by Schlesinger, Joe Schlesinger,
Getting the Real Story:
Censorship & Propaganda in South Africa
by Gerald B. Sperling, James E. McKenzie, Gerald B. Sperling, James E. McKenzie,
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|The News For Now
by Michael Coren
FOREIGN CORRESPONDENTS are overly fond of telling us laypeople that in times of war, truth is the first casualty. Appealing, but fallacious. The first casualty in war is the humility of the foreign correspondent. The tight-lipped afterglow that so many of the breed cultivate is as risible as it is misleading. This writer well remembers an internationally known journalist rehearsing his war-weary grimace in the mirror of a mobile washroom, two miles south of the Lebanese border. "You`ve just driven up from Haifa," I said, "and you only flew in from London yesterday." "Yeah," was the reply from those visibly tightening lips, "but image is half the battle, old boy."
One of the pleasing, even seductive, aspects of Joe Schlesingers memoirs is the absence of bragging. He regards himself as more of a workman than an artiste; but in that estimation, he is probably self-deprecating. Born in Czechoslovakia, he took the well-oiled Central European route to Canada, working in Vancouver and then Toronto. Apart from a hiatus on the Toronto Star, Schlesinger has been a CBC man all of his working life. And for most of that time he has been the televisual embodiment of the Canadian abroad: extreme in his moderation, committed to a decent if somewhat archaic version of fair play, and always treading the tenuous line between the American shadow and Canada`s strained but laudable neutrality.
That this volume reflects the man and his work should come as no surprise. If revelation is desired, we need to look elsewhere. There is a tendency for Schlesinger to be slavishly discreet. Yet beneath the lust for balance is the tale of a profoundly honest man, who has not been afraid to deliver a sometimes unsavoury truth to the Canadian public. His "Journal" documentary on Vichy France explained what many Europeans have known for some time, but many Canadians have preferred to ignore or expunge. France is one of the most racist nations in the continent, dangerously prone to contriving and then hating a scapegoat: Jews under Vichy, Arabs and guest workers in the case of the contemporary National Front. When the vile toxins of a resentful world were pumped violently into the European bloodstream during the late 1930s, France adapted and accepted quicker than most. Schlesinger`s piece was a caveat to modern France.
One would expect the man to feet comfortable and empathetic when covering his native Europe; and, indeed, his analysis of the polite revolution in Czechoslovakia is something of a triumph. He also, however, exhibits a sound comprehension of Latin America and its pathos, and expresses it in evocative prose. "In both churches (one in Nicaragua, one in El Salvador) you can see the heritage of Spain:` he writes.
In both you will find the quiet devoutness of the remnants of an Indian culture resigned to the idea that life is pain. In one, I saw a funeral; in the other, a wedding, and both were equally sombre. The mourners ... were too used to seeing their loved ones killed in other people`s battles to lament openly.
The major fault of the book is its skirting of the fundamental issues of journalism: the reporter as parasite, or the reporter as participant. Wilfred Burchett, the first Western journalist allowed into Hiroshima after the bomb, believed that "objectivity in journalism is a dangerous myth; worse, it is propaganda." Schlesinger makes passing reference to the definition and vocation of the foreign correspondent, but is more intent on recounting experiences. In the author`s defence, this is an understandable preoccupation, and one of the authentic agendas of the book. But correspondents now have to ask themselves why they are where they are. Television reporting probably ended the Vietnam war, but it could not prevent the Tiananmen Square massacre. Somewhere down the road another book from Mr. Schlesinger would be most appreciated. Gerald B. Sperling and James E. McKenzie`s Getting The Real Story is an account of the freedom of the press, or lack of it, in South Africa shortly before Pretoria`s reforms came into being. The tale told is hardly surprising: we received jaundiced accounts of life within South Africa, news was censored, things were really far worse than they appeared, too many journalists swallowed the regime`s saccharin. Strangely enough, I thought as much. The book is somewhat redundant, and sadly out of date. Of far more interest is why we were told for so many years by the international press that Romania, for example, was a relative friend of the West, and an example to Eastern Europe, when in fact it stank to heaven. There are cover-ups and there are cover-ups