THE CRITICS TELEVISION: Expensive holidays in other people's misery

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Did you realise that 1996 is Burma's "Year of the Tourist"? But John Pilger advises against visiting just yet. They're still getting the place ready - with slave labour. And there's that little matter of the democratic elections, in which Aung San Suu Kyi won 80 per cent of the vote. She's been under house-arrest ever since.

Network First's Inside Burma - Land of Fear (ITV) was made under difficult conditions - according to Radio Times, Pilger only managed to get himself and cameraman David Munro into the country by claiming to be specialists in exotic travel. They proceeded to interview Suu Kyi and other democracy- seekers and to film, in secret, the bridge where hundreds of student protesters died in 1988 at the hands of the brutal military regime. Pilger's concise account of Burma's history made it clear that the country is yet another fine colonial mess the British left behind.

The chronology was a bit haphazard though; 1988 returned when I thought we'd finished with it, and I wasn't clear whether the military dictator General Ne Win, who is prone to superstition and a hoarder of precious gems, is still around. At any rate, the country continues to run according to his plan. After one demo, the army carted off the dead and wounded - straight to the crematorium.

Suu Kyi, who has survived six years under house-arrest, hunger strikes, and separation not only from her family in England but from almost all human contact, is valiantly optimistic. Sitting straight as a board in the house which once belonged to her father (another national hero), she told Pilger: "Increasingly, I think it is getting difficult in this world to resolve problems through military means. It is no longer acceptable." But Pilger seemed to think it's still accepted by those who matter: international oil companies, big business, and arms salesmen (the British company BMARC has been supplying arms to Burma's dictatorship since 1990). Much of the Asian economic "miracle", Pilger suggests, rests on similarly shaky humanitarian ground. If there is a tourist invasion of Burma this year, each visitor should take home a general as a souvenir.

Witness's Rwanda - the Betrayal (C4) was almost too upsetting to watch. Lindsey Hilsum, a British journalist, was trying to make sense of her own guilt (she was in the country at the time of the genocide but failed to save anyone), and the role of the church in the whole bloody tale. Rwanda was a Christian success story: 90 per cent of the population was baptised and churchgoing. The Tutsis sought sanctuary in the churches - and were massacred there. A priest commandeered rice supplies that were intended for free distribution. His prices rose and rose; it was only when he knew that his congregation was going to be slaughtered the next day that he dropped the price to shift his stock.

A woman watched her son beg for mercy as her brother took him away to be killed. The next day, Hutus killed the baby on her back. The programme left us in no doubt that Christianity was inextricably woven into the hundred days of carnage. Yet many feel no ill-will towards a God who could sleep through all this so soundly. One broken woman said she still prays - it's a "necessity" - and, of the unfortunate hordes exterminated in the churches, "I hope before they died their prayers helped them."

Eve Arnold in Retrospect (Omnibus, BBC1) was a respectful portrait of this revered photographer, by an admirer, and as such made pleasant enough viewing. Much of it seemed familiar from other sources: for example, Arnold's catty remark about Joan Crawford, that "something happens to flesh after 50". But by following the artist around to various gatherings, and observing her as she imposed her will on the hanging of her retrospective exhibition, Beeban Kidron's film achieved a certain level of intimacy.

There were clips of Anjelica Huston and others talking about Eve Arnold, and New York passers-by describing their reactions to specific photos (which we often could not see properly), and some judderingly self-aware camera work. But it was a far cry from Arnold's own achievement. She caught glamour's soft underbelly, the moments in between the posing and the self-consciousness. Was it her toughness and reserve that made people bare all? She remains eerily able to view us in purely abstract terms: "It always amazes me how, with two eyes, a mouth and a nose, a pair of eyebrows ... you can wring so many infinite variations."

By day you find them slumped in the studio interviewing has-been sitcom stars or the sick of the world whose hypo-allergenic raincoats have been stolen. At night they're transformed! They wear serious black and white, and they prove to be able to stand up. Judy's hair is a throwback to Star Trek styles; Richard is just an elongated version of her. In fact, they seem to have a parasitic relationship in which he gets younger as she gets older, and both are curiously fascinated by the subject of wife-murder. And so they launched their new chat-show, Tonight with Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan (ITV), with an interview with the recently acquitted OJ Simpson.

The stage-set was like an oil field, or the Meccano creation of some outsize infant (Richard and Judy's perhaps?), and there, alone in the wilderness with the little tired eyes of a hunted animal and a bit of perspiration on his top lip, sat OJ, eager to explain all. But Richard and Judy just wanted to ask predictable questions, which none the less exposed the poverty of their research. They were not well-enough prepared. OJ, after all, is an expert in this matter, and if he couldn't act to save his life before the trial, he's had plenty of rehearsal time since. With Nicole no longer available to comment, he knows his innocence is only a matter of getting the correct phraseology: "In my efforts to remove her from my bedroom, I got very physical," he says of the night he beat her up ("my" bedroom?).

When asked about the "85-minute window" during which he could either have been killing Nicole or doing something else, he said, "I started slowly packing." The only question left to ask was why R&J themselves hadn't sent him slowly packing, instead of giving him a platform. After the commercial break, this odd pair, intrepid explorers of human psyche that they are, were to be found perched on the sofa OJ had just vacated, as if they could thereby soak up some of his fame. But by Thursday they were back to normal, aficionados only of boredom, deep in a discussion with a caller from the West Midlands about ear-wax.

The first few minutes were quite a struggle, but Life After Birth (C4), which has taken over from Father Ted (untimely snatched away), turned out to be a witty comedy about two young women in a council flat, one of them a single mum called Alison (Emma Cunniffe). Her labour was the weirdest I'd ever seen - she remained lucid and amusing throughout. The neighbours were East End- ish without being caricatures, and the black boyfriend is deemed "different" not because he's black but because he's kind. Will Alison's love-life suffer as a result of having the baby? "I'm sure there are a lot of blokes out there who fancy women specifically because they've got children," says flatmate Judith (Paula Bacon).

"Yeah, they're called perverts."

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