Kate Adie brings her war on fake news to the Middle East

Grazia meets the veteran reporter to learn why she believes the truth will always be more powerful than alternative facts
Kate Adie brings her war on fake news to the Middle East

It's been almost 30 years since Kate Adie was deported to Dubai for the first time. “We were in the middle an insurgency and two wars in Sri Lanka,” recalls the former BBC News Chief News Correspondent. “Everybody ran into trouble, and eventually we heard they were running after us. We were asked at the airport where we wanted to go, and one of the first flights out was to Dubai.” Ever the trailblazer, she was no stranger to the emirate. “I came very early on in the late ’70s, early ’80s,” she reveals. “We used Dubai as a hub for journalists because it had a very efficient airport, it was a place where telephones worked internationally – which was not the case for most of the Middle East – and we knew we could regroup, and send stories out. These were the times of the Soviet-Afghan War [1979-1989], and the Iran-Iraq War [1980-88], so this was a place you could operate out of. The surrounding cities didn’t even have international phones.”

Today, the British journalist, now 72, returns to our shores in happier circumstances for the 10th Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. Underplaying her era-defining coverage of world events including the Iranian Embassy siege in London in 1980 and the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, she states, “You’re trying to present the world as it is. All journalism does that. Or should,” she emphasises.

However, changes in the way we consume television, advances in technology, and dwindling network budgets means that news reporting is a very different landscape to when Kate was lying in a bottom of a ditch, having not washed for five days, with people shooting at her, so she could break a story. “It’s essential to be as close to the story as possible. I say that very mindful that these days 90 per cent of the difficult footage, particularly in conflict areas, that’s shown on TV news around the world is done by agency camera crews often with no reporter there. Just local agency camera crews – who do have the advantage of knowing the language, knowing the territory, and knowing the area, yes – but there’s no reporter present and there’s no full verification of the bigger picture.”

Kate shared her experiences reporting from conflict zones in her 2003 book Corsets to Camouflage: Women and War (Hodder)

She explains, “On social media, I worry all the time about unverified reports. We’ve had some horrors, and I’ve been one of them. Social media churns out videos and calls them ‘news from sources’. A couple of years ago, at a time when Aleppo was under attack, Sky News in Britain ran a piece of footage in the middle of the night that had popped up on social media purporting to be the latest pictures from Syria. It was a scene of crumbled buildings, very shaky figures darting in the background, great chunks of masonry falling down, and in the background, a vehicle shunted through quickly in the rubble. This was being watched in the BBC newsroom by my producer who called Sky, and said, ‘That piece that’s just in from Aleppo. I hate to tell you, but it’s me and Kate Adie in Sarajevo in 1992.’ There was nothing identifiable except than that vehicle, but my producer knew exactly where it was because he had been in it. That was someone else’s pictures of us in 1992. Sky News took it down immediately.”

On the increasing amount of fake reports finding their way onto our screens, she continues, “That’s the kind of sophistication now. Lifting other people’s TV, news from other locations, slicing it into other coverage. How can you tell unless you recognise it? There’s footage being spliced in from feature films. I have to say Ridley Scott is responsible for a lot of it. It’s a slippery slope because nobody will ever believe you when the real story comes out, that’s the problem. I can always say the real truth is twice as forceful as anything you can imagine. Always.”

Yet, there is hope. She adds, “The growth of the internet is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing in the way that it brings information; it is a curse in the way that not all of that information is virtuous, true and useful. And trying to distinguish between what is worthwhile, factual, interesting, and significant and that which is trivial, invented, corrupted and plain malicious is quite difficult.”

She believes, “The more the population is educated, the more it understands about its world and wants to do something about it. I hope the blessing part of the internet grows more fruitful. When you consider that individuals in the world can send pictures, talk to others, communicate, show people what is happening – that’s what the internet should be doing. With better-educated people and more information, the possibilities of the internet are even greater.”

The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature returns in 2019. For details, visit emirateslitfest.com

Photos: Getty Images and courtesy of the publisher