St Bride's Annual Journalists' Service - Bearing Witness

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Bearing Witness

Bearing Witness

Photo courtesy of Paul Conroy

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On Tuesday 29th October, 2019, at 6:30pm a service was held at St Bride's Church, Fleet Street to commemorate all those in the media industry whose mission to bring us the news faces peril and uncertainty and sometimes, tragically, demands the ultimate price.

Reviews of the Service by Kate Mansey, The Mail on Sunday and Simon Greaves, Financial Times

INTRODUCTION

As consumers of news in a fast-changing world, we demand a great deal of our journalists, correspondents, photographers, sound-crew and camera-crew. We expect them to keep us informed and enlightened about difficult and complex situations in the trouble spots of the world, often at great personal risk, and sometimes, tragically, they pay the ultimate price.

So it is important that, as representatives of the media industry, we honour their memory in this service and remind ourselves of the sacrifice they make in order to bring us the truth.

We commemorate and support, too, the support staff - drivers, translators, fixers - who make it possible for them to carry out their work.

But we also come together in this spiritual home of the media - local, regional, national and international - to celebrate the industry, its people and its achievements.

WELCOME & OPENING PRAYER

The Revd Canon Dr Alison Joyce, Rector of St Bride's:-

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Your Royal Highness, Ladies and Gentlemen - a very warm welcome to St Bride’s.

A particular welcome to our speaker this evening, the photographer and film maker, Paul Conroy. Paul was injured in the attack in Homs in 2012, in which Marie Colvin was killed; it is poignant to remember that it was Marie Colvin who gave the address at our very first Journalists’ service here in 2010, which your Royal Highness also attended.

On 16th October 2017 the Maltese investigative Journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered in a car bomb explosion. It is a date that is scored in my own heart, because, as chance would have it, I was in Malta at the time, and the tidal wave of shock and outrage that her killing evoked (and continues to evoke) is something I shall never ever forget.

So it is our privilege this evening to welcome to this service, Daphne’s son, Paul, who will be lighting one of our commemorative candles in her memory. We also welcome members of the family of Christopher Allen, a British-American freelance journalist who was murdered in South Sudan in 2017. His cousin, Jeremy Bliss, will be lighting a candle in his memory.

In honouring their memories we are also, of course, remembering all those journalists, photographers, film crew, and their support staff, who have lost their lives during the course of their work, or who continue to put themselves in situations of immense risk in the pursuit of truth. So our thanks, also, to Jessica Winch and Caroline Wyatt, who will be lighting candles for all those whom we do not have the chance to name individually during this service, but who are equally deserving of our honour, our respect, and our gratitude.

The white wreath in the centrepiece comprises flowers that are made out of the printed word.

Earlier this year, Alison Phillips drew my attention to the story of Ian Fyfe. Ian was a 25 year old Mirror journalist, who volunteered to join British troops on a top-secret mission on 6th June 1944– which turned out to be the D-Day landings. Tragically his glider was shot down, and his body was never recovered. He was the only British reporter to have been killed on that day, and his is the only name of a journalist to feature on the final white stone arch of the Bayeux Monument.

It is so important that stories such as that of Ian Fyfe are not forgotten with the passing of the years. So do please let us know of any others from your own news organisations whom we should be commemorating. We are here to help keep their memories and their stories alive.

Our thanks to the Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror for their support for this service, alongside all the organisations listed at the back of our orders of service.

We begin now with an opening prayer. Let us pray.

Almighty Father,
in whose perfect realm
no sword is drawn but the sword of justice,
and no strength known but the strength of love:
guide and protect all who seek to bear witness
to the truth of your troubled world;
all who seek to give a voice to the voiceless,
and to tell stories that would otherwise remain untold.
We remember especially this day all members of this profession
who have died, or whose fate is unknown
that you may bless their work,
and strengthen and sustain those who love them.
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

ADDRESSES

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Paul Conroy, photographer & filmmaker

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Your Royal Highness, Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s a true honour to be asked to speak this evening, made more poignant by the fact that ten years ago our fallen colleague Marie Colvin stood in this very spot to deliver her now famous ‘bearing witness’ speech.

Our job, reporting from the front line, remains the same but much has changed for those who accept the challenge. The ever-increasing speed by which our stories and images can be delivered is a double- edged sword. Yes, we can have a faster and often greater impact on breaking stories, but media savvy regimes, aware of the power of the press at its best, now have a much greater incentive to kill the messenger.

Seven years ago, when Marie and I were preparing to enter Syria to cover the siege of Homs, we were informed by Lebanese intelligence that they had intercepted Syrian radio traffic. The message was stark and terrifying - any journalists captured in Homs were to be executed and their bodies left on the battlefield, victims of crossfire. We chose to enter despite the warning but, as Marie said to our dear friend and fellow journalist Lindsey Hilsum the night before we went in, “Lindsey, it’s what we do.”

Once in Syria we learned that the regime’s order of battle was thus: first, kill the doctors, then the journalists and then the guys with guns. Two weeks later Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik lay dead in the rubble of the Baba Amr media centre, murdered in a targeted rocket attack - on the orders of Bashar al Assad. Wael al Omar, our fixer, Edith Bouvier, a French journalist, and I were seriously injured.

Days after our escape from Homs we discovered that the Syrian regime had put a one million dollar bounty, dead or alive, on each of our heads, proof if needed as to just how seriously the regime took the business of killing the messenger.

I’d like to remember Ali Othman, a fruit seller and father of five, who was head of the media centre in Baba Amr. Without the help of Ali and the media activists, reporting from Homs in 2012 would have been impossible. Together we endured weeks of constant shelling and withering rocket attacks as we informed the world of the slaughter taking place in Baba Amr. They were the bravest of the brave, we owe them all a great debt.

Three months after Marie and Remi’s murders and our escape from Syria, Ali Othman was arrested, tortured and finally appeared on state TV where he was forced to denounce western journalists as terrorists. Ali then disappeared into the regime system. We learned only a few months ago he had ‘died of natural causes’ in captivity. Ali was 34 years old.

In Syria the dangers are multi-faceted. As well as the regime, those who choose to enter Syria have to contend with the barbarity of the Islamic State. My good friends, photographers Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff, were captured and publicly beheaded by the group, whilst the fate of photographer John Cantlie, also captured and forced to appear in a number of IS videos, remains uncertain. Our thoughts, of course, go out to their families and friends.

With high-profile deaths such as those of Marie, Remi and Jim Foley, it’s easy to forget the hundreds of deaths and atrocities perpetrated on local journalists in counties such as Syria. In 2012, any local journalists caught with a camera had their eyes gouged out and, when dead, their bodies were returned home - rolled up in a carpet. Their families were later sent a bill for the carpet and rope.

Despite these atrocities, over the last year Syrian journalists continue to report from the besieged Idlib province. Idlib, where an estimated three million people continue to endure life under Jihadist rule, a medieval siege and continued aerial bombardment from Syrian and Russian forces.

Remembering too the most recent deaths amongst journalists in the Rojava region of Syria. Two Syrian Kurdish journalists, Mohamed Hussein Rasbo and Saad Ahmed, were killed when a convoy of civilians was targeted by Turkish forces. This was only days after Donald Trump’s cynical abandonment of his former Kurdish allies.

When exiting any conflict zone I can never forget, nor would I try, the fate of those we leave behind. The fixers, drivers and translators are the unsung heroes who make the business of news possible, but are often left behind and forgotten when the circus leaves town. Relationships born under fire are often the strongest and it is beholden upon us all to ensure they are not treated as disposable assets once the news agenda moves on. With this in mind, I urge everybody to visit the Frontline Club website and support their fixers’ fund.

In recent years the physical dangers faced by journalists have ceased to come solely from the front line. Investigative reporters, seeking to expose corruption in their home countries, face escalating dangers. We remember Daphne Caruana Galizia, murdered outside her home in a car bomb attack whilst investigating corruption in Malta – her killers, despite a sustained campaign by her sons Matthew and Paul, remain at large.

The death of Jamal Khasohggi, slain under horrendous circumstances in the Saudi consulate in Turkey, sent shock waves through the journalistic community. If the international community fails to act and speak out in the face of such atrocities and if blind eyes are turned for the sake of national self-interest, then the very act of killing the messenger will be seen to reap rewards.

In Russia, Vladimir Putin has a bloody track record on journalists who seek to hold truth to power – in 2006 Anna Politkovskya, a strident critic of the Chechen war, was brutally assassinated in a contract killing - to date no one knows who ordered the hit. Putin has built an infrastructure which seeks to erase legitimate reporting of his domestic and foreign agendas and the number of journalists’ deaths since he came to power in 2000 stands at twenty one. Journalism in Russia today is not for the faint hearted.

Let’s look to the west. In Donald Trump’s rubbishing of media outlets and accusations of fake news, he seeks to sidestep serious journalistic scrutiny and stifle political debate, resorting to Twitter to unveil increasingly more dangerous and erratic policies - policies which have deadly, real world implications. In his vitriolic denunciations of the press, he sets a dangerous precedent which creates an increasingly hostile environment for journalism to flourish.

Perhaps the most powerful and compelling example for many years of bearing witness is the recent film by Waad al-Kateab and Ed Watts, For Sama. Waad, who contributed some of the strongest reports on the Syrian crisis for Channel 4 news, filmed over five hundred hours of life under siege in Aleppo, and the result is a master class in journalism and film making. I can’t do it true justice in the short time available, but I urge all to see it as soon as possible and, needless to say, it sets a very high bar for us all in terms of standards and ethics in conflict reporting.

It is to honour the work of the reporters, photographers and the unseen heroes who risk so much to bring the news into our homes, that we are here tonight and the death toll is sobering. Since Marie‘s death in 2012, the total number of journalists killed in Syria is 259 and, since she made her speech here 10 years ago, 968 journalists and media workers have lost their lives.

It’s in the face of this ever changing, and increasingly hostile environment, that we must hold our nerve and remember why we do this work. We are the eyes and ears of the world, we exist to bear witness.

As Marie once said, “It’s what we do.”


READINGS

Gillian Joseph, newscaster and presenter, Sky News read Isaiah 58: 6–11

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6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.

Nick Ferrari, journalist and broadcaster read Extract from The mayhem and mischief of war reporters by Richard Pendlebury, first published in Tatler, 12th January 2018

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This country has a long and distinguished history of first-rate war reporting, no doubt due to Britain’s involvement in so many wars since the age of mass media began in the 19th century. A Briton, or rather an Irishman, is widely regarded as the world’s first modern war correspondent, and also one of the best – William Howard Russell of The Times. His reporting made a difference; a Kitemark if ever there was one.

Russell first won fame in 1854, during the Crimean War, when he exposed to his readers the criminal mismanagement of the British military organisation, which had led to the avoidable suffering and deaths from disease of thousands of troops. His reporting encouraged Florence Nightingale to travel to the Black Sea, where she became the ‘Lady with the Lamp’. He also provided the British public with a first eyewitness account of the Charge of the Light Brigade. It began: ‘If the exhibition of the most brilliant valour, of the excess of courage and of a daring which would have reflected lustre on the best days of chivalry can afford full consolation for the disaster of today, we can have no reason to regret the melancholy loss which we sustained in a contest with a savage and barbarian enemy.’

The top brass hated him – another Kitemark – but they were helpless against his indefatigable energy and cunning. Later Russell covered the Indian Mutiny, the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War, and received a knighthood and a CVO. He died without his boots on at the grand old age of 86. Those boots, by the way, are now on display at the Frontline Club, a drinking den for foreign correspondents in Paddington.

Who could fill them after Russell was gone? Not Sir Winston Churchill, although he was a war correspondent on several occasions, most notably for The Morning Post, attached to General Kitchener’s army in 1898. He even took part in the cavalry charge against the Dervishes at the Battle of Omdurman and survived to file his copy like a good ’un. Nor the writer Evelyn Waugh, who covered the Abyssinian campaign for the Daily Mail in 1936. He did so with little enthusiasm and a singular lack of sympathy for the embattled country. But his observations, dressed in fiction, became the satirical novel Scoop, the war correspondent’s ‘bible’, as it is so often described. Waugh managed to capture the absurdity of almost everything about the job – let’s say 95 per cent – that occurs until the time when one is on the frontline and among those who are trying their very best to kill each other.

A real scoop – arguably the biggest scoop – was achieved three years later, in 1939, by a female British correspondent. Clare Hollingworth – who died last January aged 105 – was less than a week into her job with The Daily Telegraph when she found herself on the Polish-German border watching the first military actions of what would become the Second World War. She phoned a diplomat at the British embassy in Warsaw, who did not believe her. ‘So I hung the telephone receiver out of the window,’ Hollingworth recalled, ‘so he could listen to the Germans invading.’

Another war report that joined the pantheon was the one made by the BBC’s Richard Dimbleby, about the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in April 1945. Dimbleby was one of the first broadcast correspondents to enter the site where 70,000 Jews and other enemies of the Reich had been killed. His report – during which he broke down several times – was at first suppressed by the BBC. Like Hollingworth’s diplomat, the desk men could not credit the enormity of what their man on the spot was describing.

George Osborne, Editor, Evening Standard read Fleet Street from The London Book by Francis Marshall, first published in 1951

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Let us take a midnight stroll through the Street of Ink, which is a picturesque pseudonym to which Fleet Street is entitled, and note the sights and sounds of an area where work never stops.

First we notice the lights streaming from the offices, the steady trade of the snack bars open through the night, fast-moving cars driven by reporters and mail-vans roaring through the traffic. The vans bearing bundles of newspapers to the main-line railway termini move at an almost reckless speed, so it is well to be wary of them when crossing.

Then we are aware of the sounds of night in Fleet Street. Predominantly they are rumbling sounds from the mighty rotary presses beneath the pavements; but there are other sounds from the brightly-lit offices – typewriters, ticker-tapes, teleprinters, constantly ringing telephones.

Inside the news room of any of the big offices these sounds are almost deafening. In modern newspaper offices the news room is a vast one accommodating reporters, sub-editors, news-tasters, re-write men and other specialists. There is a span of telephone cubicles where reporters take down news messages from outlying districts (and from harassed dramatic critics phoning from a theatre in which they have just attended a first night), or from abroad over the long-distance wire.

There are other major sources of material, chiefly the ticker-tapes which tap out news sent in by the London offices of the biggest agencies – Reuters, Exchange, Telegraph, Associated Press – which, in turn, have gathered it from all over the world, and the Press Association, which deals in home news.

This news is transcribed and sent to the copy-tasters who hand it out to the sub-editors. After further processes of assessment and editing, the cream of it reaches the type printing operator. It is read carefully in proof form, put into pages by the make-up experts, and finally it reaches the mighty presses.

Tucked modestly away behind the Reuters building is one of the stateliest ruins of the Second World War – the blitzed shell of Wren’s beautiful church of St Bride’s. Happily his tallest spire still stands there. St Bride’s is the Journalists’ Church.

German bombs nearly wiped out Fleet Street; there would have been little of it left now had an incendiary bomb, which dangled precariously for a whole day on a telegraph wire outside the Express building, exploded. It was made harmless by a courageous squad of disposal men who thus preserved much of London’s history – for posterity.

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