Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Bob Geldof still unhappy at Band Aid questions

On Monday, Rageh Omaar wrote a piece for the Guardian saying, in effect, that grown-up people know that in war-torn areas humanitarian efforts sometimes get misdirected. He expressed mild surprise that all the charities involved in the 80s Ethiopian famine had reacted the World Service report by yelling "never", rather than asking to inspect the claims more closely; and said that perhaps we shouldn't treat Band Aid as if it was somehow above criticism.

All very reasonable and balanced. Isn't that right, Bob Geldof?

Rageh Omaar's piece "Even Band Aid is not above criticism" is ridiculous.

It is of course not about me, or Band Aid, but rather a defence of journalistic exceptionalism, and the now thoroughly discredited BBC World Service programme that "sexed up" a claim that nigh-on the entire humanitarian relief effort by all aid agencies was diverted to arms in Tigray province in 1985.

If you've been watching the reaction to this story closely, you'll have spotted that Bob has shifted his complaint somewhat. Initially, he insisted that there was not a shred of evidence that any money went astray. Now, he's objecting to the claims about the level of money which went astray.

Geldof seems to be most upset not at the idea, but that he was mentioned in the piece:
[Omaar] allies himself with the programme's dubious technique of using a "star" name to attract attention to an otherwise unexceptional or dubious point of view in the hope that it will gather attention.

Except Omaar does no such thing - he mentions Geldof just once in his story, referencing Bob's appearance on the Andrew Marr show. Which was the point where Bob firmly placed himself as the star of the story.

Geldof then goes on to list the sorts of things people have a pop at him for:
So let me first say that far from being above criticism, should Rageh or the World Service colleague he seeks to protect have done the basic journalistic gig of doing a teensy bit of research before they write their stories by, say, doing something basic like maybe Googling my name, he would immediately be overwhelmed by a 35-year torrent of vituperation and condemnation of everything about me – from my suspiciously foreign-sounding name to my shaving and bathing habits, hairstyle (fair enough!), my partners, children, domestic life, temperament, driving habits, political views, attitudes, clothing, style, music, driving and on and on. No, Rageh, rest assured, I am definitely not above criticism – but again, please, for the sake of veracity, and again, I extend this to the wretched Martin Plaut, your fellow journalist, stop venturing palpably untrue statements dressed up as fact.

It's a bit puzzling why Geldof thinks discovering someone online saying Vegetarians Of Love is rubbish somehow has anything to do with a journalist suggesting that Live Aid should be open to public scrutiny.
And how arrogant you are, how self-important, that you should deign to lecture on the implied assumption that you, and by extension all journalists – and specifically in this case the BBC World Service – are above the criticism that you are so busily wagging your finger at me for, and which I (clearly getting above my station) have last weekend meted out to your incompetent mate and his associates at the Beeb.

Omaar never says that journalists should be above criticism, and - given that he feels a need to offer words on Martin Plaut's reputation - if there's any implication about journalism, it's that you should think carefully about if you trust a particular reporter or not.
Get it straight, pal – you are not.

He doesn't appear to think they are.
Either as individuals or organisations.

He doesn't think they are.
It's about time a little humility was allowed into your closed self-regarding little media world. But like the bankers and the MPs these days, you lot just don't get it, do you?

Yeah! You media fuckers in your little media world, you're just like the bankers and MPs in your little media bubble. Thank god an outsider like, erm, the non-executive director of one of the UK's larger indie TV producers will stand up to the media.
As for Band Aid, well, as a trustee said to me, sickened upon seeing the shameful Times cartoon which accepted the BBC story as gospel (of course)...

It's so typical of The Times, that - Murdoch's papers never miss an opportunity to show how much they love the BBC.
...without asking any questions: "We've taken it on the chin for 25 years and never said anything. Not this time."

There's been hardly any criticism of Band/Live Aid since it happened - the odd Chumbawamba album aside - and most of it has focused on how the money was raised, not how it was spent. And if there has been a quarter century of allegations that the organisation has chosen to "take on the chin"... well, that's hardly the BBC's fault.

If it was true, by the way, why now suddenly act all upset? Because it's on the World Service? That seems a little like, ooh, someone using a big name to create a fuss. You know, Bob, the thing you were complaining about a few paragraphs back?
Definitely not this time. The Band Aid Trust is reporting BBC World Service to Ofcom and the BBC board of directors, and we have requested transcripts of all interviews from the show in question from the deputy chairman of the BBC.

Or, you know, you could simply read the From Our Own Correspondent page, where the actual report turns out to be much more measured than you imply; which is more about Plaut's frustration that he never asked these questions back when it mattered and how he was too reliant on the rebel factions himself; where he throws doubt on the veracity of his main source; where he includes a long interview with Max Peberdy - who was in Tigray at the time - and who denies there was any misuse of aid. And where he reveals that he invited Bob Geldof to take part in the programme, and Geldof refused.

But Bob is making up for it now:
As you probably know anyway, but it just doesn't fit into your pompous guff this time, Band Aid has been under the most intensive scrutiny since and most particularly during the mid-80s. Quite rightly, too. We have an obligation to all those who entrusted us with their money and more particularly to those in whose name it was given. That is what I and my fellow trustees have been doing for the last 26 years. Same guys, same trust. And we ain't stopping now. Pretty weird, however, that not one, not a single one of the dozens of journalists of record and others who have travelled with me or covered Band Aid "discovered" Martin Plaut's "story" (and story is indeed what it is). Some feel the press has a right to lie. Rageh, no such right exists.

Does Bob Geldof really think that Rageh Omaar believes the press has a right to lie? I can't decide if it would be more worrying if Geldof did believe that, or if it's more worrying that he just thought making something like that up as a rhetorical device was the right thing to do.

I'm a little confused, as Geldof kicked off saying that the Band Aid trust had ignored all the allegations for the last quarter century - ""We've taken it on the chin for 25 years and never said anything. Not this time." Now he says just a few paragraphs later that the Trust has spent 26 years responding to detailed scrutiny. Can't be both, surely?

As for nobody who "travelled with me" hearing the story that Plaut did, would that be so surprising? Plaut himself says that it never occurred to him to ask the questions before; much less likely that someone on a stage-managed tour with Bob would find themselves face-to-face with a person claiming that they'd been siphoning off aid, would they?
The real story of this sorry saga is the intense systemic failure of the World Service, that cherry on the cake of the BBC's reputation.

An intense systemic failure of a cherry. A cherry on a cake.
It's a rotten old cherry these days.

The World Service is rotten cherry. And old. A rotting, old cherry.
And I am as bereft as a jilted lover. Of all the taxes I pay, I pay only one gladly – my licence fee. I am Mr World Service.

You realise that the licence fee doesn't pay for the World Service, don't you, Mr. World Service?

(And does that make you Mr Rotting Old Cherry?)
I have done ads promoting the BBC, I have written and spoken in its defence, it is indeed the BBC who started me and others on this African journey; I believe it must, at all costs, be retained very similar to what it is now, albeit cutting away the deadwood and slack. But basically: "I Want My BBC!"

One programme raises some fair questions, you refuse to take part, and all of a sudden it's systemic?
But this BBC story was neither about me nor Band Aid. By disingenuously posturing as "serious" reporting, it pretended the total failure and negligence of all the great humanitarian workers and their organisations in the worst famine in modern times, and how miraculously not one of them spotted that no one was getting food despite everyone supplying it!

This does suggest, again, that the report was insisting that 95% of all aid was redirected; confusing a quotation in the report with the thrust of the report.
It beggars belief that anyone would take that seriously.

Ah, so your threats of legal action are going to fail as you don't think anyone could have believed the reports?
Where were all the dead people then? If no one was getting food, why was nobody dying? That would have been one of the first questions I'd have asked. But they weren't dying because they were getting help, and massive amounts of it. But of course no one did ask where the bodies were at the World Service. That and many, many, other unasked questions.

Yes. Of course, had you decided to talk to the programme, instead of not, you could have helped shape the general direction of it. And, really, Plaut's report actually explains that, if there were deals with bad people, it was done with the intention of stopping people dying; to get the grain to them, not to stop it. Plaut writes:
Although I was now finally following the trail of the money and the rebel guns, I am only too aware that I was making these enquiries 20 years too late.

The aid workers who did so much to help those suffering back then had not asked those questions either. But perhaps they would not have saved so many lives if they had.

You might have to do deals with devil for the greater good - that was what the report was suggesting.

Geldof then bangs on intemperately for a few paragraphs about how terrible the World Service is. Although even if the story had been what he seems to have heard (rather than the programme everyone else tuned in to), and even if it isn't true, one tale hardly leaves a seventy year tradition in tatters. Even if it is Bob Geldof who has taken exception to the programme.
Where were the producers and editors and seniors? Why was Plaut allowed to go mad on his pre- and post- media interview circus around the world with bonkers wild accusations? Just to get an audience? Did he and the World Service for one second comprehend the enormous damage and danger he immediately put every humanitarian worker in? Particularly the huge, brave and brilliant Red Cross? Did he not consider, for one microsecond, the consequences of accusing them, with absolutely no evidence whatsoever, that they had handed over 95% of their cash to purchase arms?

Sigh. Plaut didn't accuse them of that. Aregawi Berhe made the accusation of 95%.
It literally beggars belief at the enormity of the consequence had his lie not been nailed immediately and with as much vehemence as could be mustered. How appalling the utter and total disregard or incomprehension of the result of his actions. What if the Red Cross, now compromised in their neutrality, were ordered away from war zones, or forbidden access to the deepest dungeons, or concentration camps? What then, Rageh Omaar and Martin Plaut? What then of your smug certitudes and thin pieties? Then you could report on the blood on your own hands rather than falsely smear it over the hands of others. How dare you, Rageh Omaar, attempt to defend the awful indefensible. Just for that alone, Plaut should be fired. You people, you self-important mediators of "news", should wise up and accept a little humility rather than attack the aid agencies and their workers for being above criticism and ask yourself, as I do, who the hell are you to lecture?

Wow. Naturally, Bob will now back up his rant by pointing to the places where this edition of From Our Own Correspondent has caused this sort of problem for the Red Cross.

Oh, actually he doesn't.

But then, these sort of allegations have been floating about for 25 years, claims Bob (except when he's claiming they haven't); they'd presumably have filtered back to the more paranoid and bellicose at the frontlines of conflict by now?
Just as the Ross-Brand affair exposed the systemic weaknesses of the BBC in the area of entertainment, so this now does in the news sector of the World Service – albeit with far more drastic consequences. Where were the editors, subs and producers? As the Independent rightly asked, "Did the bells not go off" early on in this sorry tale? Where were the checks, balances, neutrality, even-handedness? They all failed at the World Service. Worse, they inconsistently and continuously contradicted themselves in their ludicrously pompous Rorke's Drift-type face-saving insistence on "sticking by their story". Well, they were right in the use of the word "story".

Bob has been around the media long enough to understand that From Our Own Correspondent is a signed piece; that the programme did include other viewpoints and raised eyebrows. And banging on about Ross/Brand really pegs this as little more than a high-class version of a Daily Mail reader's comment.
Despite the on-the record refutation of everything in Plaut's report by very senior White House advisers, high-level UN delegates, senior British ex-ambassadors and diplomats, all the aid agencies, the leader of rest the Tigrayan relief group at the time, the prime minister of Ethiopia and rebel leader at the time, and me, and without a single shred of evidence, not one iota of evidence, they cannot bear to acknowledge the grim reality, the actual truth – that they were wrong. The BBC World Service is so far off the rails it quite literally cannot recognise or acknowledge truth when it encounters it.

Perhaps the allegations are untrue. However, Plaut and his wife were in Ethiopia at the time of the famine, and so he isn't some comfy-trousered UK based writer who doesn't understand the issues or the personalities involved. And he's spoken to people who have made serious allegations - is Geldof saying that he should have ignored them?

Why didn't someone from Geldof's team speak to the programme when it was being made? Why wait until the programme was broadcast, and kick up a stink afterwards - a stink which has drawn far more attention to the allegations than the original programme did?

1 comment:

Jim W said...

Bob: Thanks for kicking up a fuss and keeping this story going.

Without your continued media presence, shouting and inability to respond to reasoned criticism on the same level I'd have never heard the original piece. And very interesting it is.

It's more of an 'unfortunate' aspect in retrospect than an attack on the good intentions and achievements of Band Aid...

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