We eat your words

Learning the Truth at The Frontline Club

As an aspiring journalist, one of my favourite activities in London is visiting The Frontline Club in Paddington. This club was founded by journalist Vaughan Smith in 2003 in order to promote freedom of expression and support reporters who risk their lives, after several of Smith’s friends and colleagues of The Frontline News Agency died while pursuing their work in a warzone. It now functions as a club where people with a passion for journalism and current affairs come together to discuss all kinds of political issues, with an always-underlying theme being the dilemma journalists find themselves in when trying to reveal the truth.

It’s exactly this underlying theme that keeps me coming back to the club. While studying journalism I learned how misleading the news across all traditional media can be and after reading People Like Us: Mispresenting the Middle East, a book written by Dutch foreign correspondent Joris Luyendijk, I have never been able to watch the news without being a bit cynical. Luyendijk, whom I personally find one of the most inspiring journalists in the Netherlands, hits the nail on the head when he talks about how cultural differences between Western Europe and Palestine have given Israel a much bigger platform to express their beliefs and feelings. Exactly how is Palestine supposed to properly communicate with the world when there is a huge language barrier? The book was written almost 10 years ago and much has changed since then, but the idea of misrepresentation in the media is still incredibly valid. The book’s conclusion, in which the author states that journalism simply can’t be objective, and that the only thing journalists can do to improve objectivity is being honest about it, is therefore more relevant than ever.

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The first event I joined at the Frontline Club was about the danger of freelance foreign correspondents, which immediately made me think of this book. However, the insights that were shared this night were much more radical. I had no idea that journalists that risked their lives in order to access dangerous conflict areas hardly got paid and often weren’t insured by their employers. Neither did I know that an increasing amount of foreign correspondents are being kidnapped or even killed when they get too close to the truth. Hearing five experienced journalists talking about how hard – as in, impossible – it is to objectively report from warzones was extremely distressing and even put me off the whole idea of wanting to become a journalist for a little while. But with everything that happened throughout the last year I realised how much The Frontline Club had helped me to understand the news – and therefore the world – a little bit better, and I kept on going there.

The last event I joined was about a refugee from Afghanistan and his incredible life story. He had written a book about his journey and was there to present it and answer questions. And again I learned things that I would never have found out through the media. In The Lightless Sky, author and main character of the book Gulwali Passarlay, gives a rare insight of what it’s like being a refugee. His father and grandfather were shot by the Americans, and with himself and his brother being the only males left in the family, their mother sent them abroad in order to avoid them being taken by the Taliban, too.

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Gulwali was only 12 years old when he started his long journey through countries like Iran, Turkey and Bulgaria, and his experiences can teach us all a lot about the current refugee crisis. The journey, for example, that refugees have to go through before they arrive anywhere is a bigger battle than one could ever imagine. Having to overcome challenges like a sinking boat due to overpacking, hiding in a lorry on the ferry hoping the driver won’t turn on the refrigerator or spending three months in prison for no reason is unlike anything most people can think of, let alone having to do all that in a period full of making friends, losing them again and helping each other to survive.

Then there is the battle of arriving somewhere, be it Britain, France or Germany. The reasons so many refugees go for Britain, Gulwali explained, are the relatively easy-to-learn language, the sense of cultural and historical connection, and the fact that many refugees feel as though Britain has a certain moral responsibility towards them. Being a popular destination for refugees, however, has not made it easy for Britain to accommodate and cater for all arrivals. That this is an increasing problem, is shown by Gulwali’s experiences when arriving in Britain. As he was only 13 years old, but looked a lot older due to what he’d been through, the Home Office didn’t believe he was only a child and didn’t give him the full support he needed. Apparently, as the local governments are overwhelmed by the amount of refugees coming in monthly, this is a real issue at the moment, that doesn’t nearly get as much attention as it should.

These issues can only be solved if we know about it. And that’s why I would like to ask everyone in London to visit this club at least once – the event topics vary from climate change to the US elections and Guantanamo Bay, so there should be something for everyone. If you’re not in London, have a look at their YouTube channel, where they post recordings of most of their events. It makes you look at the news differently, and I think we can all use that in times like this.