One Hundred Years of Madiba

Nelson Mandela, in his lifetime, had a way of getting people’s attention. Whether it was living up to his African childhood name of Rolihlahla — “one who shakes the tree” or stirs up trouble — or serving as the first chief of a liberation army connected to his political party, the African National Congress, or going to prison for nearly three decades for his beliefs, or emerging from that prison hell to become the first elected president of a free and democratic South Africa, he commanded people’s attention and could not be ignored.

The same holds true in death. Mandela died at age 95 in December 2013, but less than five years later, South Africa and the world this year are celebrating the centenary of Madiba, the tribal clan name by which most South Africans affectionately know Mandela, their beloved former leader.

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Parry’s Way: Journalism as It Should be Done

All the recent obituaries, eulogies and rightful praise for the work of the late American investigative journalist Robert Parry have now moved on by, leaving us only to reflect on the impact that his kind of journalism has had on the mass media field in our time and, just as importantly, where that kind of journalism could and should go from here.

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Playing the Soundtrack of Our Lives

There are many contemporary musical artists around whose work touches us deeply, inspires us, motivates us, tells our life stories in their lyrics and songs. We think of them as playing the soundtrack of our very lives.

A select few musicians in the world, though, rise to the status of soundtrack-makers for entire cultures, peoples and nations. Hugh Masekela, the South African jazz trumpeter who passed on recently at the age of 78, is among that highly regarded level of musical giants. His music was the soundtrack of a nation-in-the-making, South Africa, and spoke directly to countless numbers of people around the globe, especially in the African diaspora.

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Memories of a Grassroots Man

It has been heartwarming and heartbreaking, inspiring and saddening, all at the same time, to see all the tributes to and news coverage about Native American elder and activist Dennis Banks, in the wake of his passing on 29 October at age 80.

Banks is most well known for having co-founded the American Indian Movement in the late 1960s at a turbulent time in modern history and the many confrontations he led or joined in during that time, most notably the 71-day occupation of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, USA. He was a warrior who stood up when his people most needed him, when the times most demanded it, and for that he will always be remembered and loved.

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The Boy in the Picture: A Remembrance

A 16-year-old Japanese boy lies face down on a hospital bed, his eyes closed and face partially obscured from view. His back and arms, oozing blood and pus, show the severe radiation burns he suffered during the atomic bombing of his city, Nagasaki, just five months before by the United States. He is still clinging to life and the Japanese doctors keeping him in a bath of penicillin to fight off infection seem amazed that the boy is still alive.

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Remembering ‘Dark Alliance’ (3)

High up in a skyscraper overlooking the port of San Francisco, California, Coral Talavera Baca began telling the story of “Dark Alliance” that no one in the USA had yet heard. It was a sunny Saturday afternoon, 15 February 1997, and a TV documentary program crew from Japan (for which I served as coordinator) had her wired for sound and the video camera rolling. It was all going on the record — her first public comments ever in regard to the controversial “Dark Alliance” investigation by San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb that was published the year before.

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Remembering ‘Dark Alliance’ (2)

There is nothing like a little police harassment to lend an air of authenticity to producing a TV documentary on the so-called “drug scourge”, and that, appropriately enough, is just what I and a couple other Japanese members of a video production team first experienced upon our landing at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York on Sunday afternoon, 9 February 1997.

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Remembering ‘Dark Alliance’ (1)

It was late in the afternoon on a September day in 1996, when my wife and I and our young son, then just a couple years old, visited a small retail store in West Los Angeles that U.S. filmmaker Spike Lee had recently opened to promote merchandise from his various films. Being a fan of Lee’s work at the time, I knew his store, “Spike’s West”, was one of the places we had to visit during our brief vacation in L.A. before we returned home to Japan.

As we walked into the store that late afternoon, my eye caught a set of free newspapers sitting on a small vertical rack on the sidewalk just outside the shop. I paused to browse through them. They were local African American community newspapers, and a front-page story on one of them immediately pulled me in.

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Peace Be to Brother Ali

As the news spread about the passing of former boxing great Muhammad Ali at age 74 earlier this month, a deep sense of grieving and mourning seemed universal. Not since former South African president Nelson Mandela died in 2013 did we see such a collective sense of loss spanning the globe, and it moved me beyond words.

The comparison between the two men is perhaps an apt one, since Mandela, as a former head of state, was truly a People’s President, while Ali was a genuine People’s Champion in every respect. Both men rose to the heights of glory in their respective fields in their own countries, yet maintained a love of their people and of humanity, and were deeply loved and respected in return.

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Bagdikian Remembered

I never met professor Ben Bagdikian in his lifetime, though I had always wanted to. So I did the next best thing: Over the past few years I introduced his classic book The Media Monopoly (the updated version) to students of my own journalism courses at the university where I teach in Kyoto, Japan.

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