Thursday, October 28, 2010


The Federación de Asociaciones de Periodistas de España (FAPE) which represents over 20,000 journalists in Spain has issued a strongly worded condemnation of Morocco’s banning of seven Spanish journalists from visiting the Western Sahara.

They were meant to fly from Casablanca to El Aaíun in the Western Sahara to report on the death of a 14-year-old boy in an incident on Sunday. The group representing Efe, Cadena SER, TVE, TV3 and El Mundo were due to travel with Royal Air Moroc but at the last minute were told their tickets had been withdrawn.

The journalists were all accredited to work in Morocco but since July 1 the Ministry of Communications has restricted foreign journalists to the capital Rabat unless they have been given specific permission to report from elsewhere.

FAPE stressed to the Moroccan authorities that in Spain the media was allowed to work freely and this was the norm in all democratic countries. It also restated the words of Morocco’s monarch, Mohammed VI, who promised three years after taking over the throne to honour press freedom. At the time he stated: “We want to reaffirm our firm decision to consolidate the freedom of the press, to preserve information pluralism and to guarantee the modernization of the sector that represents one of the pillars of our project for a modern democratic society.”

Spain’s relations with Morocco are fraught at the best of times. On one level there is the normal day to day relationship based on being neighbours across the Strait of Gibraltar. More difficult is the situation regarding the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla which Spain views as being an integral part of the country whilst Morocco sees Spain as an occupying power. Then there is the Western Sahara which was literally abandoned by Spain in the dying days of Franco and left to Morocco and Mauritania to administer. When Mauritania withdrew Morocco annexed the area. Since then the people of the Western Sahara have sought independence but Morocco will only offer autonomy and moves towards that status have been slow in starting.

The Moroccan government has accused the Western Sahara independence movement Polisario and its backer Algeria of using journalists to politicise social demands by protestors who have set up a tent camp near the Saharan capital El Aaíun. Morocco perceives Spanish media as often siding with Polisario and has accused Algeria of using Spanish journalists in a “media war” against Morocco.

The incident the Spanish journalists wanted to cover was the killing of 14-year-old Najem el-Guareh near the protest camp on Sunday. There are two versions of the story. The Moroccan Interior Ministry stated on Tuesday that two cars tried to force their way through a police checkpoint. In one of the cars was Ahmed Daoudi, a known criminal who was transporting weapons in order to take revenge on the protestors who had expelled him from their camp. The occupants of one of the cars opened fire, forcing police to respond.

The camp residents tell a different story. According to the Spanish newspaper El País they denied the car occupants had opened fire. El-Guareh was shot. Several others, including Daoudi, were reportedly injured with at least one other person is reported to be in a serious condition.

On Wednesday it was reported that the mother of Najem el-Guareh had made an official complaint against the Gendarmería Real officers who shot him. She has also refused to accept his body until a post-mortem and investigation is carried out.

The demonstrators are demanding social improvements such as better housing. Morocco has cut down on the construction of social housing because of the economic crisis. The protest was taking separatist undertones, though it was not initially believed to be associated with Polisario.

Even the size of the camp is open to dispute with Morocco saying there are 1,000 protestors whilst Spanish sources say 10,000. However until Morocco opens up its country and the Western Sahara to the international news media the truth will never be known and in turn Morocco cannot be considered a modern democratic nation.

(The above article appeared in Panorama and a version of the above in The Morning Star on October 28 and 29 2010).


I admit to watching Fox News on a daily basis. I should add I also watch the BBC, NBC, CNN, Sky, Al Jazeera, a variety of Spanish stations plus one in France with news in English I can’t remember the name of.

I watch Fox because I want to know what the far right and Republican minds in the USA are thinking – ok what Rupert Murdoch is thinking - and it’s not pretty.

My one friend in my visits to Fox has been Juan Williams – who has been deemed as Murdoch’s token Liberal (that is Liberal in US terms) amongst the mad men such as Bill O’Reilly, Glen Beck and Sean Hannity – the high priests in Rupert’s scary church. What he did was bravely and alone offer a fair and balanced non-Republican view on a station that slavishly follows Murdoch’s far right agenda.

Now all that has changed. Williams apart from being a Fox contributor was till last week a broadcaster on NPR – the supposedly liberal radio news network.

He was fired because in a TV debate with Bill O’Reilly in which he denounced the self-opinionated presenter’s phrase that “Muslims” were responsible for the 9/11 terror attacks – they were Al Qaeda members said Williams – he went on to say if after the attacks he saw somebody who was obviously a Muslim on his flight he was nervous.

For that NPR sacked him but the fact is the majority of US citizens feel the same way. I flew several times in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and shared his fear. It doesn’t make me anti-Muslim just a nervous flyer who at that time felt even more nervous still.

Back at the time when black on black crime in New York was rife Jesse Jackson said: “There is nothing more painful to me ... than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery, then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved.”

Nobody is going to be so stupid as to suggest that Jackson is anti-black any more than Williams (or I come to that) are anti-Muslim.

Needless to say there is now a furore in the USA over William’s sacking – with the flames being stoked up by Fox News. There are calls for NPR to lose any government funding it might receive – calls that may well be answered by Congress after the mid-term elections. Fox will certainly try to insist they address the question.

There are two tragedies here. First that Juan Williams, a fair and decent man who has broadcast with NPR for over a decade, has been sacked for his remark. Secondly that Fox has used the opportunity to step in to the breach and give him what I read is a $2 million three year contract. He will now be their full-time token Liberal but one has to wonder how soon the novelty will wear off - for him and them – once his view of the world clashes as it only can with Murdoch’s world.

There is a third looming tragedy. Williams has been hurt by his treatment by NPR and whereas in the past he has distanced himself from his fellow Fox News colleagues he now embraces them as they want to embrace him. Two million is a lot of money and one has to question if Williams isn’t selling his soul in accepting the Murdoch dollar?

In his book “The Blair Years” Alastair Campbell recounts Australian PM, Paul Keating, talking to him about Murdoch when Tony Blair addressed his News Corp executives down under in 1995. He said: “You have to remember with Rupert, it’s all about Rupert. Rupert is number 1, 2, 3 and 4 as far as Rupert is concerned. Anna and the kids come next and everything else is a long, long way behind.”

On that basis Williams is not even on Murdoch’s radar except if he is paying the man $2 million he believes the return for him and Fox will be even greater. The frying pan may have been bad but is William’s prepared for the Fox fire?

(The above article appeared on October 25 2010 on The Comment Factory website).

Monday, October 18, 2010


On September 29 I joined many other people in Spain and supported the general strike. Although I have reservations about strikes, a subject to which I will return, I did so because whilst I accept that strong measures are required to solve the financial crisis making the weak and vulnerable pay for the sins of the bankers is not the solution nor is it just.

José Javier Cubillo, national organisation secretary of the UGT, said the strike had drawn the support of 70 per cent of workers of whom 10 million had been called out. The union, along with its CC.OO partners, insisted this meant the government had to reconsider its tough economic and labour reform policies.

So what did the strike achieve? If we are talking of the objectives of the unions - nothing! The government is sticking to its cuts. Moodys down graded Spain’s credit rating from Aaa to Aa1 shortly after whilst the centre right Partido Popular gained a few points in the opinion polls making it even more likely they will form the new government in 2012. Their policies will be tougher than socialist PSOE.

I want to go back to the East End of London in 1926 the year of the General Strike. By then my uncle Len was a communist. My maternal grandmother – his sister and a socialist all her life - was bringing my mother up on her own after being widowed when her young husband was struck down by TB.

Life for that working class generation was tough. There was neither the social welfare safety net nor the national health service that we take for granted today.

It was my grandmother who was the rock on which I forged my early values. Yet the most telling moment came in the late 1960s when I went in to her room where she was watching TV. The news was about another strike and tears were running down her cheeks. She was so furious with the actions of the unions that she could not contain herself as she felt they were destroying everything the union and Labour movements had fought so hard to build up.

Certainly the world she now viewed about her was vastly different from the one she had been a teenager and a young adult in. She held firmly to her core socialist beliefs but believed the unions were knocking down what had been built up with so much pain. Her feelings struck a chord in my soul.

Although the General Strike of 1926 is now a part of the socialist and union movement heritage it lasted ten days and totally failed in its objectives of preventing wage reduction and worsening conditions for the miners. The unions’ winter of discontent of 1979 did more to usher in the Thatcher era than anything the Labour Government of Jim Callaghan did. Then as now in Spain we are railing against a socialist government in the full knowledge that the outcome will almost certainly be a centre-right government which will hammer the people even harder.

There is something noble about a person having the inalienable right to withdraw his or her labour and to strike to defend their rights or the rights of others. Yet when in the days of the cotton mills that could bring production to a crashing halt or a dock strike could prevent the mill receiving its raw materials or exporting its finished product the reality today is very different.

In an age when money or information can be passed around the world in a split second, or a factory can be relocated to Eastern Europe or Asia, we are still manning pickets, waving banners, marching and shouting slogans. The world has passed our mode of protest by. Whilst I joined the strike on September 29 because I believed a stand had to be made against the wrongs that were being committed against pensioners, public service employees, those in work and the unemployed in the name of clearing up the mess left by the financial sector – I did so in the full knowledge that it would amount to nothing. Indeed the end result could be a switch from a socialist to a centre right government.

Governments today, regardless of political persuasion, dance to a different beat and centre right Sarkozy is no more going to back down on pension reform in France than centre left Zapatero is in Spain. In the future if we are to take on governments or employers and win the battle for social justice we will need a new armoury.

Unions have a problem. Ninety-five per cent of their work is defending the rights of workers, negotiating with management, education – and if the truth were told a good union is an important part of our economic engine as any entrepreneur. Yet it goes totally unreported. What the public is aware of is the set piece strikes and more often than not these efforts are unsuccessful. Unions worldwide in this modern age are fighting 21 st century battles with 19 th century weapons - that has to change and fast.

(The above article appeared in the Morning Star on September 17 2010)