Daily Archives: 14 June 2005

One-for-All-Reporter from Rhodesia

The coverage of Rhodesia [during its revolt against white minority rule] was deeply flawed from the beginning. The problem, stated briefly, was this: how could any war correspondent give a balanced account of a war where one side was Anglo-Saxon, entrenched in the cities, with access to the resources and the techniques of public relations, and where the other side consisted of people of a different race and culture, operating in the remote countryside, and who had neither the means nor–and this may be more important–the inclination to compete in terms of propaganda?

The answer is that no war correspondent could. The better ones soon became tired of regurgitating official hand-outs from the Smith regime in Salisbury and went home. But no newspaper wanted to admit that it had given up trying to present a balanced view of the war, so stories from Rhodesia continued to appear, particularly in British newspapers. Who was sending them? Few readers of the London Daily Telegraph realised that the paper’s correspondent in Salisbury, Brian Henry, was the same person as the Daily Mail’s Peter Norman, who was in turn the same person as the Guardian’s Henry Miller. And that in real life all these correspondents were a Rhodesian journalist called Ian Mills, who, as it happened, was also the BBC’s correspondent!

The dangers in this practice of the “multiple correspondent” immediately became apparent. One is that Mills, a competent journalist, could have become too busy to do much else than take whatever official information he could get and send it off to his many outlets together with what comment he could obtain on the telephone. He would hardly have had time to investigate the truth or otherwise of what he was being told, especially if such an investigation could involve long absence from his base. Next, with similar stories appearing in a variety of newspapers under a variety of names, the reader could feel that each confirmed the accuracy of the other. He would then tend to place more weight on the story’s facts than if he knew that all the stories were actually written by the one correspondent.

SOURCE: The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero and Myth-maker from the Crimea to Kosovo, by Phillip Knightley, with an introduction by John Pilger (Johns Hopkins U. Press, 2000; first published in 1975), p. 471

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Sultanical Reforms in Brunei?

Macam-macam reports on the latest cabinet reshuffle by the Sultan of Brunei (whose Silver Jubilee mug I proudly possess).

Two of the most striking changes included the appointment of the first non-Muslim ever to the Cabinet:

Lim Jock Seng, an ethnic Chinese, was made foreign minister 2, a post higher than deputy foreign minister, but one step below Foreign Minister Prince Mohamed Bolkiah, the sultan’s brother.

and the removal of long-time Education Minister Abdul Aziz, reviled as one of the most pro-Muslim and anti-everyone else members of the Sultan’s government.

This highlights one problem of nepotism-ridden bureaucracies: You need twice as positions, one to do the real work, the other to enjoy the title and ensure political reliability–or your customer base, in the case of a Chinese community bank I used to work for. Unrelated immigrants from China, Korea, the Philippines, and other states of the U.S. did a lot of the back office technical work, each carrying at least half the weight of a nonproductive relative of the owners who interfaced with the old-time customers. The CEO and principal shareholder, who was reputed to favor unrelated employees, but couldn’t bring himself to fire the deadwood, eventually sold the bank in frustration.

The Brunei reshuffle reminds me of a linguistic treatise I read a decade or so ago about the proliferation of “speech levels” in the bureaucratic Malay of the Sultan’s palace. Brunei’s Palace Malay has a far richer treasury of words used to exalt one’s superior and debase oneself than any other Malay dialect. (It almost equals Javanese.) And that vocabulary has expanded just as fast as the Sultan’s well-paid bureacracy has expanded during the Sultanate’s oil boom. It’s as if the U.S. government were to issue guidelines for how a GS-8 is to address a GS-12, and vice versa, and so on up the bureaucratic ranks.

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