Europe’s unrequited love for Britain

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First published in Spanish-language online magazine esglobal

Britain must be feeling loved. Europeans from all walks of life have been expressing their kinship with the British as they prepare to determine their relationship with the European Union. Hashtags have mushroomed from #hugabrit to #PleaseDontGoUK and European celebrities and leaders have been gushing in their praise for Britain’s role in shaping Europe’s institutions. But the feeling isn’t mutual. Britain’s relationship with the EU has always been strained and within a matter of days it could be severed entirely. Brexit or Bremain, it is unclear whether the relationship will fizzle out or flare up.

According to Pew research, some 70 per cent of Europeans say Britain leaving the UK would be a bad thing, whilst only 16 per cent are in favour of the prospect. It is clear that most Europeans think that Britain is an integral part of the EU and that a Brexit would leave Europe at least culturally much less diverse as a result.

In what was described as a love letter to the British, prominent Europeans, ranging from Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, to French footballer Frank Laboeuf and German Nobel Prize winner Herta Muller urged Britain to stay.

“It is your decision, and we will all accept it,” they say. Nevertheless, if it will help the undecided to make up their minds, we would like to express how very much we value having the United Kingdom in the European Union.”

Other prominent Europeans – referred to as “Euro luvvies” by the Daily Mail – have also expressed their appreciation of the British. The Spanish author Javier Marías says his love of British films and literature made Britain seem as familiar and European to him as the streets of his hometown of Madrid. Many Europeans cite British cultural icons Monty Python as a reason to love Britain with their deferential sense of humour. But most are probably unaware that John Cleese, its front man, has opted for Brexit and this time, he’s not joking. It is yet another example of Europe’s unrequited love.

In politics, the response to this love bombing from Europe’s leading lights has been muted. Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron has been put in the awkward position of campaigning for the EU despite being highly critical of its institutions. He has had to contend with a strong anti-EU element within his own party and was able to exempt the UK from aspiring to an “ever closer union among the peoples of Europe” as part of his pre-referendum negotiations. However, as a backbencher, Cameron was much more vocal in his criticism, accusing the EU of trying “to breaks down national identities”.

The leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn has also only been able to muster lukewarm support for the EU. Much like Cameron, he had a reputation for being a eurosceptic but had to change tack once taking leadership of his party. He is still more likely to speak out against the EU rather than praise its achievements.

Meanwhile, Brexit campaigners have accused the EU of being at the root of all Britain’s problems. Those supporting remain are portrayed as being part of the establishment elite and out of touch with common people despite Pew figures showing that 57 per cent of 18-34 are in favour of the EU. Former London Mayor Boris Johnson even compared the EU to a Nazi superstate. And still, the accolades for the British keep rolling in.

If there is any kind of pro-EU sentiment in Britain, it is most keenly felt in Scotland and amongst Green party supporters. Green Party leader Caroline Lucas said she promised to be “loud and proud” about backing Britain’s membership. But overall, it is difficult to find a passionate European anywhere between Lands End in the south and Scotland’s Orkney Islands in the north.

Meanwhile, the response to the vitriol from Westminster has largely been brushed aside in the conference rooms and corridors of Brussels and until recently it was felt that Britain would ultimately opt to remain. But as the date approaches, Brexit has increasingly become the elephant in the room.

More recently, evidence of a vindictiveness has started to show. The popular French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron says France’s bi-lateral relationship with Britain will be affected. He said a Brexit could jeopardise the so-called Le Touquet agreement that allows Britain to keep migrants on the French side of the Channel. In an interview with the Financial Times he said Calais’ makeshift immigration camps known as the Jungle could move onto the other side of the Channel. Could this be one of many ways in which European leaders will seek to punish the British?

The correspondent for France’s La Liberation daily Jean Quatremer said the French should have no regrets if Britain leaves. In an editorial, he mocks the stupidity of the British for even contemplating a Brexit when, he says, Europe has already moulded itself around British ideals and where 28 nations already speak its language. He states that Europe would be far better off without the meddling of Britain’s eurosceptics. Revealingly, in the Pew survey, 32 per cent of French people say Brexit would be a good thing, compared to only 8 per cent of Swedes, who are the most positive amongst Europeans about Britain’s role in the EU. In Italy, 23 per cent said a Brexit would be a good thing and in Spain, 16 per cent see it as a positive development. Among the Germans, 16 per cent of those questioned see Brexit as a positive.

Within Berlaymont, the mood has been mostly restrained. Many meetings have been carrying on as usual in an attempt to maintain an atmosphere of business as usual despite fears that a Brexit could be a major blow to the European project.

EU Council President Donald Tusk said it could have far-reaching consequences and even suggested it could destroy Western civilisation. As a Pole, Tusk’s opinion illustrates the view of many Eastern Europeans, who have championed the UK’s role in the EU. For these former Soviet countries, the role of national sovereignty and the importance of an intergovernmental EU, have been specially treasured, much like the UK. The Czechs, the Poles, and other Eastern European countries would grow wary of an EU without the UK where the weight of Germany would proportionately grow – Germany is often Eastern Europe’s closest ally, but World War history has not been forgotten. With France’s economy performing poorly and with the country’s structural problems –and social protests—making reform very difficult, the UK is the only ‘balance’ to Germany.

The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel also made a last-minute intervention, saying Britain could be left with a raw deal if it leaves. Merkel had promised to stay out of the Brexit debate but seems to have changed her mind as the Leave campaign gathers momentum. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble was the only German politician to travel to the UK to campaign for the country to remain in the EU. In an interview with Spiegel he was categoric that a vote for Brexit would rule out remaining in the single market in a deal similar to Switzerland and Norway. “In is in. Out is out,” says Schäuble.
Britain’s closest allies within the EU have been the Dutch and the Scandinavian countries. The Dutch feel they could be sidelined if Britain are to go. Meanwhile the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, warned that British expats could forfeit their rights to live in Spain if they vote to leave the EU.

“I have no doubt whatsoever, as I have repeatedly stated, that it would be very negative if the United Kingdom left the European Union. Negative for everybody, for the United Kingdom, for Spain, and for the European Union,” Rajoy told the Spanish news agency EFE.

It is only Europe’s far-right parties, such as Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France and Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom in the Netherlands that see Brexit as a positive development. Wilders said that by leaving, Britain could ‘liberate’ Europe for the second time, referring to Britain’s defeat of the Nazis in the Second World War.

Russia’s Vladimir Putin is also thought to favour a Brexit as a means to weakening the EU.

But in general, most foreign leaders seem to have Britain’s best interests at heart as was demonstrated by US President Barack Obama’s surprising intervention strongly in favour of Britain within the EU.

The goodwill shown by European leaders has until now been largely unconditional despite a constant flow of criticism from across the Channel. Whether that goodwill can survive a Brexit is uncertain. European leaders have certainly hinted that things could change for the worse for Britain. Despite its many failings, many of Europe’s leaders feel the EU has achieved its core goal of keeping the peace for the last seventy years. Britain’s attempt to undermine this could alter the status quo. Like any divorce – if Brexit is to go ahead – the best you can hope for is that it’s amicable.

Yahoo has the potential to disrupt online search, says analyst Alex Cho

First published for a Paris-based media startup

Alex Cho pic

INTERVIEW : Alex Cho, technology expert and contributor to Seeking Alpha

SUMMARYYahoo and Microsoft have reached new terms on their partnership, adding a termination clause in its search deal.  Technology analyst Alex Cho argues that this will give Yahoo new momentum to disrupt the online search market.

After years of sitting on the sidelines and watching Google dictate the pace, Yahoo may finally be ready to compete.  Cho predicts that its new found freedom as a result of its termination clause with Microsoft that will allow them “to monetize around 49 pct of desk-top search” will justify the costs of building new in-house technologies “to create a different kind of search engine.”

Barrier to entry

But competing with Googe won’t be easy as Cho points out for two reasons.  Firstly, Google has marketing built in to its product, which means that its adjacent services are rated higher than those of its competitors.

“Just the sheer value that Google is able to derive from its services is so massive that it is not even feasible for a smaller company to act on the same scale,” says Cho.

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Secondly, the fact that online search was conceived as a free tool since its inception means “demand is maximized out at the zero dolar point.”

Leader turned follower, turned leader (perhaps)

In the late 1990s, Yahoo was the “gateway portal to every other website” and Google was just a reasearch project out of Stanford university.  Its dominant position led it to believe that it could buy out Google if it ever became a threat to its dominance.  At the time, Yahoo was championing the directory listing approach which was standard and it was only after Google moved towards the current search engine model that Yahoo realised that it would need to adapt or die.  It was at this point that Yahoo joined forces with Microsoft and Bing, but by then Google had earned its reputation as the market leader in online search.

In Cho’s view, Yahoo’s creatvity was stymied by its partnership with Microsoft in the early part of the millenium.  He thinks the possibility to develop in-house technologies will now be far greater as a direct result of the termination clause.

Look mum, no hands !

The first area where Yahoo will be able to comptete, says Cho, is mobile as that is where the “vast majority of ad dollars are going to be growing.”  However, mobile is not necessarily limited to online search on mobile phones but the potential that is afforded by the growing eco-system of the Internet of Things.  Connected devices will be a key area of growth and one Yahoo will need to exploit. Cho believes the future lies in a kind of “universal assistant” that talks – quite literally using voice recognition technology –  to a host of different applications and devices.

“The very meaning of search might change from just simply looking up information that’s out there on the web to looking for information that’s across all software applications that are installed on your device,” says Cho.

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Context is everything

Another area where Yahoo will have to funnel resources is contextualized search.  According to Cho, Yahoo is pulling together data on users to generate relevant search results.  It is an area where Google is already strong but Cho believes there may be scope to operate in a different way.

Search versus social

Although search engines are still a fundamental part of the experience of surfing the web, research has shown that they may have reached saturation point.  Cho explains that online search or “Googling” has become such an integral part of everyday life in the developed world that potential for growth is essentally pegged to birth and mortality rates.  The way people search is of course changing and the explosion of social networks over the past decade has meant people are using search engines less and social networks more to find out information about the world around them.

Conclusion

Cho believes that if Yahoo and other search engines are to remain relevant, they will need to adopt a disruptive approach that will take into consideration new technologies, such as voice recognition and the Internet of Things.  To succeed, they will have to accept and work alongside social networks by further developing contextualised search and extracting deep links, such as tweets, Instagram photos and status updates.

The future, says Cho, may reside in a kind of “universal assistant” that can communicate between applications and devices as we are beginning to see with cloud technology.

I shot the video of the Chelsea racists in Paris – and it makes me miserable

When my family emigrated to London from Ireland, football was one of the things that enabled us to assimilate. Can it become that positive force again?

When I shot the video of Souleymane S being abused by Chelsea supporters on the Paris metro I knew it had to be seen by a wider audience. It was horrible to witness a fellow human being treated that way and I knew that anyone who saw it would be shocked. Seeing the video go viral also stirred up a lot of emotion in me. It made me think about my ambivalent relationship to the sport that’s supposed to be the great leveller – football.

My first and only memories of attending a game are of watching Fulham in the mid-1980s with my dad and brother. I was disappointed. I remember hearing my dad talking about the skill it took to curve a ball and waiting in anticipation for something amazing to happen at corner kicks. I didn’t get it. I strained to look through the crowds of people to catch a glimpse of the players gently jogging up and down the pitch, occasionally breaking into a sprint before skidding down onto the wet grass. Every time a player miskicked, the crowd burst into a chorus of abuse. My muted response to the whole experience resulted in me never being taken again.

That contrasts strongly with my dad’s first memories of football in the early 1960s. He was in his late teens and early 20s and would go with his brother, John, to see Fulham, their local club. They were Irish immigrants from Doon, County Kerry and lived with their parents in a one-bedroom flat in West Kensington, which was a poor part of town back then. For my dad and John, football was a way to connect with their surroundings. They had abandoned what was left of their livelihood in Ireland after 14 cows they owned died of a mysterious illness, and set sail as a family for England. It was a difficult time to be Irish. Football offered a chance to develop a relationship with a culture that was otherwise mostly hostile.

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‘Seeing the video go viral stirred up a lot of emotion in me. It made me think about my ambivalent relationship to the sport that’s supposed to be the great leveller – football.’ Photograph: Jon Super/AP

It’s a period of his life he speaks about fondly and he is still a loyal Fulham fan today, albeit from the comfort of his sofa and a Sky Sports subscription. For my dad, football was a way to find his place in his adopted society. The power it held for him as an immigrant – the way it opened a door for him and enabled him to belong – is something to celebrate.

The video I shot in the Paris metro shows football in a very different light, however. It is about blatant racism and how a group of yobs thinks it can get away with it. Other videos that have subsequently come to light – at King’s Cross St Pancras and on a London-to-Manchester train show that it is not just a handful of drunk Englishmen abroad. It’s an attitude that’s more entrenched. When I think of the positive part football played in my dad’s life – and has played for countless other immigrants to these shores – it makes me miserable.

Looking back at that evening at the Richelieu Drouot metro station, I feel disappointed that people did not show more solidarity with Souleymane S, myself included. Shortly after the metro departed, he blended back into the crowd and I lost track of him after I boarded the next train.

If there’s anything positive to come out of the experience, perhaps it’s a renewed awareness that racism has no part to play in football. My dad’s story shows that the sport has the potential to be a force for inclusiveness. Let’s hope it can be again. The game should be something that binds us together, not splits us apart.

End of an era for African news agency AITV

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For those following this blog, you will have noticed that my most recent postings have been content produced for the news agency AITV. They are a Paris-based arm of France Televisions that produces video content for African television and other TV channels that focus on African news. AITV standing for the generic-sounding Agences Internationales d’Images de Télévisions.  I was employed as a freelancer to work on their English language desk, producing video sent from colleagues across Africa. It was an enjoyable place to work and so it is regrettable that it will be officially defunct within a few days, the 7th of December, I believe.

That said, former colleagues of mine say they are not giving up the fight – at least not until the plug has literally been pulled.  News production is continuing aplenty in the hope – probably vain – that it will be miraculously plucked from the abyss. If it does go under, it will definitely be a loss on a number of fronts. Firstly, and most importantly, it is a public service that has real journalistic merit.  AITV employs 28 staff in Paris as well as freelancers like myself and regular correspondents in Africa. Despite being a sinking ship, almost all the journalists have refused to jump, partly because of diminished opportunities for journalists, but also for a real connection and passion for their job. In today’s market that’s a rare commodity so it’s a shame that wasn’t capitalised on. AITV has built up a formidable network of journalists and fixers in Africa and has a treasure trove of footage dating back to its creation in 1986. It documents the end of the independence era and the potholed road towards nation building. It should have been the shiny new thing that stole the thunder from the increasingly influential Radio France Internationale (RFI). After all, its initial raison d’être must have been to emulate this behemoth of broadcasting on the African continent, just with pictures. So what went wrong? Or did it even go wrong?

In truth, it’s hard to say. The fact that it’s being scrapped doesn’t necessarily mean that it has become irrelevant.  Indeed, it is highly relevant to the many who tune in to watch, either on France O (the France Overseas Info Afrique news bulletin), France 24, TV5, or the 60 African news channels that use its content daily. Its output combines on the ground knowledge with slick production from an experienced team of journalists in Paris. It had a pan-African approach that built bridges and contributed to a common sense of identity. Why shouldn’t challenges in Botswana shed light on similar ones in Benin or Togo. Wouldn’t Kenyans be more likely find common cause with South Africans or Nigerians or vice-versa if a media landscape allowed a window into each others daily existence as AITV has been doing.  Budget-squeezed African news channels are unlikely to dedicate resources to such noble causes. And yet there still seems to be very little political will at least in France to keep AITV on life support.

In my opinion, one of the reasons why AITV has been vulnerable for the chop is its extremely low profile. The reason I heard of AITV was because a friend and colleague informed me of freelancing possibilities. A quick Google search revealed an AITV wikipedia page but little else. Not only did it have little online presence itself, it seemed as if nobody was talking about it. Ok, you could say that AITV is a news agency so doesn’t need to generate a buzz. As long as it’s on the receiving end of public funds and its content is getting used, then why go to the extra effort of trying to engage with the end user, i.e the viewer?  Though, if it had gone that extra mile in engaging an audience, I think it would have garnered more sympathy from the public. As it stands, people aren’t going to fight to save something they hardly know exists. The AITV staff have put up a worthy fight led from the front by trade unionist Didier Givodan that included a sit-in demonstration during the broadcasting of France 2’s flagship evening news bulletin. That was brave and helped put AITV on the media map but was probably futile. Other efforts have since helped such as the setting up of a Daily Motion page of the AITV-produced Info-Afrique bulletin and an informative Facebook page to win public support. But for an organisation where image is paramount, why did it thoroughly reject its own?

AITV came into existence during the first Francophonie summit in 1986 celebrating a shared cultural heritage and language. Its demise coincides with the 15th such summit currently taking place in Dakar. The fact that this worthy journalistic entreprise has been relegated to junk status by the French powers-that-be speaks volumes about France’s vision of itself in the world.  But perhaps not in the way you might first think. Whilst it could be interpreted that this is a symbol of France abandoning its neo-colonial ambitions in Africa, it is more likely an act of cowardliness. After all, who in France is going to mourn the loss of something that has been going by the decidedly unsexy name of International Agency of Television Images?  By axing AITV, France is casting aside its better instincts and its ability to stand up to the frenzied and unprincipled world of 24 hour news.

Senegalese commander releases controversial new book on military corruption

Controversial book “For the Honour of the Senegalese Gendarmerie” detailing corruption within Senegal’s military police causes storm in Dakar upon release in Paris. The book alleges that vast sums of money were given by the authorities to the rebellion in the southern Casamance region.

Report by Aziz DIEDHIOU; commentary by Paul Nolan; shot by Chiekh Gaye; edited by Thierry WAONGO. Produced for AITV at FRANCE TELEVISIONS. No access to footage, rights belong exclusively to AITV

Interview 1: Jean Léopold GUEYE, Secretary General for the National Grouping of Former Combatants of Senegal.
Interview 2: Yoro DIA, Political analyst
Interview 3: Augustin TINE, Senegalese Minister for the Armed Forces

VIDEO: Interview with South African artist Bruce Clarke

My video for think tank, Thinking Africa.

The artist Bruce Clarke speaks in his studio in Paris about his project Hommes Débout (Upright Men) commemorating 20 years since the genocide in Rwanda. These paintings pay tribute to the victims by painting directly on the memorial sites in Rwanda. They are also exhibited or projected on symbolic places around the world (Geneva, Paris, Brussels).

L’artiste Bruce Clarke parle dans son atelier à Paris de son projet Les Hommes Débout (Upright Men) qui commémore 20 ans depuis le génocide au Rwanda. Ces peintures rendent hommage aux victimes au moyen de peintures directement sur les lieux de mémoire au Rwanda et accrochées ou projetées sur des lieux symboliques ailleurs dans le monde (Genève, Paris, Bruxelles).