When campaigners edit papers.

When campaigners edit papers.

When campaigners edit papers.

What the foreign papers are saying.
June 19 2003 8:28 PM

Editor for a Day

In a move the paper described as "a unique occasion in the history of the national press," Britain's Independent handed over the green eyeshade to businesswoman and political activist Anita Roddick Thursday, making her editor for the day. The Independent reported that Body Shop founder Roddick, who became a dame of the British Empire in the queen's birthday honors late last week, secured the job in a charity auction last December with a modest bid of $3,100.

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Roddick's makeover was far from extreme. Most of the paper followed its standard format, but she contributed two op-eds (a rather vapid paean to self-esteem, which she characterized as "the radical route to revolution," and a bland call for holistic education) and directed the Indy's columnists and reporters "towards stories from around the world about which she feels passionate." The product of that passion was a series of campaigning pieces focusing on migration and free trade.

Although British newspapers tend to merge news and commentary more freely than their American counterparts, many of the news stories produced under Roddick's direction read like campaign literature (or the kind of pieces that can be found in an opinion magazine like Slate). A story about the death of up to 70 would-be immigrants from Africa who drowned as they attempted to enter the European Union described EU leaders turning away from the victims "without a twitch of conscience. Rather than address the underlying reasons that send 'illegal immigrants' to Europe's shores—EU heads of state will instead contemplate ways of speeding up ways of deporting them to transit camps or 'protection zones' outside Europe." A related piece griped that this weekend's EU summit will not discuss the "economic factors that drive migrants half way round the world in search of a better life: the trade barriers that bar access to Third World goods and the billions of euros in subsidies paid to EU farm barons and agribusiness that cause economic ruin in the developing world. The 15 leaders will make no attempt to discuss what connects the flow of asylum-seekers to Europe and the obstacles placed in the way of the goods their countries try to sell us."

Elsewhere, the paper chronicled how a Dutch import fee on flowers caused the loss of 2,000 Kenyan jobs, decried the "massive subsidies paid to American cotton farmers [that] are destroying the businesses of producers in west Africa," and, in an imaginative feature, looked at how local producers of the five ingredients in thieboudienne, Senegal's national dish, "are being driven out of their livelihoods by the dumping of cheaper, subsidised imports from Europe and the US."

As might be expected, the Independent's broadsheet rivals responded to the special issue with snarkiness. The Guardian's "Media Monkey" columnist noted that although Roddick had agreed not to plug her own business during her day in the Indy editor's chair, she did manage to name-check a family firm: "A feature about sex workers getting their own union in today's Independent Review is illustrated with a large photograph captioned: 'Sex workers protest outside the London sex shop Coco de Mer.' More upmarket erotica salon than seedy sex shop, Coco de Mer was founded by Roddick's daughter, Sam." Cattier still was the Daily Telegraph's "Way of the World," a regular column in which Craig Brown channels famous folk. Brown's Roddick was spot on in observations like, "There may be misery and oppression the world over, but our warehouse is full of more than three years' supply of Iriquoi Rainforest Peppermint and Tomato Ankle Blancmange; there's no time to waste."

June Thomas is managing producer of Slate podcasts.