10 March 2022
The Point of Us
By Lynda Goetz
For the last few weeks we have seen a real return to ‘old-fashioned’ journalism, to a world of war correspondents, reports from the front line and expert commentary from those with inside or specialist knowledge. The public are looking for immediate updates, the latest information, personal stories and news from the frontline, or at least from those on the ground. Where on earth is there a place in this scenario for a weekly news commentary like The Shaw Sheet?
For years Brexit was front and centre of news, both on and offline, in print and on television; then it was the turn of Covid. Both these subjects permitted informed commentary. There were also the other stories. As writers of weekly articles we could read widely, do our research and then present our precis, synopsis, summation, whatever one wishes to call it with or without (although usually with) some form of opinion or conclusion based on our view of the facts. Readers could agree or disagree with the belief, angle or viewpoint taken. The current war hardly permits of any such approach; we are all horrified – unless of course you are Vladimir Putin or any of those leaders who have sided with his view that Ukraine is not an individual country entitled to self-determination and that his invasion of an independent country on his border is merely a ‘special military operation’ to free the Ukrainians of unwanted neo-Nazi leadership. In his topsy-turvey world view, anything else is ‘fake news’. In an age of social media he has not been entirely successful in convincing all of his people of this state of affairs, but he apparently still has over 70% of the Russian population on his side.
Those who disagree and are prepared to protest have been brutally manhandled and arrested. Children and old people have been bundled into police vans and removed to police stations where many have been beaten. Those who have confronted what is happening in their country and have chosen to leave, rather than to stay and live with the new era which is inevitably going to be the consequence of this assault on fellow Slavs, have found themselves cut off from their money and assets by Western sanctions. The mega-wealthy oligarchs with huge assets around the world are far less likely to suffer the real depredations which fleeing middle-class Russians are almost bound to encounter. There is unlikely to be the same sympathy for these people as for the dispossessed Ukrainians who have lost everything, including in many cases the lives of family members. However, they are part of the evidence that this war was never a war sought by the Russian people, but by one man.
As we all face up to the huge cataclysm that the maniacal ambition of one man is bringing to the world, do publication such as ours have any role at all to play? My answer would be that in spite of our obvious inability to provide any sort of frontline reporting or indeed inside information, we can still have a role, albeit a small one in the overall scheme of things. Our role is possibly twofold. We can, as indeed we have done, throw some light on the non-immediate aspects of the war, such as how the history and even the geography of the countries involved has led to the current situation (we could perhaps highlight individual stories if any of our writers or readers are in a position to make this possible); but we can also – as we have always done – continue to remind our readers of the other stories which are continuing to happen but which are being completely overshadowed by the major story of the time.
Because Ukraine is on our doorstep, is part of Europe, this particular major story has shaken the foundations of our increasingly complacent, self-indulgent world view. Events happening in Myanmar or South America or Africa are for most people far enough removed from the daily lives of those in this country or in Europe that they can afford essentially, if not to ignore them, certainly to place them well down their list of significant and impactful events. Events in English-speaking countries like New Zealand or Australia tend to demand a little more of our attention (partly because many Brits actually have family down under), but for many these places are remote and of little interest unless perhaps they are planning a holiday there in the near future. Even events in our own country can be buried or drowned out by the major news events of the day. Perhaps one of the roles of publications like The Shaw Sheet is to throw a light on these lesser events and provide a brief digest of ‘other news’?
We used to provide a fairly comprehensive round up of such events, broken down into UK, Foreign and Financial, but the amount of work which went into these digests seemed excessive when viewing figures were reviewed. Then there was Lens on the Week. a briefing on the most significant events of the preceding week. This too was abandoned in favour of commentary on specific items of news. UnHerd and Spiked do much the same, but with wider readership. Should we perhaps revive our focus, at least to some small degree, on ‘other news’ or do we continue to provide commentary where we can on the major news items of the week? In the current climate we will perhaps have to concede that our focus may have to be redirected away from a war in which our commentary is of little value, to highlighting other issues which are being drowned out by the noise of it. This war has, at the very least, reminded us, after the years of authoritarian Covid restrictions and an imposition of ‘big government’ what we value about life in the West. It has, to the surprise not only of Presidents Putin and Xi but of ourselves, drawn us together in defence of the things which matter.