Magazine article The Spectator

Feeling over Reason

Magazine article The Spectator

Feeling over Reason

Article excerpt

The BBC, in its wisdom, has just sent me a marketed collection of broadcasts by one of its foreign correspondents, Fergal Keane, entitled Letter To Daniel, Despatches from the Heart. Most of them first appeared on Radio Four's From Our Own Correspondent, a programme where reporters have the opportunity to expand on their shorter news bulletin reports or to produce more quirky observations that don't fit in elsewhere.

Not every contributor to FOOC, as it's called, manages this very well. Some don't know how to speak a proper sentence, labouring under the monotone we are so familiar with on news bulletins. A oneminute piece just about makes listening tolerable but when it's stretched to the FOOC length of nearly five minutes it can be akin to hearing a railway station announcer locking himself in with his microphone and going mad. There were reporters such as Charles Wheeler, the late Erik de Mauny, and in more recent times David Willey, Kevin Ruane, Tim Llewellyn and Stephen Jessel who could convey their observations perceptively and sometimes wittily. Some of Jessel's lighter FOOC broadcasts were very funny, particularly his reflections on the French, among whom he lived as Paris correspondent before taking early retirement. There were others too.

What distinguished many of these reporters is that they were content to observe and report; they might reach conclusions but generally kept their own views to a minimum in the belief that listeners should be allowed to make up their own minds, especially as the organisation they worked for had a duty to be impartial and was funded by a compulsory tax. Keane's approach is different. He wants us to care. It's not enough that we should be told the facts about some ghastly foreign massacre but he wants us to cry with him. I sometimes wonder if this Oprah Winfrey of radio reporting can actually see through his car-wash of tears as he goes about his work.

Those of us who have reported foreign news have encountered many grim scenes. In Zimbabwe I found myself in the bush in Matabeleland trying to extract human limbs from a burning pit containing the bodies of innocent civilians murdered by Mugabe's North Korean-trained 5th brigade. It was a vain attempt to discover how many people had been slaughtered there. A few yards away I found the bodies of six students who had been marched off a bus and neatly shot through the head for no other reason than that they were the minority Matabele. …

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