Richard Ingrams' Week: The Archbishop puts our 'envoy' to shame in Gaza

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The Independent Online

After spending three days in Gaza, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 76, launched a fierce attack on the international community for its "silence and complicity" over the long Israeli blockade of that area. "The entire situation is abominable," he thundered.

Tutu's comments came in the wake of a similar speech by 83-year-old former US president Jimmy Carter, appearing this week at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival. Carter has also been to Gaza and spoken to the Hamas leadership. He famously compared the situation there to that of apartheid in South Africa, remarks that earned him predictable accusations of anti-Semitism from the Israel lobby in America.

These two distinguished oldies deserve credit not just for their outspokenness but for actually visiting Gaza to see the situation there for themselves. But they might also help to raise the question of Tony Blair's failure to make the same journey.

Blair was appointed the EU's representative in the Middle East in June 2007 charged with the task of bringing peace to the area. Since then he has never once set foot in Gaza and neither have any of his full-time staff. There could be all kinds of reasons behind this. It could even be the case, as has been suggested, that Blair, whose £3m Bayswater house is guarded night and day, is concerned about his personal security.

Whatever the explanation, Blair's reluctance to make any meaningful intervention renders his presence in Jerusalem completely pointless. The idea that with his record as Bush's poodle he might be able to bring peace to the Middle East was, in any case, always farfetched. But it must be even more so if he can't even be bothered to go into Gaza. Better for him now to devote his efforts to bringing reconciliation to the world's great religions. Another crusade for which he is quite ill-fitted but one less likely to prolong hardship.

Sad end to a news institution

I feel not only sadness but some indignation at the news that the BBC is to scrap What the Papers Say, one of the longest-running television programmes ever. It was launched in 1956 by the founder of Granada TV, Sidney Bernstein, a man who was very good at thinking up ideas for programmes that were not only brilliant but also very cheap to produce. A critic was given 15 minutes to do a survey of the week's press. Over the years, What the Papers Say has been presented by just about every well-known journalist you can name.

At its best, WPS was not just a survey of the press but, by piecing together different accounts, was also a useful guide to what was going on in the world. You could do with all that now, particularly on the BBC, which has cut its coverage of current affairs to the bare minimum.

But how wretched is the corporation's excuse for its latest act of vandalism. A spokesman said: "It has had a great run with us but the media environment has changed dramatically and so has the way our audience consumes the news. We already provide this service to our audience through many BBC outlets and will continue to explore new ways to do so."

That is exactly the kind of claptrap which, had I been presenting What the Papers Say this week (as I was frequently privileged to do), I would have seized on. It would have been read out in a silly voice and the BBC would have been made to look foolish, sanctimonious and deceitful.

A threat to our independence – and our health

Writing in his new book, the former White House press secretary Scott McLellan accuses his former boss George Bush of a "detrimental resistance to reflection". There are plenty of people to whom that useful phrase could be applied, quite apart from Dubya.

But reflection is generally in short supply these days, one reason being the difficulty of avoiding all the interruptions made possible by modern technology, notably the mobile phone.

As a long-time mobile refusenik I was reassured by The Independent's survey this week revealing that I am not alone. My fellow mobile abstainers concluded a number of people I like – Jilly Cooper, Brian Sewell, Marcus Berkmann and The Independent's outstanding gardening writer Anna Pavord. Many of them cited the threat to reflection and personal independence posed by the mobile.

But there was little mention of the health risks. Over the years there has been a steady trickle of reports linking mobiles to a variety of conditions. They include short-term memory loss, headaches and, more seriously, cancer. Only the other day another report warned of the danger to the unborn child.

All these warnings have been ignored, including those issued by the Government's chief scientific adviser, Sir William Stewart, that children should not use mobiles. It suggests that people are now so dependent on mobiles that they will take no notice of dangers even though they might affect their own children.