LETTER from THE EDITOR

I am haunted by the suspicion that the most useful way to defuse Drumcree would be for the media to pack up and leave
Click to follow
The Independent Online
The most intelligent and humane response to the Drumcree stand- off is one I first came across in an article by Maurice Hayes, the former Northern Ireland civil servant, in The Irish Independent. He argued that both communities should assert and recognise the rights of the other, in return for which these rights would not be exercised: in particular, the rights of the Orangemen to march would be conceded - and then they wouldn't march. It is an idea of uncommon sense, and, whatever finally happens this weekend, has at least been taken seriously by a Grand Master or so.

At first sight, the Hayes idea bears a resemblance to a satirical plan hatched, I think, by the father of the scientist Magnus Pyke, while he was working for a wartime ministry in Whitehall. There was a great debate raging about how to conserve precious and scarce aviation fuel; the civil servant suggested that an agreement be reached whereby the RAF would take off each evening and bomb London, in return for which the Luftwaffe would bomb Berlin. The net effect, he suggested, would be similar and the fuel saving impressive.

More immediately, I am haunted by the suspicion that the most useful way to defuse Drumcree would be for the media - every camera crew, reporter, radio van, photographer and commentator - to pack up and leave. It is hard to back down: it is harder still to do it live on videotape. So why doesn't The Independent take a lead? Because readers would be angered if this were the only paper that didn't report a major Northern Irish event. For journalists to decamp is a naive dream, the kind of thing that would happen at the end of a James Stewart film. We are all complicit, though.

Re the Hong Kong coverage, several readers have asked why we continue to use ``Peking'' rather than ``Beijing''. I had no idea: Andy Marshall, our foreign editor, explains that, given the difficulty of transliterating from ideograms into Western script, neither usage is inherently correct or incorrect - indeed, Peking is used a lot in Hong Kong. The difference is that the Chinese government ``requires'' us to use Beijing, and Mr Marshall doesn't see why we should be required by them to do anything of the kind. Quite so. Foreign place-names should be a compromise between accuracy and familiarity: Firenze and Dimashq, for instance (Florence and Damascus) are lost causes in Londres and Edimbourg.

We had a good response when we used Chinese characters to say "Goodbye Hong Kong" on the front of Tuesday's paper. But, as readers have been kind enough to point out, we have in the past got it wrong when breaking into Arabic, Swahili and even, occasionally, French. So this time great care was taken in obtaining advice from various Cantonese friends of the paper. I knew that. But the night desk didn't, when at around 11.30pm a Mr Wong phoned in to say that he had just picked up a copy of The Independent at Euston station and, while he was naturally pleased to see the use of Chinese script, he would be most interested to know why we had chosen to lead with the words: ``Deng F***s Pigs & Sheep.'' In this office, at that time of night, it was not easy to check. As Mr Marshall said, ``it was instantly and completely plausible". Mayhem followed. Whoever you are, ``Mr Wong'', this is just to let you know that it worked.

Comments