Jemima Khan to guest-edit the New Statesman

A free speech special issue featuring contributions from Julian Assange, Anish Kapoor, Oliver Stone,

The human rights campaigner Jemima Khan will be guest-editing the New Statesman this week for a special issue focusing on freedom of information and free speech. Inside the 72-page issue, Khan has interviewed the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, who speaks candidly about life in the coalition government, his relationship with David Cameron and the pain of being hated.

A wide range of writers have been commissioned, from Tony Benn – who outlines how the information age has enabled the Arab revolts – to the Oscar-winning actor Tim Robbins, whose witty and provocative article takes the press to task. Another Oscar winner, Oliver Stone – the director of JFK, Nixon and W – gives his verdict on the US president, Barack Obama.

There's an exclusive article by Julian Assange, who argues that WikiLeaks follows in the best traditions of the radical press. He will also be speaking at the sold-out New Statesman/Frontline Club debate on whistleblowing in London on Saturday 9 April.

Alongside columns by the comedian Russell Brand, the singer Jarvis Cocker and the England cricketer Kevin Pietersen, the issue features reportage on New Orleans from James Fox, a hard-hitting essay on the dangers of foreign "over-intervention" by the Conservative MP Rory Stewart and a condemnation of Pakistan's blasphemy laws by the Lahore-based human rights lawyer Asma Jahangir.

Jason Cowley, editor of the New Statesman, said: "I asked Jemima Khan to guest-edit the New Statesman because I admired her work as a human rights activist in Pakistan and her support for freedom of information.

"We met for a Marmite-and-toast breakfast in January and have been planning the issue ever since. Her enthusiasm and diligence have delighted the whole team. The issue has many surprises and some first-rate journalism, as well as outstanding bespoke artwork, as will be revealed on Thursday."

Jemima Khan, writer and campaigner, said: "I am very grateful to Jason for inviting me to guest-edit this week's issue of the New Statesman. I am a huge fan of the magazine. My task was to bring in new writers – a daunting one, as New Statesman regulars include some of my favourite writers, such as my fellow WikiLeaks supporter John Pilger, my favourite Question Time panellist, Mehdi Hasan, and the philosopher John Gray. I had great fun working with the NS team and enlisting the help of writers who express my own thoughts but with more eloquence, clarity or wit."

Among the contributors in this special issue of the New Statesman are: Simon Pegg, Anish Kapoor, Damien Hirst, Alain de Botton, Helena Kennedy, Daisy Donovan, Mariella Frostrup, John Pilger, A A Gill and Karma Nabulsi.

The issue, cover-dated 11 April, will be on sale in London on Thursday 7 April and in the rest of the country from Friday 8 April. International buyers can obtain copies on our website at

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Did Titantic do more for climate change than Leonardo DiCaprio’s new documentary?

Sex, icebergs and individual plight: the actor’s earlier outing teaches us more about vast disasters than his new docufilm about global warming’s impact, Before the Flood.

“Now you know there was a man named Jack Dawson and that he saved me . . . in every way that a person can be saved.” Or did he? For Titanic actor Leonardo DiCaprio, there is one way in which Jack never did rescue Rose: from the threat of climate catastrophe. 

Over the last 15 years, DiCaprio has made the issue a personal mission. Yet even in his role as UN climate ambassador, he stills feels far from heroic:

“If the UN really knew how I feel, how pessimistic I am about our future . . . I mean to be honest, they may have picked the wrong guy.”

So begins his new documentary, Before the Flood. A quest for answers on climate change, the film sees Leo racing around the world, marvelling at the sound of endangered whales, despairing at the destruction caused by tar-sands – “it looks like Mordor” – and interviewing a series of concerned experts, from professors to Barack Obama to the Pope.

There are plenty of naysayers to stand in his way and put him down. “Who better to educate world leaders on made-up climate change and a crisis that doesn't exist, than an actor with zero years of scientific training?” mocks one commentator from Fox News.

But if DiCaprio can gather enough evidence to believe in himself – AND believe that there are viable solutions out there – then so can we. Or so the story arc promises. His journey thus stands as a guide for our own; a self-education that will lead to salvation for all. 

It's all a little messianic. The film is even named after a biblical painting. And will those who don't already know who DiCaprio is even care? 

The sad fact is that, while DiCaprio’s lasting popularity still owes so much Titanic, the 1997 box-office smash that made his name, his new documentary fails to recapture the dramatic wisdom that put him there. It doesn’t even quip about the icebergs.

This is an oversight. Titanic didn’t win 11 academy awards for nothing. As well as a must-see rite of passage (pun intended) and soundtrack for infinite school discos, it taught me something invaluable about storytelling. Though I was not initially a DiCaprio fan, over the years I’ve come to accept that my lasting love of the film is inseparable from my emotional investment in Leo, or at least in his character, Jack. What Titanic showed so brilliantly was that the fastest way to empathise with suffering on a vast scale – be it a sinking ship or a sinking planet – is to learn to care for the fate of one or two individuals involved.

Every part of Jack and Rose's story is thus intimately linked with the story of the ship. Even that famed sex scene gains its erotic force not from the characters alone, but from their race through the blazing engine room (situated as it is between the foreplay of the naked portrait and the famous post-coital ending in the back of the cab).

And such carefully crafted storytelling isn't only essential to great entertainment but to great activism too. It can literally inspire action – as evidenced by fans’ desperate attempts to prove that both Jack and Rose could have climbed to safety aboard the floating piece of wood.

So would Before the Flood have been better if it had been a little bit more like Titanic and less like An Inconvenient Truth? Yes. And does that mean we should make climate films about epic polar bear love stories instead? Not exactly. 

There are many powerful documentaries out there that make you emotionally invested in the lives of those experiencing the consequences of our indirect (fossil fuel-burning) actions. Take Virunga, a heart-wrenching insight into the struggle of those protecting eastern Congo’s national park.

Sadly, Before the Flood is not one of them. Its examples of climate change – from Beijing air pollution to coral reef destruction – are over-familiar and under-explored. Instead of interviewing a Chinese official with a graph on his iPad, I would have preferred visiting a solar-panel factory worker and meeting their family, who are perhaps suffering from the effects of the smog in a way I can't yet imagine.

If you want a whistlestop tour of all things climate change then this necessary and urgent film is the movie for you. But those hoping it will give new depth to climate activism will be disappointed.

DiCaprio's distant relationship with the effects of climate change leave him stranded at the level of a narrator. He makes for a great elderly Rose, but we need a Jack.

Before The Flood is in limited theatres from 21 October and will be shown on National Geographic on Sunday 30 October.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.