The Liberal Democrats have tabled a new Save Our Sources law which is set to be put to a vote in the House of Commons on 23 February.

The amendment to the Serious Crime Bill proposes altering the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to ensure that police officers can no longer view journalists’ phone records without the approval of a judge.

The law change enacts a recommendation made by the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office in its report on police surveillance of journalists published on 4 February.

Read more: Save Our Sources law to curb police spying on journalists will go to Commons vote this month

Tony Sheldon 2013

Long-time NUJ member Tony Sheldon has written a book, De verschrikking van de nacht - Ooggetuigen van de slag om Arnhem, for which he interviewed numerous eye witnesses of the Battle of Arnhem, also known as Operation Market Garden. It will be published on 18 February by Kosmos Uitgevers. We asked him how his book came about. 

 

How did you become interested in the Battle of Arnhem?

Ten years ago I pitched an idea to the British Medical Journal about a Dutch general practitioner who has shot by the Nazis during the battle after helping wounded British soldiers. Even 60 years later local people still gathered to remember him. I attended the commemoration and met people who had witnessed events surrounding the murder. One elderly woman in particular had, as a teenager, last seen her father marched off that day with a gun in his back. He was among the five men shot. I interviewed her at length and she put me in touch with other surviving eyewitnesses to the battle. I found the stories incredibly moving and realised that unless I recorded them now many would soon be lost altogether. Later a journalist on the Gelderlander Harry van der Ploeg wrote about me and I was interviewed on local radio resulting in a flood of people contacting me with their stories.

 

For a journalist, what are the particular challenges of doing this kind of oral history?

Interviewing elderly people about traumatic events which took place 60 to 70 years before is an honour, an art and a huge challenge, which took every bit of my 30 years’ experience with journalism. You must be very respectful and sensitive. Some people cried, others cancelled after the thought of an interview sparked recurrent nightmares, others became dear friends. The art was simply to listen and let them talk. Sometimes tiny little details were hugely revealing; or what they clearly did not want to talk about. Others talked at great length about the general history of the battle, while I carefully prompted them asking: “Yes but what happened to you? What did you see, feel and smell? What today stays in your mind?” The beauty is that after a while you know so much about the battle, about what happened in a particular room at a particular time of day, that you can win the confidence of your interviewee some of whom had literally waited a lifetime to tell someone.

 

de verschrikking van de nacht omslag 2015

There were many famous and not so famous WWII battles. What in your opinion makes Market Garden noteworthy?

Arnhem, like Stalingrad, was a Second World War battle in which the civilians were often trapped amid the fighting which took place in their kitchens, bedrooms, gardens and streets. So it was a battle in which the civilians had a front-line view of the action. Elsewhere there have been countless military history books based on veterans – the soldiers – memories; here was a chance to use the same technique but from the civilians’ viewpoint.

Even by standards of warfare Arnhem has a particularly tragic narrative. The Allies were winning, Brussels had fallen without a shot, the Dutch on Mad Tuesday (September 5, 1944) were jubilant at the thought of liberation. From Arnhem, heavy shelling could be heard in the distance. Then it all went wrong. Over-ambition by the Allies, a series of tactical blunders in the use of airborne troops and the fierce determination of battle–hardened SS troops to defend their Fatherland, meant the Second World War dragged on for another eight months. The Dutch north of the Rhine continued to endure an increasingly brutal occupation and widespread starvation during the bitterly cold Hongerwinter of 1944-45, while those around Arnhem were evicted from what had then become a forbidden combat zone, and their empty homes were plundered.

 

During the course of your research, what insight surprised you the most?

What is shocking was the strong desire on the part of most civilians after the war to forget their suffering, to move on and down play their experiences; while at the same time showing a huge determination to remember the sacrifice of the airborne troops. Asked even 60 years later, many replied “it was not us who were the heroes it was the airborne”. For the civilians, war and occupation was a horrible experience they wanted to forget. They wanted to work hard and enjoy post-war prosperity. Many did not return to Arnhem, of those who did few talked or wrote about their experiences at the time. Neighbours who had shared moments of extreme danger fell silent about the past. And yet, often decades later a sight or sound would trigger a flashback and a need to talk – the noise of an aircraft engine, a discarded boot, the sound and smell of fireworks, a candle-lit cellar restaurant.


Have you any ideas for another book?

Just like a news story or a feature, another idea crops up while you are writing it. There were so many stories, angles, aspects of the Battle of Arnhem that one could chase up. I would like to research in more detail specific tales of heroic support for their would-be liberators, not just from the resistance but from ordinary people and in particular from young teenagers or children wise in the ways of war before their time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The NUJ rejects the new draft code of practice for the UK Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which allows the police and other authorities to access journalists' communications without any independent process or judicial oversight. The new draft denies journalists an opportunity to defend the confidentiality of their sources, and information that deserves to be in the public domain won't see the light of day as a consequence. The NUJ believes that RIPA powers have been systematically abused and the law must change.

Source: RIPA – amendments are not enough, UK government needs to change the law

 

The new year brought some hope for the three al-Jazeera journalists, Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy, and Baher Mohamed jailed last year in Egypt on charges of spreading false news. On 1 January a court in Cairo order a retrial after prosecutors acknowledged there was serious problems with the verdicts. 

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Police forces in Turkey raided media outlets known to be close to a US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen. At least 23 people, including journalists and television producers, have been detained so far in Istanbul and elsewhere in the country and are apparently being accused of forming a criminal organization. The NUJ joins the International Federation of Journalists and European Federation of Journalists in condemning the attack on Turkish journalists.

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