Vaughan Smith leaned forward in his chair and winced as a scene from Baghdad ER, a documentary film about a US Army hospital in Iraq, rolled across the screen.
"It's pretty gory," he said as the camera zoomed in on a soldier's eye, from which a surgeon was about to remove a bit of shrapnel.
While some people look away from the effects of war, Smith prefers to examine them more closely. A former officer with the Queen's Guards, an elite British military unit, he went on to become a founder of Frontline Television News, a group of British cameramen who gained a reputation for taking extraordinary risks to bring back film from Afghanistan, Iraq, the Balkans and other war zones.
After the deaths of two of the three other founders of the agency, Smith set up the Frontline Club in London. Since it opened in 2003, the club has become a popular way station for war correspondents, as well as a busy forum for screenings of films like Baghdad ER and discussions of current affairs and journalism issues, including the safety of reporters.
"We saw friends get killed in the course of their work," said Smith, 43, who was shot twice himself while covering the Balkan wars. "We thought their work was undervalued and wanted to stimulate debate about the role of journalists."
That makes the Frontline Club very different from the London clubs of legend, where gentlemen sip port in the company of like-minded souls. In the 1980s, journalists gravitated toward the Groucho Club, which developed a notorious reputation for the number of drinks and scoops that were spilled within. In the 1990s some media types peeled away to Soho House, which has a New York outpost as well. The Wig & Pen Club, the London watering hole where lawyers and reporters mingled in the glory days of Fleet Street, closed in 2003.
But while the denizens of these drinking dens whisper about the latest affairs between members of Parliament, the Frontline Club is the place to go to eavesdrop on a conversation about, say, the political situation in Kyrgyzstan.
While the club's bar is reserved for members, who chat in English, French or Arabic, work on laptops or sip Laotian beer, there is also a Frontline restaurant, where the public can dine on Welsh mountain lamb rump or line-caught plaice, against a backdrop of photos of London during the blitz.
In a small auditorium upstairs, the Frontline Forum, supported by proceeds from the restaurant and a charitable trust, organizes film screenings, book introductions and panel discussions on current events and journalism issues. In September, for example, the forum plans a discussion of coverage of the conflict in Lebanon, focusing on the difficulties journalists face in sorting out fact from spin at a time when both Hezbollah and Israel, and their supporters, are getting better at the propaganda war.
"A lot of people won't talk about these things, but we think it's better to air them, in a neutral way," Smith said.
So, while the forum has played host to executives of al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based satellite broadcaster loathed by the Bush administration, it has also screened a documentary that casts doubt on allegations of a massacre at Jenin on the West Bank by the Israel Defense Forces in 2002.
The Frontline Club has about 850 members, who pay annual fees of ?250 (US$475), though freelancers receive discounts. About 70 percent of the members are in the news media business, although bullet wounds are not a prerequisite for joining.
While mementos from former Frontline agency cameramen killed in the line of duty are displayed in glass cases, Smith insisted that the club does not seek to capitalize on the glamour of war reporting.
"Yes, it's sexy and I see the appeal," he said, "but we're serving a community and meeting a need, not using that community."
Smith set up Frontline by borrowing ?3 million against his family's estate in Norfolk, England, and has received financing for its events from the Open Society Institute, a philanthropic organization set up by the billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros. Though Frontline has yet to break even, Smith is weighing the possibility of opening a club in New York or Washington, perhaps with a local business partner.
A more definite move is into Russia, where Frontline plans to start a series of events this autumn, in partnership with local organizations promoting press freedom, like the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations and Internews Russia. Press freedom has become a sensitive issue in Russia as the government of President Vladimir Putin has expanded its influence over the news media and curbed the activities of nongovernmental organizations.
"It is important because modern Russian journalism is only starting to be formed," said Oleg Panfilov, director of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, in an e-mail from Moscow.
While Smith keeps busy for now managing the restaurant and club, which he refers to as the "family farm," he said he missed going into the field. He is thinking about ways to use Frontline's Web site as a vehicle to distribute independent journalism, perhaps through blogs or video clips from television freelancers.
And, while running a restaurant is surely a safer way to make a living, it creates headaches of a different sort.
"From news cameraman to restaurateur is quite a learning curve," Smith said. "One thing I have learned is how motivated people are in journalism."
With its passing of Hong Kong’s new National Security Law, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) continues to tighten its noose on Hong Kong. Gone is the broken 1997 promise that Hong Kong would have free, democratic elections by 2017. Gone also is any semblance that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) plays the long game. All the CCP had to do was hold the fort until 2047, when the “one country, two systems” framework would end and Hong Kong would rejoin the “motherland.” It would be a “demonstration-free” event. Instead, with the seemingly benevolent velvet glove off, the CCP has revealed its true iron
At the end of last month, Paraguayan Ambassador to Taiwan Marcial Bobadilla Guillen told a group of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators that his president had decided to maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan, despite pressure from the Chinese government and local businesses who would like to see a switch to Beijing. This followed the Paraguayan Senate earlier this year voting against a proposal to establish ties with China in exchange for medical supplies. This constituted a double rebuke of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) diplomatic agenda in a six-month span from Taiwan’s only diplomatic ally in South America. Last year, Tuvalu rejected an
South China Sea exercises in July by two United States Navy nuclear-powered aircraft carriers reminds that Taiwan’s history since mid-1950, and as a free nation, is intertwined with that of the aircraft carrier. Eventually Taiwan will host aircraft carriers, either those built under its democratic government or those imposed on its territory by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). By September 1944, a lack of sufficient carrier airpower and land-based airpower persuaded US Army and Navy leaders to forgo an invasion to wrest Taiwan from Japanese control, thereby sparing Taiwanese considerable wartime destruction. But two
As Taiwan is engulfed in worries about Chinese infiltration, news reports have revealed that power inverters made by China’s Huawei Technologies Co are used in the solar panels on the top of the Legislative Yuan’s Zhenjiang House (鎮江會館) on Zhenjiang Street in Taipei. However, what is even more worrying is that Taiwan’s new national electronic identification card (eID) has been subcontracted to the French security firm and eID maker Idemia, which has not only cooperated with the Chinese Public Security Bureau to manufacture eIDs in China, but also makes the new identification cards being issued in Hong Kong. There might be more