Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Authors on the Beeb

Don't know if you've managed to catch Hardtalk Extra on the BBC on Fridays, but the past few weeks have provided a real feast for book lovers.

I missed Barbara Kingsolver, a few weeks back and am still kicking myself.

I caught Zainah Nawawi interviewing Ishmael Beah on Hardtalk. (Though her questions made me scream with frustration as I knew many of the answers before he opened his mouth because they're in the book!)

Our friend Hari Kunzru was interviewed on Gavin Esler about the politics of identity, and perceptions of "multi-culturalism"in Britain, and of course on how freedom of expression is vital to society. On the Rushdie debate he said that he is scared of:
... the certainty that brooks no debate or otherness
and that:
... I don't believe that there is a right not to be offended.
Last Friday I caught the interview with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who was of course talking about the Western stereotype of Africa as a basket case (and having left a big part of my heart in Nigeria, I have to agree with her) and how she finds herself increasingly forced to become a spokesperson for things African in the media even though she doesn't see herself as political.

I have to say ... I think she is stunningly beautiful ... intelligence on a face is the best cosmetic.

(You can watch the interviews of all the on the BBC website, and Adichie's is also here.)

And there's another treat this week when another of my favourite authors, Pat Barker, is interviewed.

Really a big thank you, BBC.


Chet said...

Hey, I saw that interview with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, too. She was so good, so articulate. I love her answer to the question about the Orange Broadband prize being a handout to women. I'm off to the link provided to view her answers again.

Matthew da Silva said...

"intelligence on a face is the best cosmetic" -- is that a Sharon original? If so, it's very nice.

She's absolutely gorgeous.

Africa is, however, a basket case. Sorry, but it's a fact. There's no point getting all anti-colonial and precious about it.

The number of people living in poverty has dropped significantly since 2000, I read in the Herald today. So it's not all bad news.

Australia's aid contribution equals 1.3 per cent of GDP: 15th in the world.

I believe, however, that aid is not the answer. What these countries need is a bit of discipline. Rule of law, parliamentary democracy, trust in higher institutions, personal safety, and all the other things that make life in the first world bearable.

But if you say to a person from a third-world country (I've done it several times in the past few months) that things were pretty grim in England in, say, the eighteenth century, you get a sort of blank look.

It's because you have just offended them.

Until they stop being offended and get down to making real changes in the way things are done, instead of banging on about colonialism until they feel better, they'll not progress.

Oh: by the way -- I'm A LIBERAL!!!!!

bibliobibuli said...

matthew - yes it is a sharon original and something i've long thought and observed

and yes you are right. of course.

except that there are also some good things happening and only the bad gets emphasised. (except interstingly by the bbc which has some very good programmes on africa)

i remember the people in my little corner of nigeria as remarkable - humorous, tolerant (of religion, of human difference), with a real respect and enthusiasm for education (much more than brits or malaysians).

as adichie says in the interview, there are also middle class people but who sees or cares to know about those?

Matthew da Silva said...

We have the same issue in Oz with the aborigines.

Child abuse, alcohol abuse, violence toward women, third-world living standards etc.

Many aborigines are middle class and live in nice houses, but the majority aren't.

It's not enough to blame the media. Reporters 'know' their audience and write what they think will be popular.

Blaming the media is the first refuge of scoundrels, IMHO. (No offence.)

bibliobibuli said...

then i must be scoundrel because i can often see the gap between what is the actuality and what is reported by the western media ... it's more a question of focus rather than truth or untruth

for example - cnn's coverage of the tsunami got up my nose because there was a disproportionate focus on the tourists who lost their lives as opposed to the asian victims

also disaster/ effigy burning mobs/ poverty and starvation is always more newsworthy than peace / prosperity / the status quo!

Matthew da Silva said...

But reporters are responding to market forces. They are not the problem.

The problem is low interest levels in the larger population for 'good' stories.

I agree with you but, dare I say it, I am probably more receptive to the type of stories you put forward, than the average punter.

You will see increased focus on poor Asians when they are no longer poor. When they begin to engage with the global middle class (disproportinately present in developed nations) in terms that population can understand, you'll get the type of coverage you want.

Japan is a good example.

Western youth is more attuned to Japanese fashion than their parents were. It's due to the popularity of manga and such cultural institutions as Studio Ghibli.

But Japanese reporters are still much less 'free' than those in Western nations. Hence the lingering disconnect - we are not appraised of much that happens there.

bibliobibuli said...

all very true, and that is the problem. so it's good when writers like adichie come along and redress the balance in their own small way.

guess what, they say, there's more to the issue than you read in the news. think a bit more deeeply. consider this.

novelists have a huge social responsibility.

Leon Wing said...

Just watched Pat Barker on Hardtalk Extra this Friday night. Hope you saw it too.

bibliobibuli said...

i did leon and it was excellent. her latest novel is a must-read.

Matthew da Silva said...

Sharon I totally agree with you; see my post on a recent film:

But why do we want to choose between two options? I suggest that both are requisite: journalists who ask hard questions and novelists who help form the zeitgeist those journalists depend on when 'framing' a story.