Written by Lesley-Ann Jones, journalist & author
Has journalism had its day? Or is it more important than ever, in our age of social media and fake news, to go to the ends of the earth to find the truth, and to tell it?
These and other provocative questions were pondered at St Bride’s on Tuesday, 9th November, during our annual commemorative service for journalists, in the presence of HRH The Duchess of Cornwall.
ITV News Political Correspondent Libby Wiener set the tone with a reading from the Gospel of John: ‘Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.’ The theme was explored in Daily Mirror Editor Alison Phillips’s bleak excerpt from Martha Gellhorn’s The Face of War, a collection of the celebrated writer’s fifty-year span of reports from the frontline.
Tim Davie, Director-General of the BBC, reflected on the ‘urgency of the moment we are in now’, and on the importance of the ‘compassion and care we have for our colleagues in peril around the world.’
‘Those who stand up for truth have never been more targeted,’ he said, highlighting the escalating dangers and increasing levels of intimidation that journalists face. ‘This is a moment of great risk for journalists, but also great necessity. As journalists, we hold the line. We must continue the battle for facts. Outstanding, truthful reporting must be upheld.’
Anthony Loyd, a war correspondent of some twenty-eight years for The Times, went further. His impassioned speech drew on personal life-threatening experiences.
He recalled the words of the late Sunday Times Foreign Affairs correspondent Marie Colvin during her address at this service eleven years ago: ‘It has never been more dangerous to be a war correspondent, because the journalist in the combat zone has become a prime target.’ Colvin died fifteen months later in a bombardment, while reporting from the Syrian city of Homs.
‘How fragile we are, and how fugitive peace and stability can be,’ despaired Loyd. Of the years spent reporting from Afghanistan before the recent withdrawal of military forces, he wondered, ‘What was the point of that? All that killing and suffering. What good did we journalists do, having performed for so long to such a negative end?’
The point was and remains the truth, which Loyd acknowledged as ‘a vital component of society, without which we are lost.’
Which is the reason why writers, photographers and film crews around the world will continue to pursue it, in the face of harassment, detainment, torture and even death. Conveying the sights, sounds and smells of war, making the public aware of the suffering of innocent civilians and of what our governments and armed forces are doing in our name, is as vital as it ever was.
St Bride’s, their spiritual home and refuge, will always be here for them.
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