Thursday, September 30, 2004

Here are the audio files I couldn't upload while I was in Athens.

All are MP3.

Simon Mayo Show, Radio 5 Live, 23rd Sept (1.39Mb)

Marlon Shirley Profile, PM Programme, Radio 4, 24th Sept (511Kb)

Paralympics Closing Ceremony Report, BBC World Service, 28th Sept (283Kb)

Tuesday, September 28, 2004


And so the 12th Paralympic Games have closed in an atmosphere of muted celebration.

The normally noisy and colourful closing ceremony was scaled back as a mark of respect for the seven Greek teenagers killed on the way to the Games yesterday when their school bus crashed into a lorry.

The President of the International Paralympic Committee, Phil Craven, paid tribute to them in his closing speech.

"Tonight should have been a night for celebration," he said.

"Millions of people around the world have experienced 11 days of exceptional Paralympic sport.

"This simple truth magnifies the tragedy that has befallen their families and friends. Tonight we mourn their loss and dedicate, to these young people, the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games."

But there was also celebration for the nearly 4,000 athletes who have competed in these Games. They've smashed records and shown the world what "disabled" people are really capable of.

I'll be heading home tomorrow after spending most of the Summer, on and off, in Athens.

It's not a city I've warmed to -- it's too rude and too polluted to ever fall in love with.

Then again, I'm sure Athens won't miss me either.
Thanks as always to Xeni for the mention.

I haven't yet seen the profile she refers to...I'll catch it when I get home.

Monday, September 27, 2004

I spent the morning with the Chinese Paralympic team, which has emerged as a new sporting powerhouse during these Games.

China will finish the Paralympics at the top of the medal table. Their dominance has taken some by surprise, especially since 80% of their 200 athletes are competing in their first Paralympics.

As China prepares for the Beijing Paralympics in 2008, it seems the main question will be who'll come second to the hosts in four years time.

Everyone you speak to here in Athens has a different explanation for China's success -- rigorous discipline, huge resources or just plain hard work.

The fact that there are 60 million disabled people in China -- more than the population of Britain -- helps too.

Bear in mind that China only competed in 11 out of 19 Paralympic sports here in Athens and it's clear that the country's success story is only just beginning.

I finally got around to watching Outfoxed last night (I've been carrying the DVD around in my laptop bag for weeks.)

What a huge disappointment.

Good intentions aren't enough.

The film was poorly structured, terribly edited, unfocused and looked like an end of year project by a mediocre journalism undergraduate.

The accompanying behind-the-scenes featurette also compounded the belief that all liberals are ugly (my god, were they ugly).

If you're after something that covers similar ground, but with a little more substance, try Bonnie Anderson's News Flash.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

The wheelchair basketball matches here at the Paralympics have given a glimpse of how disability sport could one day cross into the mainstream.

Yesterday's game between Great Britain and the USA was the perfect example; fast, combative and thrilling, it had a passion and excitement that would have appealed to any sports fan -- even one who has no interest in the Paralympics.

But the needs of the athletes in sports like wheelchair basketball are also driving huge advances in the technology used to assist disabled people.

Wheelchairs must be fast and light -- yet strong enough to withstand the rigours of the sport.

Over at the Paralympic Village, technicians from Otto Bock have a large tent which they've transformed into a repair shop, fixing hundreds of mangled wheelchairs and cracked prosthetic limbs.

The head of the repair service, Kevin Harney, says it's the athletes that are pushing forward the developments in wheelchair technology, taking products already available and customizing them for the needs of their sport.

The same is true with prosthetics.

Athlete Brian Frasure, for example, is himself a prosthetist. He's helping to design the artificial limbs that are enabling Paralympics to set new world records.

The down side is that not everyone can benefit from these technological developments.

Sports wheelchairs and state-of-the-art prosthetic limbs cost thousands of pounds -- putting them beyond the reach of many Paralympians from developing countries.
Could teenage double amputee wonderboy Oscar Pistorius qualify for the able-bodied Olympics asks AFP?
Jolted from my beauty sleep at 6 o'clock this morning by an earthquake measuring 4.7 on the Richter scale, which I felt rumbling beneath my hotel room.

The epicentre was under the Aegean Sea off the large island of Euboea.

No damage -- to me or anyone else.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

The Telegraph's Robert Philip aims a well-deserved dig at the Paralympic volunteers:

"The Paralympic Volunteers – I have never come across a more unhelpful group of Athenians - sigh, yawn, amble off to take photographs of one another in their ritzy uniforms and gaze on the assembled hacks as though they have stood on something unpleasant."

Philip also isn't impressed with the Paralympic transport system:

"The official transport guide suggests the trip from Olympic Stadium to the Village should take 18 minutes. Yesterday morning, the return journey took over four hours."

You should have done what I did, Robert, and hired a bicycle.

The succession of Paralympic volunteers who knock of the doors of the BBC office asking for pins aren't just innocent collectors -- there's good money to be made here.

A BBC Olympic pin is worth $20 on eBay (I'll be grabbing a handful before I leave and drip-feeding them onto the open market, OPEC-style, so they don't lose their value).

In fact, virtually any Olympic memorabilia is worth something.

A volunteer's T-shirt -- $157

A cell phone (as used by International Olympic Committee members) -- $505

An Olympic Torch (unused) -- $1450

What am I bid for a genuine Athens 2004 keyring from my room at the Media Village?

Friday, September 24, 2004

My continuing computer problems mean I'm unable to upload my reports which have been running on BBC TV and radio today.

The TV package, however, is News Online's Video Choice and can be viewed here.

The radio version, from Radio 4's PM programme, will be streamed here for the next 24 hours.

It's about 55 minutes into the programme.
The wires continue to play catch-up on the American TV coverage of the Paralympics story, which I broke here almost 3 weeks ago:

IPC disappointed over no U.S. TV coverage

ATHENS, Greece (AP) - The International Paralympic Committee on Friday expressed disappointment that there was no television coverage of the Athens Games in the United States.

«It's a disappointment for the U.S. athletes and the people of the U.S.A.,» IPC president Phil Craven said.

About 50 nations have bought broadcasting rights to the 11-day Paralympics, but none are from the U.S. Any American network could buy rights if they wanted to, said IPC spokeswoman Miriam Wilkens.

The United States Olympic Committee has bought non-exclusive rights to be aired in November.

«The bottom line is it is a pity ... since the U.S.A. has quite a large delegation,» Wilkens said.
I've made Disability Affairs Correspondent Peter White's day.

I explained to him that rather than wait the 3 to 5 weeks it'll take to order a new copy of his autobiography "See It My Way" from Amazon, I bought a second hand hardback edition for three quid plus postage.

When I told him the reason given for the sale -- "Unwanted Christmas Gift" -- he roared with uncontrollable laughter.
Zimbabwe newspaper The Herald looks at the effect of landmines on economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

The general crapness of the computer network I'm on is preventing me from uploading my contribution to the Mayo show but until tomorrow you can listen to it by clicking here, going to "Listen again to the latest Simon Mayo show" and then jumping to about one and a half hours into the programme.
Further to this posting about Extreme Wheelchairs, how about this fella?

It's a 4x4 powered wheelchair that even comes with built in GPS navigation. It has just been launched here at the Paralympics by the German firm Otto Bock.

It's cool enough to almost make you wish you were disabled.

Back from the Paralympic village after my turn on the Simon Mayo show.

I was on after runner-turned-BBC-commentator Colin Jackson.

If I can get onto the BBC computer system I'll pull off the audio and post it up.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Advance notice that I'll be on the Simon Mayo programme on Radio Five Live at 1430BST tomorrow (Thursday), investigating what it takes to become a British Paralympian.
Friend of this blog Hoder gets a write up on BBC News Online.
Naturally, broadcasters have been transmitting heavily edited versions of the beheading videos put out on Islamist websites in recent days.

But the unedited versions sometimes make it into newsrooms on one of the many agency video streams that flow into the building.

With so many large monitors around my newsroom, it's all to easy for someone who'd rather not see them (ie anyone with an ounce of sensitivity in their body) to catch a glimpse.

As a result, a new procedure has been introduced.

Our picture producers will tannoy a warning when gruesome pictures are expected -- and an e-mail will be sent out to all relevant newsdesks.

When this happens, anyone who doesn't want to see the images is being advised to change channels or switch off their monitors for at least ten minutes.
Press freedom groups have been meeting in Geneva to look at ways of making journalism safer for media workers in hostile environments.

One suggestion is the adoption of an international emblem for journalists similar to the Red Cross and Red Crescent symbols used by humanitarian aid workers.

Hmmm....I wonder what the symbol might look like.

This perhaps?

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The lack of American television coverage for the Paralympics that I've been banging on about is finally gaining traction, with the AFP newswire picking up on the story.

By the way, I've still haven't received a reply to the e-mail I sent to NBC:

Paralympics a TV success story in Europe and Asia, but not in US

by Harry Papachristou

ATHENS, Sept 21 (AFP) - More and more broadcasters across the world, especially in Europe and Asia, are putting the Paralympics into the spotlight, but the major sporting tournament for people with disabilities remains off screen in the world's biggest television market -- the United States.

The BBC "made history" on Sunday when broadcasting for the first time ever live coverage of the Paralympics, Dave Gordon, director for major events at Britain's public broadcaster said.

"There is a clear audience appetite for world class disability sport," he said. Audiences exceed two million viewers, "a perfectly respectable figure," Gordon said.

The BBC has sent a 100-strong crew to Athens to provide Paralympic coverage on its nationwide BBC2 channel for around 90 minutes a day.

"People are coming to grips with and love Paralympic sports," said International Paralymic Committee (IPC) President Phil Craven.

In 1996 the Atlanta Paralympics Games broadcast rights were sold for the first time. This year, the Athens Paralympics broadcast package is valued at 1.5 million dollars (1.2 million euros), according to IPC figures. The IPC spends all of that to cover a
large part of the Games' transmission costs, which total 3.5 million dollars.

"We are very disappointed about the fact that US networks decided not to buy the rights," Miriam Wilkens, media director of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), told AFP.

According to Wilkens, the US networks turned down the rights, citing a combination of cost and supposed lack of viewers' interest.

"We believe there is a broad public that would like coverage. We have e-mails coming to us from both athletes and viewers in the United States, asking us where they could see the Games," the IPC official said.

Negotiations are currently under way with the US Outdoor Live cable network to air a summary of the Paralympics in November.

"We hope that the US networks will be more proactive in the next Games," Wilkens said.

"I think that if the BBC is successful, then a US commercial entity will enter," said Steve Goldberg, a US journalist covering the Paralympics. "Interest in the States is building," he said.

"It's so embarrassing when you see there are no Americans at all," said Gordon.

Other broadcasters across the world, mainly on public television in China, Germany, Spain, and Greece, also attach greater importance to the Paralympics. "There is live coverage every day. Athletes winning medals make headlines in news bulletins back home," a Chinese journalist said.

Television viewers are not just people with disabilities. "We know from audience research for the Sydney (2000 Paralympics) that the able-bodied enjoy watching the Paralympics as they enjoy watching other sports," said Gordon.

Paralympics' television ratings even beat similar high-profile athletics events where able-bodied stars competed."During the weekend, the Paralympics even scored higher ratings than the Monaco Athletics Grand Prix," said Gordon. "You can't fool
the audiences. The viewer knows the Paralympics matter because that's when athletes win medals. In other competitions it's just athletes earning money".

Monday, September 20, 2004

Beyond Northern Iraq -- now endorsed by Body Shop founder, Anita Roddick.
Yah boo sucks to David Thomas, who claimed in yesterday's Sunday Telegraph (see this posting) that no one cares about disability sport -- and it's only being televised out of guilt.

The Media Guardian reports (registration required) that nearly 2 million viewers tuned in to the BBC's live TV coverage from the Paralympics yesterday afternoon -- more than double the audience for Sunday Grandstand the previous weekend.

Care to reconsider, Mr Thomas?

A close encounter with a Paralympic gold medal this morning up at the Paralympic Village.

I'd gone up there to produce a sequence for Woman's Hour with shooting gold medallist Isabel Newstead and Daily Telegraph journalist Gareth Davies.

Isabel now has seven Paralympic medals scattered around the Essex home.

I assumed they'd be framed on the walls or displayed on the mantlepiece.

Not so.

She told me they're hidden away in cupboards all over the house -- and she wouldn't be able to find them all in a hurry if her life depended on it.

BBC Sport: Nervous Newstead on target

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Is the Paralympics a real, meaningful sporting competition?

How can Paralympians claim to be elite athletes when athletic excellence is all about physical perfection -- not disability?

Is the Paralympic nothing more than a giant exercise is political correctness?

These are all valid questions -- and are ones which we've been debating here in Athens.

It's a debate that's taken up in the Sunday Telegraph.

The case for the prosecution is led by writer David Thomas, who argues:

"We demand that our heroes possess fit bodies, swift reflexes and youthful vigour. When they succeed, we shower them in glory. When they fail, we savage them without remorse. We are no more interested in physically impaired sportspeople than we are in fat, plain fashion models."

Putting the other side of the argument is three-time Paralympian Caroline Baird:

"To anyone who says that I was playing at being an athlete I would challenge them to take up my old training regime: seven days a week for up to six hours a day on track work, weights, beach work (try running up and down sand dunes with a weighted jacket on instead of sunbathing) and a lot of sit-ups."

The full debate requires registration, so I've put it into a Word document here.
For those who've asked here's an example of Peter White's work.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Watching Disability Affairs Correspondent Peter White at work is an amazing experience.

Where most journalists scribble into a spiral bound notebook, Peter punches away like a court stenographer on his braille note-taker, the speed and agility of his fingers betraying the fact that he's also an accomplished pianist.

When he's finished writing, he reads his scripts out loud to me so that I can time them and offer suggestions for changes, his fingers gliding effortlessly across the braille display.

He explained to me that he has to speak two or three words ahead of what his fingers are reading, so he doesn't have to pause every time he hits the return key on the machine to bring up the next line of braille text.

Once we get into the studio Peter tucks the brailler under the table as he reads so that the microphone doesn't pick up the clicking sound as he hits "return."

Radio is such an evocative medium, and Peter is such a consummate professional, that if you just heard his voice on the wireless you wouldn't have any inkling that he's been completely blind since birth.
How's this for Eyewitness news?
Thought I'd developed a new Paralympic sport last night over beers in the hotel bar -- but was sadly disappointed.

Why not take a wheelchair and then soup it up, using BMX and mountain biking technology, I suggested to producer Rikki -- who is a wheelchair user himself.

We even came up with a name for the new discipline -- XWC, or Extreme Wheelchairing.

It was my ticket to untold riches, until I discovered that like all the best ideas someone had already thought of it.

50 miles an hour in a wheelchair? They're having a laugh.

Friday, September 17, 2004

I'd better get my coat, I think I've pulled (although maybe there's some confusion between me and Marlon Shirley).

Andrew Palmer (seen here on the left) is an amputee runner from Cardiff.

On November 14th, he hopes to take part in the Ossur National Leg Amputee Championships, a half marathon in San Diego, California.

The current record holder for the course is the American Paralympian Paul Martin, with a time of 1:29:52.

Andrew's personal best over the distance is 1:30:40, but he's been training hard and is hopeful of beating Paul Martin's record.

But he receives no funding to compete, and needs around £1,000 to take part in the San Diego race.

He's looking to find a sponsor or sponsors to help him meet the cost of the trip -- which could put him on the international racing map.

If you think you can help, or want to know more, drop me an e-mail and I'll put you in touch with Andrew.
I e-mailed my prosthetist, Ian, to ask him if I could have a Cheetah prosthesis, the same as Marlon Shirley.

"We will of course give you one when you match his times," he replied.

This, of course, is a chicken-and-egg situation.

How can I match the times if I don't have the leg?
Amp joins "Survivor."

Godammit, we're everywhere!
My BBC News Online article with American Paralympic sprinter Marlon Shirley has been published here.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

At 16, Claire Williams from Camarthen in West Wales is one of the youngest members of the British Paralympic team.

She's a discus thrower competes in the F13 category for the visually impaired.

Claire has albinism, a genetic condition which affects the body's production of melanin, the chemical that gives colour to hair, skin and eyes.

As well as the characteristic pale skin and blonde or white hair, the lack of pigment in the eyes often results in visual impairment.

Claire began her sporting career in able bodied sports -- and did well at school level. She told me she switched to disability sport because the prospect of competing at the Paralympics in Athens seemed more appealing than a schools championship on a wet weekend on Deeside.

Here's an audioblog with Claire. It's a 387Kb MP3 download.

Just back from a "running lesson" with Marlon Shirley, who's officially the fastest amputee in the world.

With the aid of his Ossur Cheetah prosthesis, last year he became the first amputee to break the 11-second barrier in the 100 metres, running a time of 10.97 seconds.

Marlon lost his foot after falling under a lawn mower at the age of five.

He'll be going for gold in four events and will be hoping to add to the gold and silver medals he won four years ago in Sydney.

We recorded a number of pieces for use in the days ahead -- of which more details to follow.

Read more about Marlon's amazing story here and here.
An absurd suggestion by Shadow defence minister Gerald Howarth that the BBC should have alerted police that the House of Commons was to be invaded by pro-hunting protesters.

For a start, we receive dozens of phone calls, letters and e-mails every day from loons, cranks and self-publicists promising all kinds of apocalyptic acts.

They almost always turn out to be utterly baseless -- and if we reported every single one we'd never get off the phone to Scotland Yard.

Secondly -- and more importantly -- the BBC isn't responsible for security at the House of Commons and those that are made an almighty balls up yesterday.

But when in doubt, blame the BBC.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

This afternoon's events in the House of Commons seem a long way event from proceedings here in Athens but I can't less them pass without comment.

The protest could easily be dismissed as a mere publicity stunt.

But in reality it shattered the foundations of the war on terror.

For the second time in a week, the very heart of the British establishment was breached not by terrorist masterminds but by activists wanting to draw attention to their cause.

Although thankfully both the Buckingham Palace Batman and the pro-hunting campaigners who stormed the floor of the Commons today were harmless. But they could just as easily have been suicide bombers or fanatics carrying chemical or biological weapons.

And so the millions of pounds spent on homeland security here in Britain and the billions spent by the United States have been shown up for what they are -- a laughable illusion that can be penetrated by an operative from Fathers 4 Justice, the Countryside Alliance or, perhaps one day soon, Al Qaeda.

The Paralympic Team GB presented itself to the media today, expressing hope that they'll equal their medal tally from Sydney four years ago.

Team GB finished second in the medal table in Sydney, with 41 golds, 43 silvers and 47 bronzes.

One of the most successful Paralympians of all time, Tanni Grey-Thompson (above), already has 14 medals from four Paralympic adventures.

But she insisted her best performances were still ahead of her.

"My motivation is still there," she said.

"It's not difficult because I think I haven't hit my best yet. I think I can get better and that's the motivation for me. I don't really think about what I've done."

But Grey-Thompson admitted low spectator numbers could be a problem.

"I do hope people come to watch even if it's just because they couldn't afford tickets for the Olympics," she said.

"Because if there are not big crowds it will be a bit flat.

"Greeks don't have a massive tradition for Paralympic sport and I know they struggle with funding and support so it's going to be difficult."

One of the most remarkable British Paralympians is Isabel Newstead (above), who is taking part in her seventh Paralympics and has won gold medals in swimming, athletics and shooting.

She says disability sport has changed beyond recognition since she began her sporting career.

"When I began competing sport was recreational and training took place on a Saturday afternoon," she told me.

"Now we have people training full-time as semi-professional athletes.

"The standards are rising and rising all the time."
Hossein Derakhshan, alias Hoder, e-mails with a round-up of the crackdown on reformist websites in Iran.

Read all here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

An early indication that this job (the Paralympics) may not be quite like any I've ever worked on before.

I arrived back at my hotel after dinner just as one of the correspondents I'll be working with, Peter White (who's blind), was checking in.

I helped him drag his bags up to his room.

"Hang on a second," I said as he unlocked the door and I stumbled into his unlit room, "Let me just find the light switch."

"Tsk, what d'you want lights for?" he joked.

"Sorry Peter," I replied, "but you're just going to have to be patient with my needs."
I've purposely not posted anything about the Wordgate row currently engulfing CBS News -- partly because it's all over the net already and partly because, whether the documents cited by CBS were real or fake, it's one of those stories that conspiracy-minded bloggers just can't get enough of.

Read Newsday's and the Washington Post's reports and CBS's defence if you're interested.
Lest you were still in any doubt about the dumbing down of broadcast news:

Playgirl Announces Winners of Sexiest Newscaster Election

I demand a recount -- where's Nicholas Witchell?

Here's my Frequent Traveller iPod tip of the day.

The BBC's new digital radio station BBC 7 broadcasts a wide range of classic comedy and drama from the Beeb archives.

But best of all it keeps a week of programmes available on demand in perfectly listenable quality in the Listen Again section.

Just download the free audio editing package Audacity, select "What U Hear" mode, start recording and begin streaming.

When you're done you can crunch your programme into an MP3 and pop it onto your iPod -- or burn it onto a CD for that matter.

It's a fantastic service -- one of the hidden gems of the BBC.

Monday, September 13, 2004

One I forgot to post yesterday -- Tom Rosenstiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism laments the slow death of network news.

Rosenstiel's observations are accurate -- and important for anyone interested in the future of news:

"What difference will it make that the networks are ceding TV journalism to cable? Network news was built around the carefully written and edited story, produced by correspondents and vetted in advance to match words and pictures....

"Cable news is a live and extemporaneous medium built around talk.

"What is lost in the cable obsession with "live" is the chance to double-check, to rewrite, to edit -- and often to even report. What is lost with the passing of network TV, in other words, is the journalism of verification. It is gradually yielding place to a journalism of assertion."
More on Aron Ralston over at Dateline NBC (thanks Lynn).

Ironic that America's Olympic Station should be devoting an entire programme to a "disabled" climber when it's ignoring the Paralympics.

I'll be heading back to Athens for the Paras first thing in the morning.

More from there.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

It seems it's not just US broadcasters who are ignoring the Paralympics -- Athenians are too.

The Sunday telegraph reports that, once freebies and the opening ceremony are taken out of the equation, fewer than 80,000 tickets have been sold for actual sporting events.

As we saw during the Olympics, Greeks have a habit of leaving things to the last minute -- raising the prospect of a last minute rush for tickets.

If that doesn't materialise, the Paralympians are going to be competing in some very empty stadiums.
Audiobooks have always seemed to me to be an invention for people too lazy to read.

While casting around for things to fill those 40 gigabytes on my iPod, however, I thought maybe they're just the thing for long haul flights when I'm too tired or distracted for the printed word.

As I was choosing a couple of selections from iTunes I was intrigued to see that the speeches from the Democratic and Republican conventions are available to download free of charge, courtesy of C-Span.

I chose Lynne Cheney and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

By the way, if anyone knows of any good sites for free audiobook downloads, let me know. Kazaa doesn't appear to have much.

Still nursing my head after a heavy night at my place with dinner guests Janine and Johnny.

I debuted my new signature cocktail -- the delightfully kitch strawberry daquiri. Just throw 800 grammes of fresh strawbs, half a bottle of white rum, a couple of spoonfuls of sugar, several cupfuls of ice and a healthy glug of cointreau into the blender and blitz until smooth. Tastes like heaven and gets you shitfaced in double-quick time.

The timing was coincidentally apt -- Janine was the person who alerted me to the breaking news on September 11th 2001 (and she still takes great pride in reminding me that it was she, an artist, who broke the news to me, supposedly a journalist.)

We got on to talking about what we'd do if there was a terrorist attack on London.

The "Preparing for Emergencies" leaflet distributed to every home urges the public to "Go In, Stay In, Tune In."

Janine said that her friends wondered whether listening to an iPod counted as "tuning in" in the government's plans.

In times of national emergency a selection of banging tunes is more important than ever.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Much reflection today on the third anniversary of 9/11.

I'll spare you the "I Remember Where I Was On September 11th" anecdotes -- we've all got them and the blogosphere's going to full of them today.

Instead, I'll direct you towards the piece broadcast this morning on Radio 4's "From Our Own Correspondent" programme by my colleague Stephen Evans.

Steve, British readers may remember, was in the lobby of the South Tower when the first airliner hit.

The award-winning journalism he produced in the hours and days ahead was outstanding -- and his reflections three years on are equally powerful.

Coincidentally, there's a piece on the Iraqi murdered in Swansea that Steve refers to in today's Guardian.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Ambassador to the Court of St. James?

If so, fuck the law -- especially if you're Libyan.
One of my buddies in the Washington bureau, Kevin Anderson, is hitting the road in five US states to examine the issues behind the election.

Follow him!

In a desperate need for retail therapy, I've just gone out and bought a 40Gb iPod -- largely because I went out for a drink with a friend the other evening and spent most of my time drooling over his.

It's a thing of rare beauty.

I've already uploaded more than 2 days of Dad Rock onto it -- and there's plenty more to go.
I must hook up with these guys when I get back to Athens next week.

The BBC's plans for our coverage of the American elections are taking shape -- and I've got a clearer idea of where I'm likely to be.

We'll have teams in Washington DC, New York, Boston (with the Kerry camp), the battleground states of Ohio and Florida -- and I'll be with the Bushies in Texas (although the plans could change between now and November).

Thursday, September 09, 2004


"...we concluded, I concluded, that genocide has been committed in Darfur and that the Government of Sudan and the Jingaweit bear responsibility -- and that genocide may still be occurring..." -- Colin Powell, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing

Colin Powell's use of the G-word to describe the crisis in Darfur has taken some by surprise. The African Union has said the threshold for genocide has not been reached and the EU has said its officials do not have adequate evidence.

So do the atrocities committed in Darfur constitute genocide or not?

The jury seems hung -- not least because the term is open to interpretation and there is no single authoratative body charged with deciding when genocide has been committed.

Once a situation is officially labeled genocide, countries that have ratified the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide are duty bound to intervene and take action to punish the perpetrators.

Whether what is happening in Darfur is genocide or not, Colin Powell's intervention is the clearest sign yet that Washington's patience is running out -- both with Khartoum and those on the UN Security Council (such as China and Pakistan who benefit from the 320,000 barrels of oil a day pumped out of Sudan) who may want to shy away from taking tougher action.

Ultimately, though, this semantic debate is irrelevant given the appalling crimes taking place in the region.
I've just finished Bob Woodward's superb Plan Of Attack which -- like his last book "Bush At War" -- is a painstakingly researched account of the days leading up to last year's invasion of Iraq.

One of the most striking aspects of the book is insight it gives into the mind of Dick Cheney -- most notably his hardline right wing ideology, his refusal to explore a non-military solution to the problem of Saddam Hussein and his utter contempt for the UN.

I was interested, therefore, to read a profile of the vice president in this week's Economist.

The piece is suitably scathing:

"The biggest mistakes of (the Bush) administration, from the blithe acceptance of soaring deficits to the insistence that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, have Mr Cheney's fingerprints all over them.

"He resisted attempts to get both congressional and UN approval for the invasion of Iraq. He has repeatedly favoured secrecy and “executive privilege” over consultation and compromise.

"The cumulative effect of all these mistakes not only suggests a worrying preference for ideology over common sense, but an arrogant indifference to the checks and balances that are the glory of the American constitution."

The Economist profile is all the more relevant after hearing Cheney's breathtaking smear against John Kerry.

My beloved home city has come top in a new survey...of cities in which you're most likely to be drugged and raped.

Somehow I doubt the Welsh Tourist Board will be using that particular statistic to promote Europe's youngest capital city.
Balls -- I've just deleted everything in my inbox by mistake.

If you've e-mailed me in the last 24 hours please do so again.
When I was in Athens for the Olympics I seemed to spend inordinate amounts of time standing around waiting for shuttle buses to take me between the various venues and the media village.

So for the Paralympics I was wondering whether there were any alternatives.

Sure enough, Pame Volta rent out bicycles at very reasonable rates -- just the thing for commuting to and from my hotel.

I've dropped them a line...although negotiating the Athens traffic on a bike may prove to be suicidal.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

This e-mail has been sent to Kevin Sullivan, Vice President of Sports Communications at NBC.

Dear Mr Sullivan,

I am a BBC World Affairs journalist and am working on a story about television coverage of the forthcoming Paralympics in Athens.

You may be aware that despite what the US Paralympic Team says have been "repeated attempts" to secure television coverage, the US territory rights for the Athens Paralympics have not been bought.

As a result the Paralympics will be show in almost 40 countries world wide but not in the United States.

Given NBC's massive and hugely successful coverage of the recent Summer Olympics, I would be interested for your network's explanation of why the US Paralympic TV rights have not been bought and what this says about diversity of sports coverage in the US, where 20% of the population has some form of disability.

I look forward to hearing from you,
Yours sincerely,

Stuart Hughes
BBC World Newsgathering
Just what is going on under the streets of Paris?
Thanks everyone who has picked up on my posting about American television coverage of the Paralympics and run with it.

Keep spreading the word -- this is important, guys.
Enjoy Bush's Love Doctors quote straight from the horse's mouth.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004


Just back from a BBC briefing on the US Presidential elections, attended by a panel of American politics policy wonks.

The headline?

Unless there's an unforeseen and cataclysmic event, Bush is going to win in November because the economy and the situation in Iraq aren't bad enough for Kerry to capitalise.

One website the session threw up, which was previously unknown to me -- even though it has been around for more than a decade -- is the Iowa Electronic Market, which is also forecasting a Bush victory.

On the subject of the Commander In Chief, here's a wonderful new Bushism.

Monday, September 06, 2004


The Olympics were a huge success for NBC.

200 million viewers.

A "halo effect" that boosted other channels and programmes.

An estimated $60-70 million profit (Source: Hollywood Reporter)

Before the Games started, NBC boasted of the depth and breadth of its coverage.

1210 hours of events.

103 commentators.

28 Olympians on the commentary team.

A week from now, I'll be heading back to Athens for Greece's second remarkable major sporting event of the year.

The Paralympics will boast:

4000 athletes.

140 countries represented.

525 gold medals at stake.

19 sports.

There will be no American TV coverage of the Paralympics.

Let me repeat that.


Not one hour of live coverage. Not one commentator. Not one Olympian on the commentary team.


This at the same time that a record number of journalists are preparing to cover the Paralympics.

This is nothing short of a national disgrace.

1 in 5 Americans have some form of disability -- that's some 52.6 million people (Source: US Census)

Their sporting achievements at the very highest level are being utterly ignored.

If you feel as passionately as I do about this gross and unforgivable act of ignorance by US broadcasters I urge you in the strongest terms to spread the word as widely as possible to friends and colleagues.

I also urge you to take action. Why not start by sharing your thoughts with America's Olympic station.

NBC's Vice President of Sports Communications is Kevin Sullivan. He can be contacted on (212)664 2014 or at

If you're in the US, and you want to cheer on your other Olympic heroes (the ones you're unlikely to see on TV) you can do so here.

A scoop appeared to land in the lap of Al Hurra, the Arabic-language propaganda arm of the US government, yesterday.

The Congress-funded TV channel reported claims by an Iraqi defence ninistry spokesman that Saddam Hussein's former second-in-command, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, had been arrested in northern Iraq.

Good story -- and a fine example of the channel's mission to provide "independent and credible journalism" (Source: The Guardian, 16th February 2004).

Except that it wasn't true.

Tests later showed that the man in custody was not Saddam's former right-hand man, but a relative of his.

Close -- but not close enough.

Maybe Al Hurra's news team have been getting their journalism lessons from Fox.

Still, at least those interfering hacks from Al Jazeera weren't around to check the story out.

They were left shut out of their Baghdad office after a raid by security officers from the US-backed interim government.

Al Jazeera's Baghdad operation has now reportedly been shut down indefinitely by the authorities.

America's favourite auto-amputee, Aron Ralston, has a book coming out. It's called "Between a Rock and a Hard Place" (geddit?)

Thanks to Lynn for pointing out that Ralton is this month's cover star in Outside magazine.

Even though I know from experience what it's like to stare down curiously at a bloody and useless limb, Ralston's account of how he disposed of his trapped right forearm is wince-inducing:

"My nerves seem to be concentrated in the outer layers of my arm, then.

"I confirm this by drawing the knife out, slicing up at my skin from underneath. Oh, yeah, there they are. The flesh stretches with the blade, broadcasting signals through my arm as I open an inch-wide hole.

"Letting the pain dissipate, I note that there is remarkably little blood; the capillaries must have closed down for the time being. Fascinated, I poke at the gash with the tool.


Ouch indeed.

Among Outside's "10 Scariest Survival Stories" is the tale -- recounted here before -- of Bill Jeracki, a fisherman from Colorado who was forced to amputate his own leg after a boulder landed on it.

Double ouch.
BBC sports chief Peter Salmon has admitted that some of the corporation's Olympics team were "put under too much pressure."

Really, Peter, I appreciate you concern...but honestly, I'm fine.

A highly welcome delivery in my mail this morning -- a copy of The Revolution Starts Now by singer/songwriter/activist/anti-landmine campaigner/personal idol Steve Earle.

It's a record put together in a hurry. As Earle explains in the sleeve notes:

"All but two of these songs were recorded within 24 hours of the first line hitting the paper. We worked 12- and 14-hour days and in between takes and over meals we talked about the war, the election, baseball, and women, in precisely that order.

But although it was recorded in haste, for my money The Revolution Starts Now is Steve Earle's best album since I Feel Alrght.

Steve Earle's music holds great personal significance for me. I had tickets to see him at Shepherd's Bush Empire on April 1st last year. In the event, I couldn't go because I was out in Iraq.

The day after the concert I had my run-in with a landmine.

A few days later, as I came round from the anaesthetic following my amputation, I demanded to listen to "I Feel Alright" on my Walkman -- an inaptly named album if ever there was, given the circumstances.

I played the title track again and again, drugged up to the eyeballs on morphine.
Amputee photo of the week in today's Sun.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Back from the christening in Derby of wee Finley, son and heir of friends Phil and Claire.
US State Department coordinator for counterterrorism, Joseph Cofer Black, has a message for Osama Bin Laden: "If he has a watch, he should be looking at it because the clock is ticking. He will be caught."

Let's see....Americans go to the polls on November 2nd so I'd say the second or third week in October seems like a good bet.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Not much golf being played in Florida this weekend, I suspect.

Hurricane Frances resources galore here and here.
Is it just me or is everyone pregnant at the moment?

Pottering around west London this afternoon it seemed like the waters of every third person I saw were about to break (excluding the men, natch).

Aileen reckons it's something to do with the consequences of too much booze and merriment over Christmas and New Year.

She could be right.

Friday, September 03, 2004

A year ago I whinged because I didn't get an invite to Sir Paul McCartney's anti-landmines gala benefit in Los Angeles.

At the time I said I didn't bear a grudge.

Just as well -- because I've just received an invitation to this year's event to collect an award.

Better get my suit to the dry cleaners sharpish.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Apologies for the lack of blogging over the last few days.

I've been enjoying some post-Olympic R and R pottering around the house.

Normal service will be resumed shortly.