Comment | Lowkey: Why I had to say no to Westwood TV
Ideas, New in Ceasefire - Posted on Wednesday, January 25, 2012 10:00 - 54 Comments
Tim Westwood with troops at Camp Bastion
Being not only a Hip Hop artist but a life-long fan of the genre, I have, like many others, been very familiar with Tim Westwood. As a young boy, I remember listening to his show on Capital FM and have since spent the majority of my almost decade-long musical career trying to get a spot on his BBC Radio1/BBC 1xtra show. For a long time, an appearance on the show was – and, to some extent, remains – the benchmark for any aspiring Hip Hop or Grime MCs. For many rising artists, you were only considered relevant if you had been acknowledged by Westwood. Moreover, whenever Westwood chose to champion a particular artist, throwing his weight behind their career, big success was almost guaranteed.
Yes, his clout as the self-described “gatekeeper” has declined over the past three years, due to the rise of independent media like SBTV and Grime Daily and, more recently, the progression of Radio 1’s Hip Hop DJ Charlie Sloth. Nonetheless, turning down an invitation to appear on Tim Westwood TV, as I have done this month, was not a decision I could take lightly.
As far as I am aware, Tim Westwood’s first visit to the occupying military base ‘Camp Bastion’, in Afghanistan, was in early February 2011. In contrast to his later trip in May 2011, this one seemed to be in a more personal capacity, he had remarked of the British troops stationed there that they were “really making a difference to the world” and that he felt he had a “moral duty to come out”. He also vowed to “come back with Radio 1”. And come back he did.
A BBC Press release, published in late April 2011, announced that “Tim Westwood will be broadcasting his show live from Camp Bastion, the main base for British troops in Afghanistan, for five consecutive days from Monday 30 May 2011.” BBC Radio 1Xtra, according to the announcement, was ‘the home of new black music’.
Further down, the press release proudly proclaimed that BBC Radio 1Xtra had “teamed up with BFBS (British Forces Broadcasting Service) to simulcast Westwood’s show from the base, linking live with the BFBS Radio studio on the ground in Afghanistan, across the UK and to British Forces in more than 20 countries.” Moreover, Westwood’s Afghanistan shows were to be aired not only on BBC 1Xtra and the BFBS but also on BBC Radio 1 for 5 consecutive days.
This naturally prompts a question: what does ‘black music’ have to do with the occupation of Afghanistan? And why should BBC Radio 1Xtra listeners be subjected to this propaganda? Indeed, even setting aside the broader fact that as a citizen of this country my taxes were being spent to station an army, supposedly representing my interests, in over twenty countries, I found this entire press release very alarming.
Of course, for some this will come as no surprise. After all, whenever the BBC reports from places occupied by British soldiers, the journalists doing so are often “embedded” with them, and that is the perspective many have come to expect from the BBC. However the Westwood move seemed to me to signal a concerted effort to increase support for the British occupation amongst a specific UK demographic.
Although I do not believe Westwood’s decision to do this to be a malicious one, I do not believe it was the apolitical gesture of goodwill he tried to depict it as when he said “I got quite a lot of hostility back in the UK from people who said I was supporting the war, but that’s not what this is about. There is a distinction between the people who sent them and the people who are out there doing it.”
Indeed, a blog post by Rhys Hughes, executive producer for BBC Radio 1 makes clear how calculated this decision was, writing “BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra decided to bring Tim Westwood to Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, because the story of the troops out here is primarily a 19-year-old’s story, which is perfect for our audience.” Hughes went on to add “Radio 1 and 1Xtra worked very closely with BFBS (British Forces Broadcasting Service) as well as the MOD to make this trip possible.”
The Ministry of Defence are precisely the people who send our young men and women to kill and die in our name. As such, this was clearly a concerted effort to target the very demographic they look to recruit. After all, who do the Ministry of Defence rely on to leave their homes in Britain and sacrifice their humanity thousands of miles away? It is, as Rhys Hughes put it, the 19-year-olds that are “perfect for our audience.”
Who do the Ministry of Defence rely on to sell these wars? Who do they rely on to recruit for these wars? To provide justification for these wars? The media, of course. The BBC, of course. And now Tim Westwood, the most well-known Hip Hop DJ in this country.
Indeed, upon Westwood’s return from Afghanistan, the BBC 1xtra website published some pictures of his trip with one photo labelled “Westwood phrases in Helicopter ground crew greeting” showing a white board with the words “Westwood quote of the day: Drop a bomb!” written on it.
Whether this was written by Westwood himself is unclear but the sad joke is there for the world to see. Have the people underneath those bombs ceased to be human?
Now, as I’ve said earlier I do not believe this decision was educated enough to be a malicious one on the part of Tim Westwood, but it clearly was a calculated one on the part of the BBC and the MOD hierarchies. Essentially, this trip has enrolled Tim Westwood as part of the war machine; a war machine I want nothing to do with.
Just this month, footage surfaced of US Marines urinating on Afghan corpses. The BBC, no doubt briefed by the MOD, fell over itself to report that those were ‘Taliban corpses’. Not human corpses, just Taliban corpses. As if they even knew the names of the people they were urinating upon, let alone any political affiliations they had and as if that makes any difference anyway.
Can Tim Westwood imagine for one minute how it feels to have your country violently invaded, occupied against your will and then see those foreign troops literally treat the corpses of your countrymen as a toilet? No he can’t. Can he imagine his country being occupied four times by the same foreign power in less than two centuries? Why do the British keep going back to the Afghans’ land? A land almost everyone knows to be the ‘graveyard of empires’?
Let us ignore the feelings of the Afghan people, as we do everyday anyway, and think about what this occupation is doing to the British soldiers involved in it, and how it affects their lives. A recent study has found that, for the last 2 years running, the US military has lost more troops to suicide than it has to combat in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. This is the US military and not the British military but it would be interesting to find out the figures for the latter. I would not be surprised if such findings end up being somewhat similar. Of course, even if such studies existed, I wonder if the MOD would grant us access to them.
Or let us ignore the feelings of the soldiers, as those feelings are clearly not valued by the war machine that has sent them anyway. Let us think of how the citizens of this country feel about our military presence in Afghanistan. Well, in April 2010 an Independent on Sunday poll found that 77% of British citizens want the troops to be withdrawn from Afghanistan. And here we reach the truth of Tim Westwood’s trip to Afghanistan.
The reality is that the MOD and the BBC need to sell an increasingly unpopular military adventure to the youth of this nation, so they use a character of dwindling relevance by getting him to broadcast his live show from the heart of the occupation itself. After all, despite his dwindling relevance, this character remains the most widely recognised Hip Hop personality this country has ever produced.
This was, in essence, a failed attempt to make war cool. Now, none of us are perfect, I have made a million mistakes and bad decisions in my life and I am likely to make a million more, but turning down Tim Westwood TV is not one of them. I hope Tim Westwood develops the conscience to regret this decision in years to come.
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Also see: The Second Death of Mark Duggan.