Cherchez le femme… Does Naomi focus skew the story?

So now everyone knows about the Charles Taylor case. Who? The former Liberian president accused of 11 war crimes, including murder, rape and conscripting child soldiers, relating to civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone. News worthy enough for you?

If you read newspapers, you’d only know about the trial because the prosecution has spent months trying to get supermodel Naomi Campbell to testify. Otherwise, you might not have known that the case has been running since 2007. Like everything else these days, it needed a celebrity to attract media interest.

Fortunately Ms Campbell was good enough to finally show up and a courtroom usually occupied by 20-odd accredited journalists was bursting at the seams with several hundred.

Now it is front page news across the western media. Taylor is accused of being allied to the Revolutionary United Front, a group of rebels in Sierra Leone who allegedly gave him “blood diamonds” in return for weapons.

Campbell has finally admitted that Taylor gave her some “dirty looking stones” after a party held by Nelson Mandela in 1997. Friends told her they were “probably” blood diamonds.

All very brave of Ms Campbell, “made to be here… this is a big inconvenience for me”, for she has shone light where much of the media was previously unable to.

The supermodel is more used to sitting in court as a defendant, of course, part of the reason behind the media’s sudden interest in this case.

Much more important than the war crimes is the fact that Ms Campbell was wearing “a cream outfit with her hair drawn into a sixties beehive … she wore a silver ‘evil eye’ pendant, perhaps to ward off evil spirits”, says the London Evening Standard. The paper reveals in the final paragraph of its coverage: “[The case] ended with the prosecution trying to disown her as a witness – and being refused by the judge.”

Despite this, the news would have you believe that Naomi Campbell’s evidence has been the most important thus far. Also despite the testimony of Joseph “ZigZag” Marzah, one of Taylor’s former military commanders, who testified in 2008 that “we executed everybody – babies, women, old men. There were so many executions. I can’t remember them all.”

Pretty trivial stuff compared to Campbell’s statement. She didn’t know about Charles Taylor before all this. “I’d never heard of him before, never heard of Liberia before, never heard of the term ‘blood diamonds’ before.”

Indeed, a big thank you is owed to Ms Campbell for enlightening us all.

Image taken by Flickr user Swamibu, licenced under Creative Commons.

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“Before we all sink into a slough of digital dystopian despair, it might be worth considering this: is this a sign of the strength, not weakness, of revelatory journalism in the digital age?”


Charlie Beckett, director of POLIS at the London School of Economics, reacts to news that the UK government forced the Guardian into destroying hard drives that contained information leaked by Edward Snowden.


(Source: POLIS)

 

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