Langan In Zimbabwe

THE MINIATURISATION of television cameras is only partly a matter of technology: they have also been shrunk by our familiarity with them, and our consequent lack of interest in them. If you compare the way members of the public reacted to a camera 20 years ago and the way they react now, the difference is striking: cameras have lost their power to intimidate.

This goes double for a camera being toted by Sean Langan, who, whatever shortcomings he may have as a TV reporter, is certainly not a scary figure. At the beginning of Sean Langan in Zimbabwe (BBC2), having been refused accreditation as a journalist by the authorities and asked to leave the country, he returned in a group of tourists. He said that his camera was camouflaged by all the other cameras around him; but it was also camouflaged by the air of rather puzzled benevolence he projects, his apparent inoffensiveness. This makes him an irritating presence on screen, but the price is worth paying.

The idea behind this series, as with last year’s tour of the Islamic world, Langan Behind the Lines, was to find out something of the texture of life beyond the headlines: so, no white farmers, no meetings with prominent politicians. Instead, what we got last night was a drifting, sometimes frustratingly bumbling travelogue – snatches of conver- sation about politics and English football (Zimbabweans were surprised to find that Langan, as a north Londoner, didn’t support Manchester United), visits to parties and golf- courses, blurry shots from under Langan’s arm of policemen and roadblocks. From all this you could deduce, rather than observe, an underlying violence – a country where everybody monitors what they are saying and who is listening. This constant, barely audible buzz of paranoia was more revealing and disturbing, to my mind, than screaming headlines about the suppression of opposition; it’s just a shame that such an accessible, necessarily alarming programme is put out so late at night, when hardly anybody will see it.

©2002 The Independent

Langan in Zimbabwe – BBC2 2002