Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘City University’

Wadah Khanfar, Al Jazeera and the Arab Spring

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 6th October, 2011

The Arab Awakening has been an emotional experience for many people in North Africa and the Middle East; I confess I too wept on 11 February when the announcement finally came in Cairo’s Tahrir Square that Hosni Mubarak had stepped down and a great roar went up from the crowd, who were just finishing their prayers. All this seen live on Al Jazeera, of course, the Qatar-based channel that streamed the Egyptian Revolution. This evening, at City University in London, the recently retired (or evicted?) Director General of Al Jazeera, the Palestinian-born Wadah Khanfar, admitted while giving his largely unscripted James Cameron Memorial Lecture that he too had wept twice during the events of the recent months. Once was when his car ran into a celebrating crowd on the Corniche in Doha on 11 February and people who recognised him entered his car and kissed him to thank him for the contribution to the Arab Spring (if one must call it that) of freedom and democracy by his channel. The second time was when an Al Jazeera reporter who had been arrested and tortured in Libya by Gaddafi’s thug apparatus came back to Doha after his release and presented Wadah Khanfar with an apple, which had been given to him by one of his jailors, who had brought it from his garden and who apologised for his treatment, thanked him for what Al Jazeera was doing and said that he and the other officers had only done what they had done because the regime was holding their wives and children hostage.

After the lecture, I asked Wadah if the fact that he had been replaced as Director General by a member of Qatar’s ruling family might signal a change in editorial policy. He said no, and I would like to believe him. But there is no doubt that several rulers in the Gulf were very angry about Al Jazeera’s initial reporting of the crackdown against demonstrators in Bahrain. And I fear that if the Arab Awakening does eventually sweep through the GCC states, Al Jazeera might be emasculated and then die.



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London Region LibDem Conference

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 14th November, 2009

City UniversityLondon Liberal Democras gathered at City University in Islington today for the last autumn regional conference before next year’s elections. Most pundits believe that the general and local polls will be held on the same day (first Thursday in May, 2010), which is something much of the rest of the country often has to cope with but is a distinct rarity in the capital. The prospect is viewed with mixed feelings, as was clear from contributions from several speakers at the conference, including councillors who may have to garner twice as many votes (on an increased turnout) this time round than they did last time, in order to to retain their seats. However, the mood was nonetheless upbeat. True, few shared Simon Hughes’s rosy forecast that the LibDems might almost double their number of London MPs — from eight to 15 — next year. But even the most theoretically vulnerable sitting MP — Susan Kramer in Richmond Park — was surprisingly confident because of positive feedback she’s been getting on the doorsteps. Ed Fordham (Hampstead and Kilburn) spoke on behalf of target seat candidates who are increasingly making their voices heard among the electorate. And both Ashley Lumsden (Lambeth) and John Macklin (Waltham Forest) were hopeful that there could be strong gains in several London borough councils as well. I am looking forward to being part of the regional support team for all this forthcming activity, having today been elected to be the next Chairman of London Region LibDems (taking office on 1 January), as well as working with colleagues to improve dramatically the party’s performance in London list elections.

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Joan Bakewell’s James Cameron Lecture

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 8th October, 2009

Joan BakewellDame Joan Bakewell — once memorably described by Frank Muir as ‘the thinking man’s crumpet’ and now a champion for fellow septuagenarians — last night gave the James Cameron Memorial Lecture to a large audience at London’s City University.  Her title was ‘The Keeper of the Flame: morality and the media’, which gave her plenty of opportunity to decry the fall in standards in public broadcasting, as well as reminding us that the BBC’s Lord Reith was himself a rather dogmatic, crusty old fart (not her phrase). Nonetheless, the core mission he established for the Corporation — to educate, inform and entertain — remains a sound one of which current BBC management would well benefit from reminding themselves. A central thesis of Joan Bakewell’s elegant and beautifully-delivered lecture was that the BBC’s moral purpose has been compromised by the modern emphasis on ratings and cost-cutting. Programme budgets continue to be slashed, though not top executives’ salary packages. While not new, Joan’s contention that the rot set in with Duke Hussey’s dismissal of Alistair Milne and his replacement by John Birt and Birtism in the mid-1980s, that is a point constantly worth making. It may be unrealistic to look back to some supposed Golden Age of Broadcasting (as Joan correctly said, some of the programmes of the 1950s and 1960s were technically pretty awful), but it is true that there has been dumbing down, Arts and Culuture are no longer given the weight that they had before and the level of bad language and bad behaviour on air is enough to make Lord Reith spin in his grave.

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Rose Collis on Nancy Spain, Coral Browne and Colonel Barker

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 18th February, 2009

rose-collis   I took a break from campaigning and work this evening, to go to hear my friend Rose Collis talking about her writing, at Brompton Library in Earl’s Court. When I first met her she was working on her biography of the Daily Express columnist, cookery writer and lady about town Nancy Spain and it was interesting to learn tonight that there was no Nancy Spain archive to work from when she started. So she had to construct one — something I am having to tell some of my students on the M.A. Non-Fiction Writing Course at City University. Rose has a knack of picking somewhat offbeat subjects; her second book was about Colonel Barker, who gave birth to two children when married to a man as a woman, then married a second time while fooling everyone — including the little wife from Littlehampton — that she was a man. Then last but not leastcame Rose’s biography of the wonderfully gutsy Australian actress Coral Browne, immortalised for me as doubtless for many others for her performance as herself in Alan Bennett’s teleplay about her visit to Moscow to see Guy Burgess, An Englishman Abroad.

Rose had terrible problems getting that last book published, but perseverence paid off. After eleven publishers had turned the idea down, it was twelfth time lucky. A lesson to us all. But like most of us freelance writers and journalists, she cannot live by her pen (or computer) alone, so has carved out an interesting alternative niche for herself, not only giving talks (as many of us do), but also walkie-talkie tours round Brighton, in whose cemeteries she has now evinced a burning passion.

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A la recherche du Proust perdu

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 2nd November, 2008

  This week I will start teaching a new course on writing non-fiction at City University in London, the first class being on Nostalgia and Selective Memory, with Marcel Proust’s Du côté de chez Swann as the core text. As I haven’t read the opening volume to  A la recherche du temps perdu since I was at university myself, I’m spending the weekend reacquainting myself with the text, by coincidence in Paris, whither I came from Stockholm, staying in the same area of the Xème arondissement where I had a tiny studio flat nearly 30 years ago.

Paris is the ultimate city to walk in, full of small neighbourhood shops of the kind that have been squeezed out by high rents in most areas of London. Many are the same as were here when I left all that time ago, or else are being run by the sons or nephews of the proprietors I knew. As I head across town towards the Boulevard Haussmann, I can imagine the invalid Proust in situ there, and the smell of baguettes and fresh coffee in the morning brings back memories of times lost but not forgotten.

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