Last night I went to a couple more things at the Book Festival – not necessarily the sorts of things everyone was tweeting about (on my feed the James Tait Black Prize for Fiction was the highlight) but things that were of particular interest to me as a sometime journo and history student.
The first was a reading in the Amnesty International Imprisoned Writers series, focusing on the work of journalists Anna Politkovskaya, Hollman Morris, Marielos Monzon and Mohamed El Dahshan who variously reported conflict in Chechnya, Columbia, Guatemala and Egypt and have all been threatened (and much worse) by their governments for trying to tell the story of what has gone on in these countries.
As the first reader, journalist Catherine Mayer pointed out, these people do the kind of work that makes idealistic young folk want to get into journalism – there’s a level of integrity and courage involved in some areas of the profession that people forget about in the face of events like the phone hacking scandal. There were some scary statistics read out – 2000 journalists have been killed in the line of duty over the past 20 years, 94 in 2010 – and last year 89 countries put restrictions on freedom of expression. Sort of puts things into perspective, doesn’t it.
The second event was a debate on The Wonderfulness of Us – where three historians pondered Michael Gove’s desire to make schools teach ‘our island history’ in order to present Britain as “a beacon of liberty for others to emulate.”
He is glossing over a few things there, I fear. Were we not involved in the slave trade after all, then? But then this is a man who was overcome with worry that his six-year-old daughter wasn’t taught Greeks and Vikings in chronological order, and claimed Isaac Newton came up with the laws of thermodynamics. (He didn’t.)