Friday, April 03, 2009

G20 - "long, boring & an anti-climax"

Journalists at the start of a long day at the G20 Summit

It was a long day at the ExCel Centre. For journalists and photographers it was longer. The gathering of politicians perhaps had an easier time, even if the weight of the global economic crisis was sitting firmly on their shoulders.

The G20 leaders arrived in London on Wednesday as thousands protested against capitalism, bankers and the government. But few if any saw nor heard the calls for change. US President Barack Obama was one of the first to arrive, touching down in Airforce One at London’s Stansted airport amid high security. News channels were particularly focused on his arrival while other leaders’ arrivals were virtually ignored.

Obama spent Wednesday meeting with Gordon Brown giving a press conference where he asserted his commitment to solving the economic crisis and affirming that the special relationship between the US and Britain was as strong as ever. On leaving he went on to meet with Russian President Dimitri Medvedev to talk about issues of security ahead of the NATO summit. Meanwhile media speculation grew over whether French President Nicholas Sarkozy would even attend after it was revealed that he was apparently unhappy that certain issues were not being discussed at the summit. He and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel gave a joint press conference later in the day which at least clarified the two leaders were committed to the process.

To watch the entire conference one would have had to tune into Euronews since both the BBC and Sky, who had waited patiently to bring the event to viewers, cut away almost immediately as they had no translation. The Euronews translator was rather whimsical, especially in his description of a French newspaper journalist’s question. “Actually there are so many questions in his question it is hard to know how they [Sarkozy and Merkel] are going to answer,” the translator said. Sarkozy, responded eventually with apparent sarcasm to the journalist’s diatribe.

And there was a certain amount of ridicule in the way Sarkozy was treated by the media. His arrival at Downing Street for the so-called working dinner, a supposed 10 minutes late, was criticised by both Sky and the BBC as being a snub.

The details of what was discussed as the munched through smoked salmon, lamb and Bakewell tart and custard, was not revealed. But there was widespread discussion in the papers as to the seating arrangement. President Hu Jiantao was sat next to Gordon Brown looking somewhat bewildered. He’d have perhaps been better placed next to Australian PM Kevin Rudd where he could have at least chatted about the weather. Rudd of course speaks relatively fluent Mandarin. Sarkozy was not seen in the pictures and it was joked on the Sky News paper review that he may have been served in the kitchen because of his late arrival. As for the wine, French, Italian, Spanish Californian? Nobody knows.

On Thursday the cavalcades of security carried the G20 leaders to London’s Docklands for their final get together. There were some 200 protesters, but they had been kept well back from the ExCel Centre in a so called “designated protest area”. The last time that phrase was used it was in connection with the Beijing Olympics. Though the media did not equate the corralled nature of the protests to the stifled way protests are handled in less democratic countries. Protestors also gathered at the Bank of England, but the numbers were far smaller than seen on the Wednesday. A minutes silence was observed for a male protester in his 50s who died in the early evening of Wednesday. The circumstances of his death are unknown but there was anger expressed towards police with some saying that they had failed to attend to the man quickly enough.

Back at the ExCel Centre journalists, photographers and television crews gathered in a large hall awaiting communiqués arising from the G20 Summit discussions. Representatives from government and institutions paraded around the room giving interviews. Amongst them was British Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling and a rather bored Sir Bob Geldoff.
The G20 leaders meanwhile posed for the family photograph. That in itself proved troublesome with some of the contingent going AWOL. First the Canadian PM Stephen Harper disappeared, apparently on a call of nature. After his return, it was the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi who was absent. But on the third attempt they managed to assemble for the picture.
After four hours of discussion the press waited for the release of the final communiqué and addresses from Brown, Sarkozy and Obama. All leaders were late in giving their speeches and their was a further souring of protocol as Sarkozy and Brown gave their speeches at the same time. No sooner than President Sarkozy had said bonjour, than PM Gordon Brown sauntered onto the stage in another part of the centre to deliver his speech. As such their was little coverage of the Frenchman’s delivery as Sky, the BBC and CNN all cut to the British PM.
In his 1,500 word address Brown said there had been a strong consensus from the G20 members and that this was the fist step in solving the global economic crisis. In his dry and wordy speech Brown said an unprecedented era of international cooperation had begun. “I think a new world order is emerging and with it a new and progressive era of international cooperation,” Brown said.

Obama was far more inspiring with his delivery. Confident, optimistic and even witty he delivered his address like a true statesman. For the media, Obama stole the show. British media of course paid lip service to the speech made by Brown, but it was the US President and his glamorous wife that became the focus of attention these last few days.

As the last journalists packed up their laptops and left the ExCel Centre, many were too tired and weary to make any clear assessment of the day’s proceedings. Many had been focused on getting out their stories about what was said and by whom. “I thought it was a bit of an anti-climax,” one Chinese reporter told tvnewswatch, “What does it all mean at the end of the day?” It will take sometime to absorb what effects the G20 will have, and if the Summit’s proposals will solve the economic crisis. But that will be reported on another day.

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