Monday, March 26, 2012

Layer 531 . . . The Guardian, Open Weekend and a Festival of Truth and Reasonableness

                                                                               Oxzen Pics

There's a wall inside the Guardian's HQ where various front pages from the paper's illustrious past are prominently and proudly displayed. The one that stands out for me is the one featuring the outcome of the Jonathan Aitken case. The headline says, starkly and simply: 'A Liar and a Cheat'.

Mr Aitken is no longer a liar and a cheat, as far as anyone knows, and his fight with the Guardian ('with the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of British fair play') was arguably the beginning of his journey towards becoming a decent human being. Had he fraudulently won his case, then there could have been dire repercussions for the Guardian. Had he won his case - then he'd have remained a liar and a cheat for the remainder of his life. However, he lost his case and went to prison for perjury and perverting the course of justice.

Mr Aitken is currently honorary president of Christian Solidarity Worldwide.


In post-modern times we understand that 'absolute truth' is difficult to establish, and that individual truth is somewhat relative: it depends to a great extent on one's standpoint and mindset.

What's true to one person is not true to another. For a Christian, God exists. To an atheist, God does not exist - but this doesn't mean Christians are liars. They just see truth differently. Their truth is based on belief, hope, faith, intuition, etc. In other words, "truth" is sometimes  a matter of opinion and belief.

"Comment is free," wrote Guardian editor CP Scott in 1921, "but facts are sacred".

                                                           Oxzen Pics


On Radio 4's 'Start The Week' this morning Werner Herzog spoke about "the ecstacy of truth". "Ecstatic truth illuminates something deep inside you."


Last weekend the Guardian held its first ever "Open Weekend" at its HQ and the adjoining Kings Place centre.

Will Hutton and Vince Cable                Oxzen Pics

The Guardian's weekend appears to have been a complete sell-out of the hundreds of lectures, seminars, discussions and debates that were on offer - 10 of them per hour throughout both Saturday and Sunday. At £30 per day it wasn't exactly cheap, but compared with an average concert at the O2 or a show in the West End it was, hour for hour, incredible value - and probably far more stimulating and enjoyable than the average concert or show for the kind of people who regularly read the Guardian.

Jayati Ghosh, John Lanchester, Will Hutton, Heather Stewart        Oxzen Pics

The open weekend was organised by a team led by Madeleine Bunting, and they can take enormous credit for the range of things on offer, and also for the festival-like atmosphere, which was no doubt aided by two days of blue skies and sunshine. It was good to see the outdoor areas alongside the canals also being well used for refreshment, relaxation and conversation, as well as for the other attractions on offer, such as various food stalls, narrowboat trips, a cheese barge and a book barge.

Larry Elliott and Jeffrey Sachs                                    Oxzen Pics

Apparently about 5,000 people attended, and watching the crowd walk up York Way from Kings Cross in the morning and back again in the evening, one was reminded of the crowds at other great festivals such as Woodstock and Glastonbury. The Guardianistas' Woodstock, indeed.

Guardian Open Weekend: a festival of readers and reasonableness
Imagine if you can Richard Littlejohn's worst nightmare – with cheese, crosswords and Clay Shirky thrown in
by Stephen Moss
"Curiosity and conviviality, the two Cs, were our watchwords," explained Madeleine Bunting, director of the Guardian's Open Weekend.
It was Richard Littlejohn's worst nightmare . . . 5,000 Guardianistas gathered under one roof at Kings Place in London at the weekend for a festival of reasonableness. The weather was perfect, proving that God, whatever the Bible might suggest, is a centrist.
The philosophical starting point for the weekend was, where does the Guardian go from here? How do we carry on in a world where newspapers are dying and social media are becoming ever more central? Here made manifest was the community which might eventually replace the traditional us-and-them relationship.
Should media organisations offer a product, a service, or strive to build a different sort of organisation – a group of like-minded people who thought "God forbid that the Guardian should ever go out of business?" 
It was clear what shape the 300-strong audience thought the Guardian of the future should take. These, after all, were the loyalest of the loyal, people who had given up their lost-hour Sunday to ponder existential media questions and eat a lot of free cheese.
The weekend was principally about those readers, and meeting Cathy Robertson, who had come down from Liverpool with her Guardian-agnostic husband, summed up its purpose.
"It's a fantastic opportunity to get closer to the paper I've read for years," she said. "After this I'll be reading it with new insight. I'll feel closer to it; feel it's even more my paper and that it reflects my values. It's been a wonderful experience."

    Kings Place                                  Oxzen Pics

Gary Younge & Linton Kwesi Johnson                     Oxzen Pics
Guardian Open Weekend                    Oxzen Pics


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