Why I Was Refused Entry to Cover UK Arms Fair
Never before in my career have I been banned from attending an event to which other journalists have been admitted.
13 Sep 2019 – On Tuesday [10 Sep], I watched as thousands of people streamed towards a 100-acre conference centre in east London, flashed their passes to the security guards at the gates, and strolled inside.
There were extraordinary numbers of sleek, middle-aged businessmen in tailored suits, the (very) occasional young woman, and a number of men in military uniform: soldiers from Britain, airmen from Germany, sailors from the United States, France and Bangladesh.
An ‘abhorrent’ affair
They were attending the Defence and Security Equipment International 2019 (DSEI), Europe’s biggest arms fair, a UK government-backed event that is held in London every two years – much to the regret of the city’s Mayor Sadiq Khan, who describes it as an “abhorrent” affair.
There were delegations from 68 countries, all invited by the British government to attend. They included representatives from eight governments that feature on the British government’s own human rights watch list: Bahrain, Bangladesh, Colombia, Egypt, Israel, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan.
Members of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition which continues to bomb Yemen were in attendance. The arms fair’s guest list, one campaigner against the arms trade suggests, “reads like a who’s who of despots, dictators and human rights abusers”.
But while these people were welcome, I was not.
Persona non grata!
DSEI issues passes for journalists wishing to report on the event: I applied at the beginning of August. Having heard nothing by last week, I contacted the registration office, and a few minutes later received an email from the “security team” saying: “After reviewing your application we are unable to establish that you are a journalist/editor/production team member in a relevant field.”
One would have hoped that people working in the arms industry would not so quickly run for cover
In reply, I pointed out that I had been a journalist for more than 35 years, had covered six wars, and had worked alongside members of the British military in Northern Ireland, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Bosnia. Furthermore, I work for Middle East Eye. How much more relevant could my work be?
It was to no avail: the security team informed me that I simply wasn’t coming in.
This came as something of a surprise. I’m clearly not a security threat, and MEE has attended DSEI in the past. Never before in my career have I been banned from attending an event to which other journalists have been admitted. I was not alone: Solomon Hughes, a journalist with the news and satirical magazine Private Eye was told that he, too, was persona non grata.
The National Union of Journalists wrote to DSEI to protest. Index on Censorship, the international free speech group, contacted me to say it was notifying the Council of Europe; the Council posted an alert which condemned the banning of Hughes and myself as having a “chilling effect on media freedom”.
It has asked the British government for a response.
Running for cover
Inside the conference centre, which is owned by the Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company, were representatives of more than 1,600 arms and defence companies. There were tanks, missiles, rifles and helicopters on display. Afloat on the disused dock around the back were a few battleships.
Perhaps an explanation for the ban is to be found in the statement that DSEI made to the industry trade journal, UK Press Gazette. “Due to the high level of interest, we prioritise defence and security industry correspondents and publications,” DSEI said.
Read More » Middle East Eye journalist refused entry to cover UK arms fair
In other words, the organisers, a company called Clarion Events Ltd, will admit journalists who wish to write about how these weapons are being bought and sold. But those who report also on how they are used are not so welcome.
I’m sure that DSEI was not worried that I might button-hole one or two of the sleek businessmen and talk to them about some of the horrors I have witnessed; there have been a couple of matters that I have seen that I don’t care to discuss even with friends.
But maybe they were concerned that some of the weapons on display might have piqued my interest, and that I would have made further enquiries about them. And of course, they would be right: that is what some journalists do.
I have repeatedly asked DSEI if it wishes to respond to the condemnation of the Council of Europe, and it has declined to do so.
That, too, has surprised me. One would have hoped that people working in the arms industry would not so quickly run for cover.
- Council of Europe: Barring MEE journalist from arms fair has ‘chilling effect’ on press
- Arms companies failing to carry out due diligence on human rights: Amnesty
- In pictures: Artists against the arms trade
Ian Cobain is a senior reporter at Middle East Eye. He is an award-winning journalist and the author of Cruel Britannia and also The History Thieves.
Tags: Arms Industry, Arms Trade, Capitalism, Conflict, Development, Economics, European Union, Journalism, Media, Military, NATO, Politics, Power, Social justice, UK, USA, Violence, War, Weapons, West, World
DISCLAIMER: The statements, views and opinions expressed in pieces republished here are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of TMS. In accordance with title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. TMS has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is TMS endorsed or sponsored by the originator. “GO TO ORIGINAL” links are provided as a convenience to our readers and allow for verification of authenticity. However, as originating pages are often updated by their originating host sites, the versions posted may not match the versions our readers view when clicking the “GO TO ORIGINAL” links. This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.
Click here to go to the current weekly digest or pick another article:
WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION:
- Manhattan Project Spies, Cold War, MAD--Their Efforts Gifted Us 75 Years of No Nuclear War
- Trump Budget Gives Top Priority to New Generation of Nuclear Weapons
- The Art of the Deal, Pentagon-Style: Wars without Victories, Weapons without End
- While EU Leaders Squabble, the Elephant in the Room Remains Unnoticed
- EU Summit Agrees to €750 Billion Fund for the Banks and Corporations
- Crisis at the Commission: Inside Europe’s Response to the Coronavirus Outbreak
- Racism, Sexism, Classism – The Necessary Incoherence of ‘Mainstream’ Ethical Debate
- Online and Independent: The Future of Journalism Is Already Here
- On Wikipedia as a Disinformation Operation
- Only Bold State Intervention Will Save Us from a Future Owned by Corporate Giants
- The Rich Just Keep on Getting Richer
- “Goldman Sachs Is Still Goldman Sachs”: Investment Banks Soar as COVID-19 Rattles Economy