LETTER from THE EDITOR

`The Times' promised that it, too, would give `the most independent analysis' of the election ... right until a certain Australian-American makes his mind up
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The Independent Online
Two serious matters this week, both of which will have offended some readers. First, there were 20 or so letters complaining about the headline on 8 January following the Carlton monarchy debate, which highlighted the third of those who rang in registering anti-monarchy views, not the two-thirds of pro-monarchists. Many of you suggested that it was The Independent's republican bias showing through. Not so; though we do have a bias against reporting Diana and Fergie-type stories, and have both republicans and monarchists on the staff, the daily paper has not taken a position on the issue. The headline reflected the opinion that it was the size of the minority view that was surprising, even in a dodgy telephone poll. Similarly, if a surprise candidate did very well in a parliamentary by- election (``Scargill candidate wins 30 per cent'') one might highlight that, as against the expected winner.

No excuses, though, on the second issue: in yesterday's paper, our headline said, ``Labour kills millennium show". Which it certainly was doing as we went to press on that edition. But then, following late-night and small- hours-of-the-morning haggling, Labour seem to have backed off; they may not be striving officiously to keep the Greenwich show alive, but nor are they killing it. The project, amended and limping, may yet go ahead after all. Colin Hughes, the deputy editor, rang me in the morning and summed the situation up fairly: ``I thought it was a pretty good front page,'' he said, ``... if you ignore the fact that the main headline was untrue.'' Well, headlines are often overtaken by events. But ... er, sorry.

Following our recent reflections on the importance of editorial independence through the general election, there was a very long editorial in The Times on the same subject. It promised its readers that it, too, would give ``the most independent analysis'' and that ``we have not reached our verdict in advance". And, of course, their verdict will stay in the balance ... right until the moment when a certain Australian-American gentleman makes his mind up, lifts the phone, and barks. Their editorial was headed ``The Masters Now". It should have read, of course, ``The Master's Voice''.

Now then. What has been missing from the land-mine controversy is a little lateral thinking. We know, partly thanks to the campaigning of Princess Diana and assorted ex-military good-doers, that huge numbers of these are exported by the West. They are sold for fat profits to Third World governments and assorted rebels, and destroy tens of thousands of lives. This is denounced as a shameful trade, and so it is. But it continues, and the West now returns to the countries because we are also expert at mine clearance and the design and fitting of false limbs. This means that charities and (through government agencies) Western taxpayers, are struggling to clear up after their own job-created arms exporters.

So why shouldn't we short-circuit the whole process, saving both time and money: the next time an African war is getting underway, the leaders of leading mine-exporting countries, such as Italy, should simply ask the relevant local politicians to round up and send north a few thousand peasants, including a fair distribution of old people, women and children. Then we can amputate their legs under decent, clean surgical conditions, fit false ones, and send them home again? We would, of course, have to pay the arms companies for their loss of useful trade, but as we are effectively subsidising them already, who could possibly object? It's such a modest proposal ...

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