Presented by Cork World Book Fest, this reading and discussion by journalist Lara Marlow and filmmaker and author Peadar King was chaired by former RTÉ correspondent Flor McCarthy.
Marlow is currently the Washington correspondent for the Irish Times, but was previously based in France for 13 years, and Beirut for another eight, reporting on conflicts in the Middle East and the Balkans.
Marlow’s insights into the workings of the media are refreshing, if sometimes alarming. She recalled how the death of Princess Diana got so much coverage in the press that scant heed was paid to the atrocities of the Algerian Civil War. Even now, the election of the ailing Abdelaziz Bouteflika to a fourth term as the country’s president is, she says, the subject of a tragic joke, to the effect that in Algeria they used to get the dead to vote, and now they are voting for the dead.
After time spent in Gaza, Marlow’s verdict on the Israeli/Palestinian situation is bleak — in her view, only the United States has the muscle to resolve the conflict, but seems to lack the will to do so.
Marlow’s work as a reporter has often put her life at risk. In explaining her motivation, she referred to the quotation from Séamus Heaney that prefaces her new book, The Things I’ve Seen: “There is such a thing as truth and it can be told.”
Peadar King’s new book What in the World? takes its name from his long-running RTÉ series of the same name. His reminiscences supported Marlow’s observation that the media can be selective in what it reports on from abroad. His experience in Bolivia, for instance, was that the ill-treatment of the indigenous people was as profoundly racist as the apartheid regime in South Africa. Only since the election of Evo Morales in 2006 has the state sought to make redress.
King visited silver mines at Cerro de Potosi that brought vast wealth to Spain at an enormous cost to the indigenous people — the average life-span for a mine worker was six months, and millions died extracting the ore. Even today, the tools used by the miners are the same as those used in the 1500s.
King recalled how the difficulties inherent in his work are mitigated by the wonders he has come upon, such as the Achuar village in a clearing he encountered after a long, perilous trek through the deep forests of Ecaudor.
On the rewards of filmmaking, he was bluntly dismissive. It used to be his bread and butter, he said — now, there is no longer funding for the butter.