I don’t know how Simon Reeve does it. Wherever he goes, he manages to include, in on-camera pieces, the most excoriating comments on what he sees and hears.

Often, that can include the most undisguised criticism of the regimes in the countries where he is working. Not just in voice-overs, afterwards, in the safety of the editing suite, but right there, under the guns, so to speak. He is the most charming and personable guy, aside from being a damned good reporter, and that, possibly, helps him to get away with saying things that would send others into local prisons, or worse.

The most recent of his pieces (or the most recent I have seen) concerned the situation on the Myanmar (Burma to you and me) border with Bangladesh where the Rohingya people in their hundreds of thousands are being forced out of their native land and off their ancestral lands in Burma to try to find refuge in what is now the biggest refugee camp in the world, in Bangladesh. The conditions are what you’d expect, and even I have insufficient vocabulary to describe what Simon Reeve was seeing and hearing.

Reeve and his team did something brave and extraordinary. In Burma, they managed to persuade a sub-sect of Buddhist monks to open up on the subject of the Rohingya, and one of the most disturbing things I have seen in a while was the sight and sound of three bland-faced, smiling Buddhist monks, in full togas, spewing hatred at the Muslim Rohingya, and clearly telling the most appalling, bare-faced lies. The whole problem, according to these Buddhist Fascists, was that the Muslims were all trouble-making murderers, victimising the peace-loving Buddhists. The only religion for which I once had any, albeit grudging, respect was Buddhism, which I had associated with gentle tolerance and kindness. Not any more.

Simon Reeve was having none of it. Without having to say so outright, his outrage at this latest form of religion-justified genocide was evident, but he managed to say enough, I thought, to have the Burmese Army throw him in jail. They left him alone. I suppose that the key to his outspoken approach is that he and his producer manage to hide his controversial to-camera stuff by being nicey-nicey while being watched among pretty footage of hills and dales and rivers and general scenery.

I hardly need to remind us that the Rohingya disgrace is yet another example of what religious intolerance – or just plain religion – can produce. Muslim vs Buddhist here. Catholic vs Protestant there. Jew vs Muslim vs Christian somewhere else. All in the name of one or other manifestation of a God, who is, of course always on both sides of the divide at the same time, giving strength to both. Gott mit uns, said the Germans in WW1, while the very same God was sending Tommy Atkins over the top into German machine guns. And vice-versa.

But I digress. Back to Simon Reeve.

One of the saddest and most disappointing things to come out of his work in Burma was confirmation that Aung San Suu Kyi , so long considered by all of us to be a modern-day martyr to the cause of democracy and decency, has turned into an apologist for the Burmese Army in all its brutality. She seems to have learned nothing. If ever there were a case for stripping the Nobel Prize from a one-time winner (she was awarded the Peace Prize in 1991) this is the most compelling. The Peace Prize, for heaven’s sake!


Long may Simon Reeve continue to present his excellent documentaries, and long may his lucky charm last and protect him from the wrath of regimes which he condemns. He is a hero of mine, and I very strongly urge you to watch his programmes. He should be a hero of yours too.


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