks.

Meanwhile, shock news in this New York Times headline; Presidential hopeful Howard Dean is an amputee!

Sunday, January 04, 2004

Once again, Iceland didn't disappoint -- and New Year in Reykjavik reminded me why the country is my favourite in the world.

Amazingly, the weather stayed crisp and clear, although unfortunately too cloudy to get a glimpse of the Northern Lights.

I can recommend the low-key but clean and efficient Hotel Leifur Eiríksson, right in the heart of 101 Reykjavik, the Blue Lagoon (an obvious tourist stop-off but rightly so. Lying in the warm waters watching the stars never fails to disappoint) and a new discovery on this trip -- the Laxnes Horse Farm, in Mosfellsbær, an easy 30 minute drive from Reykjavik; beautiful Icelandic horses and breath-taking scenery.

I'm not sure what it is about Iceland that's so enchanting -- the clear city air? The melodic language, virtually unchanged since the time of the Sagas (although what they're saying is anyone's guess)? I just love the place...if only it weren't so expensive. However, a £5 pint in Reykjavik is worth 3 pints in some dingy London watering hole.

I'm still mystified, though, by the much-vaunted Icelandic nightlife. Yes, there are plenty of fine bars and clubs and it's not difficult to have a great night out along Laugavegur, but even in the early hours of the morning, the city's nightlife is not a patch on other European capitals. Don't believe the hype -- come for the scenery instead.

However, my personal recommendation is the suitably mellow Dillon Bar. Quiet and cosy, with a friendly and chatty clientele and great music it seems to have escaped many of the mainstream guidebooks. It's Reykjavik's Best Kept Secret!

The highlight of the trip was the spontaneous and awe-inspiring New Year fireworks display which turned peaceful Reykjavik into a war zone. Here's a short videoblog of the occasion -- it's 1'21" long and is a 1.5Mb download. As always I've kept it at a relatively low resolution -- if you'd like it at higher res, just drop me an e-mail:

Videoblog: New Year's Eve in Reykjavik (.wmv)

More Icelandic treats tomorrow, but here's one great link I picked up over there...Tonlist, a new website showcasing Icelandic music past and present, which the option to download 25.000 songs (for a fee.) Even so, there are plenty of demos and clips to get a feel for what's happening on the Icelandic music scene.

Iceland's also got a particularly rousing national anthem, which you can download here.
The Sunday Times reports on the story involving Tomb Raider star Angelina Jolie that was doing the rounds when I was in Cambodia recently:
Sunday Times: Star caught up in FBI baby buying probe (.doc)
Sunday Times: Star caught up in FBI baby buying probe (.txt)

Saturday, January 03, 2004

Back from 64° North.

Full details of the trip -- and a new videoblog -- will follow tomorrow.

Until then, a few photos:

Photo: At Lake Tjörn
Photo: Europe's Coolest Capital
Photo: Icelandic Horses
Aileen's Trusty Steed