First, let me admit two mistakes in last week’s column – there were only thirteen, not fourteen, South African Defence force members killed in Bangui, and the BRICS Summit was held in Durban not Johannesburg. The first mistake was due to early reports, and I am grateful to Francis Ayigbe, a reader in Lagos for pointing out the latter. As any journalist knows, mistakes are an unhappy stock-in-trade of those working rapidly towards deadlines. We try to minimise them but they somehow keep creeping in.
There was never a moment in the history of the press in Britain when it has been more important for us ‘hacks’ to confess to our misdeeds. The 2000-page report of Justice Leveson has pushed part of Britain’s media into angry defiance, while the left-leaning Independent and Guardian see it more as a way of taming irresponsible media barons such as Rupert Murdoch, which to me looks like not seeing wood for trees. The way in which the politicians of the three main parties cobbled together a last-minute deal to present a show of unity (and save David Cameron from malcontents in his own party) was a pitiful display of political insipidity considering the importance of the issue. There were no newspapers present at the deal, only a lobby called Hacked Off consisting mostly of celebrities hiding behind undoubtedly ill-used victims, who deserve full redress, although that is a different issue.
The early-morning stitch-up appeared especially incompetent when it emerged they had forgotten until the last minute the Internet and that great free-for-all which is called ‘social media’, whose existence make both Leveson’s report and the strings attached to it already seem obsolete. Horses and stable doors come to mind. The formula of Royal Charter with a “dash of Statute” is a covert way of introducing a form of press law, which in 300 years of freedom, however messy, this country has never had. The fear is that this may be a body blow to a newspaper industry that is already in decline because of the Internet and all its works. I believe newspapers will survive, but all this hoo-ha is not going to help.
It is strange feeling, but on this issue I find myself aligned with the libertarian stance of papers of the right like the Daily Telegraph and The Spectator. One is also obliged to consider the negative international response to what has happened – saddened criticism has extended from New York Times to Le Monde, while developing countries in the Commonwealth have expressed worries that this is setting a discouraging example for those of their media struggling to have greater freedoms, and ease themselves out from under the burden of press regulation.
Having got that off my chest, I should turn to what it had all along been my intention to write about this week – some more reflections on my mind-altering visit to Lagos. This wish was triggered by an e–mail from Keith Richards who it seems was encouraged by my reference to him in the book. Having made his mark as MD of Guinness Nigeria, and having been dropped by Diageo (so the urban legend goes) for being too successful in promoting the Guinness brand, he made the slow but exquisite transition to other activities in the city by the lagoon, ending up as managing director of the food manufacturing firm Promasidor known for its powdered milk and soft drinks, and in so doing has become a Lagos institution.
He approved the picture of me in the book (at the Biafran surrender in Dodan barracks) when I had a luxuriant moustache, and added: “I have to admit at a stub of self-indulgent pleasure at your kind description of me as a true ‘Lagos Boy’. I read that part to Seun Kuti, who howled with appreciation and gave me several high fives!” As one with pretensions to being a Lagos boy myself, and canonised as such by no less than Femi Okunnu, who kindly contributed a foreword to the book, I can only rejoice.
Keith came to the informal session discussing the book in which I figured at the Freedom Park’s Arthouse Forum on which I have already held forth. We sat outside afterwards listening to live music in the open air with the group Africanas playing my requests for highlife oldies such as Joromi and Taxi Driver, but the exertions of the visit took their toll and to my great sadness I had to leave as tiredness took over. My further musings, if readers can put up with them, will have to wait for next week.