Ukraine and Drugs: the vapidity of Stacey Dooley

Picture of Stacey Dooley, a young white woman with light brown hair, talking to a customs officer in OdessaEurope’s Dirty Drug Secret: Stacey Dooley Investigates (viewable in the UK until next Sunday)

Last Monday I saw a programme featuring Stacey Dooley, the British “investigative journalist” whose efforts at understanding the divisions in Luton and the origins of the English Defence League I previously reviewed here. Every time Dooley is on TV, the hits I get for that entry make a huge jump, and last week it was the single most viewed entry on this blog, and so I thought I’d better watch her latest effort, an investigation into the smuggling of drugs such as cocaine through Ukraine into western Europe. She also looked at the effects of home-made drugs on poor people in Ukraine, who cannot afford imported cocaine; the two principal home-made concoctions are said to result in permanent brain damage in one case and a two-year life expectancy in the other for users. As in previous reports by her, there is too much emphasis on her personal reactions to the situations she encounters, and her remarks are often vapid and sometimes downright inappropriate.

Her “investigation” starts off at the port of Odessa, a major Black Sea port which, she claims, is where a lot of heroin and cocaine arrives from South America and elsewhere on its way to western Europe, often disguised in hollowed-out fruit. She meets a serving customs officer who was involved in a seizure of cocaine that had an estimated $180million street value and was hidden inside industrial furnaces, former inspectors and members of gangs who tell her the tricks of the trade, such as bribery and a scanner which has been conveniently out of service for months. She also spoke to a smuggler who told us that his main route out of Ukraine was through Transnistria, an unrecognised ‘country’ on the borders with Moldova. She called its status “a pretty unique position”; in fact it is not, as Northern Cyprus and Somaliland also have de facto independence but are not recognised by other countries. No attempt was made to investigate how the drugs get into the EU when they go that route, as neither Transnistria nor Moldova are in the EU; Romania is, and she does not visit the border with Romania.

During the section on Odessa, someone throws himself off a bridge near to where they are filming, and the programme shows the body lying on the ground, while Dooley explains that a “doctor/paramedic type person” had taken a bag full of a brown substance and hand it to the police and say “drugs”. They also try to get the police to answer their questions and they refuse, provoking some indignation from Dooley and her crew (as if British police officers would answer random questions from a foreign film crew while attending to a suicide). Dooley says that this incident made her want to investigate “what happens to these drugs”, as if that is not what she had gone to Ukraine for in the first place. (See this article for a previous example of Dooley’s inappropriate coverage of suicide.) Later, she visits the Polish border, meeting with various officials who all insist that they have never come across drugs being trafficked across their border, and demonstrate one method of testing coal for drugs, which simply consisted of probing them with a rod; if it came back black, it was coal, and if white, it could be drugs, but all insisted that drug smuggling across the border wasn’t a problem. She made no secret of the fact that she was convinced they were lying and were not even attempting to detect drugs, but did not visit the Polish side of the border to see if they were finding a lot of drugs. In any case, Ukraine is the wrong side of the EU’s immigration and tariff barrier and probably their people do not why they should do the EU’s job, rather than let EU countries’ own officials do it.

Stacey Dooley and former drug addicts on a roundabout in UkraineShe meets two different drug workers and two different communities of drug users in Ukraine, neither of whom use the imported cocaine or heroin, because it is too expensive, but locally-produced drugs. The first is boltuskha and the second “crocodile”, something which has also been seen in the UK; both of these are made from prescription drugs and household products. Her first drug worker, Inna, took her to a basement where some drug addicts lived; the entrance to it was filthy and took her past leaking open sewer pipes, but although the basement itself was being lived in, it was empty, so Inna took Stacey to a roundabout where a group of former addicts lived. I wondered if some of the group had learning disabilities, but we are told that this is the effect of the drug they had been taking, which rendered them unable to walk properly or hold a conversation. At one point Stacey asked a former addict, Natasha, “what goes through your mind” when a fellow addict dies — “is it a wake-up call?”. Really, what an absolutely stupid thing to say to a homeless, brain-damaged woman about her friends’ death.

Much of the rest of her reporting features her gasping in amazement or being so stunned at various things that she can only make a stupid remark or say nothing (or hug someone, as with her interpreter in a documentary she did on Japan). The lead-in scenes to this featured her running around some forest with two armed police officers; why they would allow any journalist to be present at any sensitive operation where body armour is required is beyond me, let alone a young woman who looks (and acts) much younger than her age (26). I am sure that the decisions on what to investigate and where to go were made behind the scenes by people who knew what they were doing and know something about journalism, but all of Dooley’s programmes are about her, and heavily feature her “discovering” things (like the ill-informed young people the BBC seems to imagine will be watching) that are so awful/amazing/whatever, and dropping sometimes huge clangers like the “wake-up call” remark above. When they’re making a documentary about hair or cosmetics, the view of a regular user from off the street might be useful, but when it’s about suicide or drug addiction, they are serious issues and it’s demeaning to have them covered by someone who plays the fool, or is a fool. It’s also demeaning to young people to imagine that they will only care about these things if they are presented by a ditzy young woman with a limited vocabulary. Surely, there is a young woman who has serious journalistic talent (and experience and qualifications) who is losing out on work here. She, the viewers and the subjects are being cheated when serious matters get no more serious coverage than the Dooley treatment.

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