Our Young Ambassador Billy White, from Norwich School, reviews 'The Harriet Martineau Lecture: Speaking Truth to Power' at Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2017.


This year’s Harriet Martineau Lecture – named after the radical Norfolk journalist who campaigned for women’s rights and the abolition of slavery – dealt with the uncomfortable subject of speaking out against the government in Mexico. Lydia Cacho and Anabel Hernández both spoke passionately about their own experiences of revealing corruption at great personal risk.

Anabel Hernández spoke first, mainly about the dangerous nature of journalism in Mexico. I was initially disappointed that I would be hearing two discrete lectures, but they complemented each other very well. Anabel, whose death was ordered by the police several years ago, began by reeling off a list of journalists recently murdered by the government. She then launched into a shocking talk lamenting the complete lack of freedom of expression in Mexico. Lydia Cacho was visibly affected by the stories. Although not a particularly confident speaker, Anabel’s outrage was unmistakeable.

powerful, fascinating and shocking

Lydia’s talk was a much more personal examination of the events that led her to become a journalist, from her childhood spent, as a girl, feeling objectified to being inspired by her family to expose lies wherever she found them. Her talk was better written – some passages were almost poetic. It was, however, strange that she did not mention her reported experiences of torture, which would have made the talk even more powerful. Again, it was impossible not to realise just how much Lydia and Anabel, and many other journalists like them, have risked and suffered to reveal the truth.

The lecture finished with a Q&A with the introducer. This provoked an interesting discussion on the ethics of presenting gangsters as glamorous and heroic. It was a shame that there was no opportunity for audience participation however – Lydia and Anabel stayed to talk informally with audience members afterwards but I had to quickly return to school. Speaking Truth to Power certainly wasn’t an easy listen, but it remained powerful, fascinating and shocking. 


Our Young Ambassador programme, launched in 2016, aims for every school in Norfolk to have a UNESCO City of Literature champion. These ambassadors share a love of reading, writing and books in their schools and local communities and spread the word of Norwich as England’s first UNESCO City of Literature.

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