Robert Fisk

Robert Fisk

What can I say about this one as he needs no introduction and he was the star attraction of the Festival with booked out sessions. In the chair was editor of The Press, Andrew Holden. He began with the old adage that “truth is the first casualty of war” which Fisk said ain’t necessarily so. It doesn’t have to be and he feels lucky enough to to work for a newspaper (The Independent) that allows him to tell the real story. He feels that a lot of journalists, especially in America, have a symbiotic relationship with power (watch Fox News and you’ll see that writ large!)

On a lighter note, he talked about his early years in journalism on a paper in Newcastle-on-Tyne. There he learned that cliches rule the day and then and how police were always “spreading their net” and “stepping up” a hunt and so on. Lots of laughter at some of this but I wonder how many journos in the audience hadn’t gone off to a “horror smash” and isn’t every public holiday weekend an excuse for “horror” on the roads and isn’t someone always “shocked” and aren’t all small children “toddlers.”

He was asked whether his writing style had changed over the years and whether his views had changed. He said his writing had become angrier and described the aftermath of a massacre in Palestine. Was he blinded by his anger?

He asked why wouldn’t he be!

Many of the letters he gets are from good liberal folk (like all of us, of course) who voted Labour in Britain and Democrat in America and they feel that the foreign policy of their country is something they feel powerless about. In some ways the better press has ended up representing these people rather than the politicians!

What about the internet?  He doesn’t use it and he doesn’t e-mail as he gets huge numbers of (print) letters and he has only time to deal with these. Is the Net that good? He doesn’t think so and feels it is being believed in when it is often unbelievable. Why do we need so much information? Why do reporters rely so much on what they see on the screen rather than going out an interviewing people? A woman in the audience later countered this to some extent by saying that some of what happens in Palestine is not reported and ordinary people are posting images of some of the horrors.

His experiences in the Middle East gave rise to a number of interesting observations. He gave an interesting quote from Churchill in the 1930s about the power and the difference of the Islamic world and the contemporary relevance was striking. Fisk feels the Muslim world has not lost its faith and the Western world has and this is why the Muslim world finds “our” world so disturbing. There was a lot in this vein and it was very interesting but we will just have to read his book to learn more.

Someone asked if the contemporary situation was “a clash of civilisations” and Fisk replied that he was living in Beirut, his landord was a Muslim and he co-existed peacefully and respectfully with those around him so it isn’t really a clash of civilisations. Is it our job to give them “our” culture? Lots to think about here and I came away from this session in a similar frame of mind to the session John Gray gave at the Auckland Festival. Neither writer has easy answers but it is important that we listen to them.

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