I have been attending meetings about how to stop the illicit trade in cultural objects for more years than I care to remember. (And if something concrete doesn’t happen soon, it will be more years than I am able to remember). Pretty near the top of any agenda is the need to raise public awareness of the issues involved. (Which are that buying illicitly-traded objects creates a demand which is fed by a trade which causes looting which damages and destroys cultural heritage). It doesn’t take long for someone to start talking about the potential of inflight magazines for reaching out to a good cross-section of the public. The travelling public at least, the type of people who might be expected to take an interest in such things.
The British Airways High Life magazine is a case in point. Published monthly, it is found in most seat pockets on all British Airways flights, domestic and international. The December 2015 issue showed exactly what might be possible. It featured a well-illustrated article called Tusk Force, describing how poaching threatens the survival of elephants in Kenya and reporting on conservation strategies that are in place to save them. Good stuff. The same issue carried a piece by BBC world affairs editor John Simpson reminiscing about the time he bought what he believes to be Northern Song bowl from a bunch of tomb robbers in Beijing for ‘a hundred bucks’. He knows he really shouldn’t have, but he ‘can’t help thinking that the gang of skinny, jokey little characters from remotest China have brought something wonderful to light from the depths of the earth’. That’s all right then. Not really what is envisaged though at the meetings I attend.
High Life is produced and published for British Airways by Cedar Communications Ltd of London. The small print advises that ‘… opinions expressed in High Life do not necessarily reflect the views of British Airways or the publisher’. Let us hope they don’t. Let us hope too that the millions of passengers reading Simpson’s piece do not follow his example.