A Telling Witness Journalists' Commemorative Service photographer in flak jacket fire in background

A telling witness

10th November, 2015

On Tuesday 10th November, 2015, 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.


As consumers of news in a fast-changing world, we demand a great deal of our journalists and foreign correspondents.

We expect them to keep us informed 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 and the public life of this nation, we honour their memory in this service and remind ourselves of their sacrifice to bring us the truth.

The Revd Canon Dr Alison Joyce delivered the welcome and bidding:

Welcome to St Bride’s for our annual service of commemoration, at which we honour the memory and give thanks for the lives of those journalists, camera crew and support staff who have died, particularly those who have lost their lives during the course of their professional duties.

This is also an occasion on which we remember and hold in our prayers those members of the profession who are currently held captive, or whose fate is unknown; we pray, too, for all whose work places them in situations of grave risk or personal danger.

In remembering them today we mark their courage, their dedication, and their commitment. And as we celebrate all that is best in investigative journalism, we do so mindful of the fact that our news is sometimes brought to us at terrible cost – a price that is paid by those journalists, and by their families, friends and colleagues.

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.



Sarah Montague, Journalist and Broadcaster, BBC

I do a lot of moaning – mainly about getting up in the middle of the night to go to work.

But it’s usually not long after I arrive at 4am that I’m reminded of the privilege of my position – that I can do the job I love from the safety of a BBC studio in London.

And the reminder usually comes when I’m listening to a correspondent on the frontline, or reading the account of a newspaper reporter, or interviewing someone who never intended to become a journalist – until war got in the way of their life.

So many of the stories we cover – that we like to think make the Today programme required listening – depend on people in the field. Those able to tell what they have witnessed.

My good fortune is not only because I’m a million miles from barrel bombs and beheadings, but also because I’m under the umbrella of the BBC. One of the first journalists killed this year had neither of those protections.

Because so few international news organisations are now prepared to send staff to Syria, it’s down to freelancers and local “citizen” journalists to give us a glimpse into what is going on in large swathes of the country.

Kenji Goto was a freelance video journalist from Japan. He was beheaded by Islamic State militants in Syria in January. He’d been told by his government not to go there. A few years earlier, this is what he said about going to Iraq:

“When history is being made, wouldn’t you want to document images and write down what is happening? When we explore history we learn from it and are moved, aren’t we? Isn’t this what we want to leave for future generations?”

The month he was captured – just over a year ago – was the month his youngest child was born.

When we heard of Kenji Goto’s beheading, it had by then become a sickeningly familiar ritual.

In the months since, there have been no reports of foreign journalists beheaded in the country.

Is that a sign that Islamic state militants have lost their appetite for such public displays of brutality? Or is it just that there are so few foreign journalists there. That the beheadings have worked – they’ve scared away every foreign news organisation.

It’s an entirely understandable reaction. It’s not so easy an option for those journalists who live there.

Two weeks ago reports emerged that two Syrian journalists had been found in Turkey with their throats slit.

The Syria story has exacted a heavy toll.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists at least 85 journalists have been killed in the country since 2011 – nearly half of those freelancers. And more than half were killed by government forces – not Islamic state.

It’s seen the highest number of kidnappings in any conflict zone that the CPJ has ever recorded. And 25 journalists are still missing, presumed kidnapped.

We have long got used to the idea that there is no freedom of expression in Syria. The battle for free speech appears lost there.

It’s not – YET – lost in Egypt.

The organisation Reporters Without Borders says at least 20 journalists are currently being detained in the country. According to their figures, that means Egypt now has the world’s fourth biggest prison population of media.

And that’s only likely to get worse as a result of the new anti-terrorism law introduced this summer. It bans any media reporting that contradicts the official version of events.

The Dir Gen of Reporters without borders (Christophe Deloire) described it as “an Orwellian world in which only the government is allowed to say what is happening.”

And prompted him to ask whether journalism in Egypt was now a crime?

That’s a question my former BBC colleague Peter Greste must have asked many times over the past two years.

At least now we have some good news in a story that has defied belief. And one that even recently moved me to tears – watching the wonderful clip of Peter hearing the news that his Al Jazeera colleagues Mohammed Fahy and Baher Mohamed had been pardoned.

It’s not often as a journalist you feel comfortable crossing the line to influence a story but shortly after they were all locked up it was something I gladly did – and probably many of you too.

I was presenting with John Humphrys and had the – surprisingly enjoyable – experience of stretching black gaffer tape over his mouth. Then taking a selfie in the studio as part of the twitter campaign “Freejournalism”.

There’ve been many times since, when I wish I’d left that tape there.

It is such a basic freedom to be able to say what you think. We just take it for granted.

And we presume we’re safe in Europe, safe to say what we want without being locked up, or fearing for our life.

But the frontline in the battle for this basic freedom, moved again in January – not to any warzone, nor the usual countries that top the list of most dangerous places for journalists. In a sign that this battle can be waged anywhere and everywhere, on January 7th the frontline moved to a modern European capital. To Paris.

Two gunmen – brothers –forced their way into the offices of Charlie Hebdo. Staff were having their first editorial meeting of the year.

They were well used to scandalising and infuriating people. The editor Stephane Charbonnier, known as Charb, had his own police bodyguard because of fears of an attack. But they cannot have expected what happened that day. Twelve people were killed in the attack on the magazine’s building – among them that bodyguard and eight journalists including Charb. More people were killed in the hours that followed.

By the time we went on air the following day the response from all the French media was united and inspiring. Liberation picked up on “Je Suis Charlie” – the cry that had gone up on social media; their headline: “We are all Charlie”. Le Figaro’s headline was “Liberty Assassinated”. And in describing its significance the paper said, “This is War. A Real War.”

Those killed in the Charlie Hebdo attack are among 58 that Reporters without Borders say is the death toll so far this year of journalists killed doing their job. That number doesn’t include those supporting them and working with them.

Look just at those numbers and France is the second most dangerous country in the world for journalists. Which of course it isn’t. But it shows the frontline in the defence of freedom of expression can move anywhere.

We’re acutely aware of that in the Today programme studio.

And we’re acutely aware how much our daily reporting of the news relies on others to give a “voice to the voiceless”. All those that we’re thinking of here tonight.

But to be free to say what you think is true – even an imperfect, constantly revised version of the truth – is a battle that we should all cross the line to fight every day.


David Dinsmore, Chief Operating Officer, News UK read John 8: 25-32

So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus replied, “What I have told you from the beginning.

I have many things to say and to judge about you, but the Father who sent me is truthful, and the things I have heard from him I speak to the world.”

They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father.

Then Jesus said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and I do nothing on my own initiative, but I speak just what the Father taught me.

And the one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do those things that please him.”

While he was saying these things, many people believed in him.

Then Jesus said to those Judeans who had believed him, “If you continue to follow my teaching, you are really my disciples;

And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Oliver Duff, Editor, i newspaper read War Zone by Michael Brett, Former Press Officer, Bosnia and Herzegovina; © John Jeffcock, 2011

A grand piano lies upended, like a seashell,
On a beach of white plaster in a school hall cave
Whose roof has been torn off by the shark bite of a bomb;

And all that there ever was: shot books and magazines,
Like dead birds, lie in empty streets urged by street signs
To Keep Left and Not Drop Litter;

Traffic lights that wink like call girls at bunted cars with no tyres
Smashed like glasses on bar-top tarmac,
And a tree that jumped like a ballerina in a shell-burst skirt
Dangles its roots, like knees, from the twentieth floor;

These voiceless voices, empty shoes and cables
Pulled like nerves out of giant brains, all resolve
Like a maddened symphony’s second movement,
Into the purr of small arms in factory sheds and round street corners;

The zigzag of blood on pavements and children –
In yellow T-shirts – looking for food and parents
In the bins of abandoned hotels.

Penny Marshall, Social Affairs Editor, ITV News read An extract from an Address at St Bride’s on 10th November 2010 by Marie Colvin, former Foreign Correspondent, Sunday Times

Covering a war means going to places torn by chaos, destruction, and death, and trying to bear witness. It means trying to find the truth in a sandstorm of propaganda when armies, tribes or terrorists clash. And yes, it means taking risks, not just for yourself but often for the people who work closely with you.

Despite all the videos you see from the Ministry of Defence or the Pentagon, and all the sanitised language describing smart bombs and pinpoint strikes, the scene on the ground has remained remarkably the same for hundreds of years. Craters. Burned houses. Mutilated bodies. Women weeping for children and husbands. Men for their wives, mothers children.

Our mission is to report these horrors of war with accuracy and without prejudice. We always have to ask ourselves whether the level of risk is worth the story. What is bravery, and what is bravado? I lost my eye in an ambush in the Sri Lankan civil war. I had gone to the northern Tamil area from which journalists were banned and found an unreported humanitarian disaster. As I was smuggled back across the internal border, a soldier launched a grenade at me and the shrapnel sliced into my face and chest. He knew what he was doing.

Many of you here must have asked yourselves, or be asking yourselves now, is it worth the cost in lives, heartbreak, loss? Can we really make a difference? I faced that question when I was injured. In fact one paper ran a headline saying, has Marie Colvin gone too far this time? My answer then, and now, was that it is worth it.

Today in this church are friends, colleagues and families who know exactly what I am talking about, and bear the cost of those experiences, as do their families and loved ones. Today we must also remember how important it is that news organisations continue to invest in sending us out at great cost, both financial and emotional, to cover stories.

We go to remote war zones to report what is happening. The public have a right to know what our government, and our armed forces, are doing in our name. Our mission is to speak the truth to power. We send home that first rough draft of history. We can and do make a difference in exposing the horrors of war and especially the atrocities that befall civilians.

In an age of 24/7 rolling news, blogs and twitters, we are on constant call wherever we are. But war reporting is still essentially the same – someone has to go there and see what is happening. You can’t get that information without going to places where people are being shot at, and others are shooting at you.

The real difficulty is having enough faith in humanity to believe that enough people be they government, military or the man on the street, will care when your file reaches the printed page, the website or the TV screen.

We do have that faith because we believe we do make a difference. And we could not make that difference – or begin to do our job – without the fixers, drivers, and translators, who face the same risks and die in appalling numbers. Today we honour them as much as the front line journalists who have died in pursuit of the truth. They have kept the faith as we who remain must continue to do.


The choir & organist of St Bride’s performed the following anthems and songs:

O taste and see – Vaughan Williams

Remember not, Lord, our offences – Purcell

And every stone shall cry – Chilcott

Pie Jesu – Duruflé


Come down, O Love divine

Lord of all hopefulness

O praise ye the Lord

congregation sitting for service


Subscribe to our newsletter to receive alerts for
events and advance information about seasonal services.

We protect your data and never overwhelm your inbox.