BE SERIOUS: How can anyone be arrested for wearing a mask? Last week, a teenager was handcuffed by police for wearing a plastic Fergie face. The danger. apparently, was that Prince Andrew was in the vicinity and the mask might have caused concern.
"Members of the press had given him the mask. He was arrested for a possible breach of the peace because some of the old ladies may have taken offence," said the police. Undoubtedly a minor incident, but nonetheless an infringement of free expression in International Press Feedom Week, too.
Journalists in places like Cuba and Malawi are, of course, used to police interference in their work. Restart() Diaz, for instance. was arrested in Havana earlier this year for peacefully objecting to the country's one-party government.
IN MALAWI. writers and journalists have been imprisoned and tortured for dissent. President-for-life Hastings Banda allows leg-irons to be used in his jails and as the Catholic bishops found out last month can be ruthless in snuffing out dissent.
Some prisoners are chained naked to the floor of a cell, denied adequate food for weeks. and beaten with batons.
Malawi, though, does have its compensations. At its bordercrossing from Mozambique, there is a huge placard which declares: "Flared trousers are banned in this country", and a barber waits on standby for any male visitors with hair longer than regulations allow.
Reporting in the US can also be hazardous how would you fancy sitting in a helicopter while the people of Los Angeles shoot at you from the street'?
How come, by the way, the rioters in that city weren't put off killing people when only a week before Robert Harris was executed by California State in a gas chamber? I thought capital punishment was supposed to deter people from murder.
Los Angeles, of course, was the first US city to erupt in the 1960s, but those who investigated the Watts riots can only be horrified at the latest outburst. The violence in 1965 was bad, but a special commission was soon set up to make sure that such a thing never happened again. It reported in February 1968, but its main findings that many ghetto grievences were directed at City Hall and the local municipal authority have been substantially ignored.
FOR years, reporters have been warning of the tension, the violence and the rise in drug wars. "[he authorities, meanwhile, have responded by installing airconditioning into more houses, in the belief that people might stay off the streets during the hot summer nights if their homes were cool.
No chance. Unfortunately, the Los Angeles response reverberates through London. A book out this week on the Broadwater Farm riot (again, by an investigative journalist poking for the truth) suggests that police racism not only helped spark the violence in north London during the mid-1980s, but ensured that the Tottenham Three were wrongly convicted of the PC Blakelock murder.
David Rose (Climate of Fear, Bloomsbury Press) reveals a disturbing litany of racist attitudes among the police, many of whom.
refused to listen to the advice of locals in the months running up to the rioting.
Allegations of police racism are nothing new, but it would be nice to know that real steps are being taken to root out destructive attitudes.
Of course, while the press did much to have the trio's convictions overturned, it also had a fair bit to do with their predicament in the first place. The Sun's front page picture of Winston Silcott was not the most judicious piece of journalism, even by tabloid standards, and we all know what effect pressure from the papers had on the convictions of the Guildford Four, Birmingham Six, and Judith Ward. Let's hope Judith gets the sympathy and help she deserves from now on.
Even the best reporters are guilty of the occasional dereliction of duty. One of my first assignments (for a paper which had best remain anonymous) was to interview the Prime Minister of Malta. Preparing myself at short notice I jotted down a few notes, and imagined that the conversation would develop a natural momentum of its own, touching on international affairs. world peace. Mother Teresa and so forth.
The PM proved to be the least talkative person I have ever met, replying to my questions in monosyllables. My knowledge of Malta was thoroughly exhausted after only a few minutes, and casting around in desperation for something to say, I finally blurted: "What's your favorite colour?"
Needless to say, the conversation finished there, and I have never been so badly prepared for an interview since. Until a month ago. that is.
IN Czechoslovakia to watch Sparta Prague v Benfica (I kid you not), I was invited to meet the staff of a Czech advertising agency which represents one of the country's political parties.
As we sat in their offices overlooking Wenceslas Square, I was told that the party (one of the biggest of the dozen or so standing in the election) wanted a new, American-style ad campaign which would shoot the opposition out of the water (their phrase).
The slogans they were considering were worthy enough but, I told them, not really offensive enough to be considered American-style.
You don't, I pointed out, mention your own party on any of the posters, but attack the others by name. Get dirty throw some mud.
They just didn't have it in them. The ads made Gary Lineker look aggressive. Eventually, we embarked on a discussion of negative ads and party politics, and our own election, which was well under way.
"No doubt" said one of the executives, "the national crisis in Britain means that the election will he called off in the next 48 hours. I heard it on the radio."
"Crisis? What crisis'?" I asked, fearing the worst.
"The split between Lady Sarah and the prince of course."
I wonder if he's heard about the bloke in the mask?
Brian Dooley works for Amnesty International.