The English-language news station France 24 with its youthful, well-informed presenters makes BBC News 24 seem parochial.
France 24’s extensive coverage of Gilad Shalit’s homecoming was, from what I’ve heard, broadly similar to the BBC’s. It was the main topic for the best part of two days. The French are conscious that the Shalit family are French-Israeli, but nevertheless their coverage of the released Palestinian prisoners and their families, and the jubilant celebrations by massed Palestinians and their leadership appeared more than even handed. Did I detect that the implication of moral equivalence was more muted chez France 24? I’m not sure.
We saw snippets from Gilad’s notorious interview with Egyptian TV, the off camera Hamas minder was as invisible in France as he was here, and the translation as selective. Shalit was quoted as expressing hopes for peace, whereas the Palestinians were said to be calling for “more Gilads”.
Gilad’s haunted, gaunt appearance spoke volumes, whereas one particular Palestinian returnee hero, his countenance brimming with glee and good health was filmed uttering: “They [the Israelis] treated us like dogs!” (He must’ve meant like the British treat dogs. With his shiny coat and waggy tail he certainly looked full of Pedigree Chum)
The biggest difference between the BBC and French television’s news coverage, apart from endless analyses of the ‘Euro crisis’ was the amount of time devoted to foreign affairs, and in particular Tunisia. Well, they would be interested, wouldn’t they.
There were televised debates, discussions and speculation by ‘experts’ before, during and after the election, and although there was a palpable undercurrent of disquiet about the so-called moderate Islamist party that eventually won the expected majority, they seemed, as we do, disturbingly ready willing and able to sweep their concerns under the carpet..
One memorable debate was chaired by a youthful attractive well-informed France 24 presenter with smiley dimples.
The all-Tunisian panel consisted of a headscarved member of the Ennahda party, an Islamic scholar, a young female blogger and a secular journalist/political commentator. The gist was that the moderate Islamist party has promised to listen, be inclusive etc., that there would be continuing democracy, and not a once in a lifetime Hamas style election. There appeared to be a willingness to accept this at face value, with reservations, in an ‘only time will tell’ kind of way.
I heard the exact same thing on the Sunday programme this morning, where Jane Little chatted to speed-dial experts Prof. Paul ‘Peace Studies’ Rogers of Bradford University and our old friend Professor Fawaz Gerges from the LSE. They were happy about Tunisia, if a little uneasy about Libya and Egypt, but that’s another story.
Rachid Ghannouchi’s record of making extreme fundamentalist public utterances are being ignored, forgotten and subsumed by a tsunami of wishful thinking.
His pledge not to jeopardise Tunisia’s economic future (tourism) by ‘permitting’ the immodest sunbathing and wine-drinking that we debauched tourists require for our hols seems, for the time being, to have appeased all the pessimistic doubting Thomases out there.
He has provided enough reassurance to allay the misgivings of we sceptics who weren’t wholly seduced by the Disneyland happy ever after of the glorious Arab Spring. We are all free to believe what we want to believe, but if his pragmatic promises turn out to be worth little or nothing don’t say I didn’t warn ye.
Oh for a well-informed, attractive, rounded, unbiased BBC with a healthy interest in foreign affairs and some respect for the audience’s intelligence.