Saturday 26 January 2019

John Simpson's Big Stories

Not the same person

Ah, the actual John Simpson Memorial Lecture was broadcast yesterday by John Simpson himself. 

The feature was presented as an "alternative news bulletin without Brexit" and is the BBC World Affairs Editor's idea of the biggest world news stories at the moment. 

Can you guess which country got the longest individual focus? (Clue: Apparently it's returned Gaza to the Stone Age and is to blame for a “superbug epidemic” there). 

Let's start with the new friendship, increasingly worrying to NATO, between Russia, Turkey and Iran. Vladimir Putin has announced he'll soon be hosting a summit of the three countries in Moscow to discuss the situation in Syria. The aim will be to find a way of dealing with the trouble in Idlib Province in Syria, but it's got implications far wider than that. A Russia-Turkey-Iran alliance is starting to be matched by an American-Israeli-Saudi one, while countries like Britain - if that is we've got any attention to spare from Brexit - or France or Germany hang around on the sidelines desperate not to get caught up in it all. 
China has continued its clampdown on people of Chinese origin who criticise its policies. A former Chinese diplomat, Yang Hengjun, who has dual Chinese-Australian citizenship, has been arrested in Guangzhou and is being held in secret. Mr. Yang has been pretty critical of China in his internet blog and, perhaps just as irritating to President Xi Jinping, he's written an apparently rather good spy thriller in which the Chinese aren't the heroes. 
A brand new Israeli politician Benny Gantz, a former military chief of staff who is emerging as a major threat to the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has produced a number of campaign videos praising Israel's war against Palestinian militants. One shows aerial footage from 2014 of Gaza in ruins, saying that 6,000 targets were destroyed. "Parts of Gaza have been returned to the Stone Age", says the commentary approvingly. That may be right in one particular aspect. An investigative report just out says that after more than 25,000 people in Gaza were injured by Israeli forces last year doctors have been battling a superbug epidemic in Gaza which is disturbingly resistant to antibiotics. 
Another study, this time from the journal Global Environmental Change, suggests that the crisis which brings boatloads of asylum seekers from North Africa to southern Europe has been created by a combination of global warming and the conflicts of the Arab Spring between 2010 and 2012. Severe drought, some political instability in North Africa and elsewhere, have impelled more and more people to try to escape to Europe. 
And that brings us to the unlikely row, which has worsened this week, between France and the new populist government in Italy. France has criticised Italy for its refusal to let rescue boats trying to save refugees dock in its ports. The Italian deputy prime minister has hit back, accusing France of creating poverty in Africa and so forcing mass migration to Europe. France called in Italy's ambassador to tick him off - something that very rarely happens in the usually equitable European Union. 
Which reminds me of a complaint I heard made by a leading climate scientist in Oxford this week. "We are getting right up close to the precipice with climate change", he said, "yet all I read about in the papers is Brexit and backstops".

Curious incidental point. I've always struggled to tell the difference between John Simpson and former BBC Trust chairman Chris Patten, as they both look exactly alike. They could be identical twins, and no one would ever to be able to tell them apart at an identity parade. [A BBC Fact]. I only discovered today that they were both born in Cleveleys, not too far from Blackpool. And they're both 74. Well, I'll go to the foot of our stairs!

Update: Here's more about this John Simpson piece - More inaccurate and context-free Gaza framing on BBC Radio 4


  1. Have they ever been seen in the same room?

    1. I'd like to see them both take DNA tests. Surely the BBC could arrange that?

    2. I would like to see the room that could accommodate them both at the same time.


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