I BEGAN one of my early Evening Star columns with the words: “A bomb went off this morning in my corner of the office.”
It wasn’t literally true of course. But it seemed a good way of introducing my two linked subjects, the bombing of Belgrade by Nato planes and the then astonishing fact that I could hear it live on the internet.
It’s only a few weeks short of a decade since that day when I startled my colleagues by fitting speakers to my PC as the bombs fell. Maybe we should stop associating the net with the shock of the new.
Yet I still feel like a kid at Christmas with the excitement of my new toy – an internet radio.
The main reason for getting it was the mundane wish for a clear signal on Radio Three. The spin-off is that I can browse the radio stations of the world, country by country.
My nine-year-old was delighted to hear the latest single by Pink introduced in French. Her current favourite stations are Radio DumDum from India and a channel broadcasting Arabic pop music from Morocco.
I find that one curiously absorbing myself. Though I was disappointed to find the only listed channel in Mali, home of Africa’s most gorgeous music, playing Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Of course it doesn’t take much surfing to find that American music pervades the world as thoroughly as other aspects of US culture.
And I’m not immune myself. One of the first channels I assigned a preset button was RadioDylan.com, a stream of all things Bob, mostly unofficial recordings, coming from the basement of an obsessed fan.
A radio’s not just about music, though. It can be interesting and instructive to hear the news as it’s presented in a variety of countries, too.
On the day an Israeli attack left 40 dead in a school in Gaza, Israel Radio reported it as a “claim” by the Palestinians. The same bulletin told of a rocket fired into Israel and reported grimly that “a toddler was slightly injured”.
The imbalance would have been hilarious if it hadn’t been so serious. But biased reporting, especially in war, is hardly an Israeli invention or speciality.
Which brings me back to where I left off last week, with some inept TV reporting of the Gaza conflict.
In another illustration of the wonders of the web, last week’s column has been shared round the world after being picked up by a journalist in the Philippines.
And that has brought me reaction – all of it broadly supportive – from the USA, Canada, Australia, Germany, Italy, France and Portugal as well as around Britain.
It’s interesting how little respect people in all those countries have for their TV news channels. Those who read and responded to my comments, anyway.
I fear the silent majority everywhere probably swallow whatever they’re fed. Just as in Israel the majority seem to swallow the dangerous pap put out by their pernicious government.
There is in fact a substantial anti-war movement within Israel but you’d never guess it from listening to the state-owned radio or reading the mainstream Israeli press. For that you have to read the independent Haaretz newspaper (website www.haaretz.com), where you will find real news and a real examination of the moral issues of Gaza from within Israel itself.
The internet, of course, in the form of blogs, emails, dissident media such as Haaretz, even sites such as YouTube and Facebook, provides the real alternative to the output of government and mainstream media. The circulation of my words last week is just a tiny example.
But it provides an example of one of the dangers too.
One reader questioned whether I had made up the story of a TV interviewer mistaking an Israeli gap-year student for a fleeing Palestinian. I hadn’t.
But I had taken it from a report by another journalist in another paper – and I can’t be quite certain he hadn’t made it up.
By now, though, it’s all over the internet, where people no doubt believe it (as I still do – I think) whether it’s true or not.
The moral is that you can’t believe everything you read on the net. But at least you get a variety of outlooks to choose from.
And a variety of music. Right now I’m listening to some wonderful stuff by Mali’s Salif Keita. Broadcast, of course, from Paris.
WHAT do you think of Prince Harry’s use of racist language to a fellow soldier?
Personally, of course, I blame the parents. But I also blame the outdated macho culture that seems to persist, perhaps not surprisingly, in His Grandmother’s Armed Forces.
I heard one of Harry’s defenders this week describe the criticism of him as “political correctness gone mad”. A surprising accusation to level at the News of the World. And a cliché routinely trotted out by those who prefer rudeness, disrespectfulness and bigotry gone mad.