Featured Content, Daily Diary:
Salimah Ebrahim, June 23, 2002
Hello and welcome to this feature of G8 Online. My name is Salimah Ebrahim. I am a writer, a student, an observer, and for this diary's purpose: an "insider" at this year's G8 summit. So over the next few days, "Live from Calgary, Alberta" I will be your guide to all that transpires here in Wild Rose Country. I hope to give you a glimpse into where the cameras do not. Turn the media spotlight on the media itself, if you will. Coverage of international summitry is often observed from the outside: protesters marching in the streets, world leaders in well-organized photo shoots and local interviews. This all still begs the question: What is it really like from within? What goes on? Why did it cost over $250 million to host the world's media last year in Genoa, Italy for 3 days?
Last year was my first summit as a member of the media corps, stationed directly in the media centre. It was for me, personally, a highly confusing and at times very difficult three days. I remember driving into Genoa, and the streets being lined with young Italian Carbineri, ready to protect world delegations and leaders from the youth who had come to protest aspects of G8 policy. On both sides of the lines you had youth, no older than 20 or 21, staring each other in the face, armed with the duty of their causes and separated only by a 15 foot tall barricade.
As one approaching twenty myself, I couldn't help wonder what was going through their minds, for I myself was wrought with excitement, tempered by guilt. Were those young men and women out there - protesting and standing up for their beliefs - not fighting for the same freedoms and transparencies that I too will enjoy? Peaceful Protest has shown to be an effective method of if not changing then affecting the status quo: civil rights, women's suffrage, Vietnam, to name a few. Were they not exercising their right to freedom of speech, a basic tenet of our democracy?
Am I not right now, exercising that very same right in making my voice heard and sharing my perspective?
Of course I am, and it is here that the problem for me lay. Every day, when I crossed the "barricades" into the red and yellow security zones, where the media centre was stationed, I thought about our democracy and why I was allowed to flash a shiny badge that gave me instant credibility and access, an evening of luxurious festivity, whilst my fellow youths were denied entry and forced to brave the torrential downpour on that first Friday night. I still don't have the answer to that question, but I did make a decision then and there to maintain my integrity and honesty in my writing, even if it meant having a few doors closed in my face. Media isn't about power, it is about the story, and sometimes the line tends to blur.
Being my first summit, I had not known what to expect inside. I'll be the first to admit that initially I was caught up in the "pageant" of the G8 production. The G8 doors swung open to me to reveal waiters in black tie, tending 24 hour "stations" filled with brioche, croissants, chocolates, espresso and exotic juices. And I'm just talking about the snack centres. Lunch and Dinner were set along the marina, with a perfect view of the colourful villas that adorn the Genoese Hills. In the press centre, rows of sparkling computers emblazoned with the G8 logo, sat ready for history to be written. Currently lining my coffee table at home are elaborate glossies on the Vatican and the Roman Ruins, works given to us as a gesture from the city's mayor.
Didn't see this version of last year's G8 on TV, in print?
Of course not. This is not where the events were unfolding, yet it is important to remember this is where the stories where being written, and after all journalists like everyone are human beings, and as such are affected by their surroundings.
As such it is also important to remember that the G8 summit isn't about one thing. It is not only about the protesters, the host country, the media, or the leaders. It is about the issues, the unique opportunity to have the Russians, the Canadians, the Europeans, the Americans, the Japanese, and the Italians all in one room, face to face dealing with the challenges that exist in our world today. Nothing is without an element of contradiction, and despite the cosmetic excess of last year's meetings, I do believe in the G8 as an import force in global dynamics.
The G8, comprised of the world's wealthiest nations, has the power and the responsibility to change the course of third word debt, to curb the pandemic of AIDs, Tuberculosis and Malaria, to leave this world better than they found it. This year's summit, hosted by Canada, will mark the first time in G8 history that half of the meeting time is devoted to focus on an ambitious partnership plan with a non-G8 member: Africa. NEPAD (New partnership for African Development) is part of a process, a collective conscious that tells us things cannot go on the way they are. Things must be done before as U2's Bono once said: "we let an entire continent burst into flames, whilst we stand by with watering cans."
The meetings in Kananaskis will be an important first step in the right direction. Too bad the majority of the media is in Calgary. But more on that later.
For now, pick up a sign if you so desire, scribble down your words of wisdom, turn on the news and come along for the ride. Join the G8 Online Bulletin Boards and have your say. Eight of the world's most powerful leaders have come to Canada, and thousands who elected them have descended upon Calgary. As I endeavour to give you a glimpse into life inside the G8 barricades, I cannot guarantee that you'll like what you see - all I can promise you is that these are my words, my perspectives. So take them as you will. As respected female war correspondent Maggie O'Kane once expressed, it is ridiculous to think that journalists need always be objective, for the truth itself is not.
This diary is also available as part of CBC's indepth G8 Summit coverage.
Please see the "Views" section, "Diary: Behind the Scenes in Calgary" of the CBC's site at http://cbc.ca/news/features/g8/.