Featured Content, Daily Diary:
Salimah Ebrahim, June 25, 2002
We are slowly being sealed off.
Around the media centre, stores are beginning to close, military personnel have begun to outnumber carefree tourists and, at night, the sound of security helicopters breaks the silence of the otherwise gentle Calgary evening.
The perimeter is slowly being defined and they tell me that the barricades will be erected this evening. Tomorrow the lines will formally be drawn between protestor and media, inside and out.
Another summit is set to begin.
Inside the media centre, officials, volunteers and government liaisons are on hand preparing for the arrival of the world. With the fresh white cowboy hats and khaki safari jackets, this summit is slowly taking on an "Out of Africa" meets "Calgary Stampede" feel.
Hanging imposingly from the vaulted ceilings of the Telus Centre are flags of each of the G-8 member countries, emphasizing the global nature of this summit and the unique collection of the people and organizations that define the face of world media.
Over at the G-6B, the people's summit being held at the University of Calgary, it was a very different scene. The khaki, black and grey monotones of media apparel were replaced with the Popsicle-coloured fashions of today's concerned youth. Hundreds turned out to protest G-8-led globalization and to express their concerns about the forthcoming G-8 partnership with Africa.
As I walked through the halls of the conference, I instinctively tucked away my press badge. I still don't know why I did that. Part safety, part guilt, I guess. Fellow colleagues of mine have horror stories of their badges being ripped off, stolen, vandalized. But that was not all. Part of me didn't want to be labelled one of "them" - who ever that was. For I was here as an honest voice ready to learn and comment. Yet, without the badge, I was on one side and with it, I was starkly on the other. What to do?
I went back and tried to bury my thoughts in my work. As I was feverishly trying to update my reports and keep up with the multitude of e-mails that were hitting my desktop, I found myself sharing elbow space with an African journalist - Amos Safo from Ghana. Originally being from Kenya myself, I felt a certain African kinship with Amos, who sat down - over a good Canadian cup of coffee - to share with me his hopes for the summit, impressions of Canada, and the challenges of life as a young journalist in a country where state-owned media keep a watchful eye.
I listened as he shared his concerns about the G-8's proposed Africa Plan, dubbed 'NEPAD': "In Africa we are skeptical of the role the G-8 intends to play. Past programs have left Africa vulnerable to the vagaries of globalization. Reform cannot be implemented from above." Moreover, he informed me that the problem is further compounded by the fact that ordinary men and women aren't able to use the press to dispel the myths that are often generated by local government and external media.
My new friend tells me, however, there is hope for increased dialogue and greater freedom for journalists in Ghana. The Criminal Liable Act, originally imposed by the British on journalists in an effort to suppress pressures for independence, has recently been removed from the books 45 years after its enactment. Amos looks hopeful when he says, "no journalist has been arrested for one and one-and-a-half years."
I just then realize the level of his passion and commitment. Herein lies the real heart and integrity of the journalistic profession. When Amos started out, the act was still on the books and government control was an accepted reality of daily media-function in Ghana. Nevertheless, he was compelled to relate the truth, regardless of the potential state-imposed punishment he faced.
How many of today's J-school grads could truly make that commitment? Could I? Could you?
I don't yet know the answer, time will tell. But what I do know is that a fascinating dialogue has begun here in the media centre. It isn't just about the summit, but even here inside the barricades, voices from all over the world are being heard. Truths are being questioned and the status quo is being challenged. "Inside" is in its own way reflective of the discussions and momentum "outside."
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/.