12/05/2008 Almost Human
Walking through Amsterdam gives one time to chew on thoughts and experiences. Wednesday evening I was walking back home from the De Balie, a centre for culture and politics, located at Leidseplein. I had attended the presentation of the book The Engineerable News (Het Maakbare Nieuws)’. The anthology comprises twelve essays written by twelve Dutch correspondents in response to the controversial book Almost Human (Het zijn net mensen) by Joris Luyendijk.
In his best seller, of which more than 200,000 copies have been sold, the former Middle East correspondent argued that balanced journalism is impossible in countries with a dictatorial regime. In Egypt, Irak and China for example reliable statistics and sources of information are missing. So how can you produce a trustworthy article? In his opinion, the highest level of journalism a foreign correspondent can reach in those countries is a well educated guess. Meanwhile the readers are expecting to get the real stories. That is a misunderstanding and it should be communicated clearly to the audience, according to Luyendijk.
Both venues at De Balie were sold out. That was remarkable, considering it was a stunning spring evening which made it very tempting to enjoy one of the many out door cafes in Amsterdam. Before the actual presentation of the book, Joris Luyendijk discussed the issue with Bram Vermeulen, Africa correspondent of the Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad. Even though they agreed on the main points, they both were talking past each other without really listening to eachother.
On the way back home I realized why both journalists had been talking in this parallel way. Joris Luyendijk wanted to stress the important role of public perception. This is a rather abstract and most of the times theoretical issue. On the other hand, Bram Vermeulen said he was triggered by the challenges of the craft. ‘What is more beautiful than the insecurity caused by the unknown or solving puzzles within limited possibilities?’ Especially under difficult and even dictatorial circumstances, like for instance in Zimbabwe, he has to use all his creativity, including some tricks, to talk to as many people as possible. In this way he aims to report as balanced as possible in his paper. So, it is no wonder theory and craftsmanship did not meet during this discussion.
Het zijn net mensen, Joris Luyendijk. Uitgeverij Podium
Het Maakbare Nieuws, several authors, Uitgever Balans