JOURNALISTS' COMMEMORATIVE SERVICE
The pen is mightier than the sword
On Wednesday, 5th November, 2014 at 12:30pm 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.
Journalists, cameramen and support staff have always been casualties during the conflicts they are sent to cover. In recent years more journalists than ever have lost their lives and in many parts of the world are now regarded as “legitimate targets” within the conflict zones of the world. The atrocious executions of journalists and other citizens during 2014 have further challenged us to comprehend the extremes of human behaviour.
This year, we are particularly conscious of the barbarism of various factions in the Middle East and elsewhere, but we come together as journalists, and celebrate the priceless value of freedom of speech, as we demonstrate that the Pen is, indeed, mightier than the Sword.
The Revd Canon Dr Alison Joyce delivered the welcome and opening prayer:
We come together for this annual service of commemoration to honour those journalists, camera-crew and support staff who have died on active service during the past year across the world.
In a year that has witnessed the brutal murders of James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and in which others working in the field have been killed, injured or taken hostage, the cost of good investigative journalism has never been more apparent. On this sad and proud day, we celebrate the courage, and we mourn the tragic loss of those who have committed their lives to giving a voice to the voiceless, and to telling stories that would otherwise remain untold.
As we honour them today, we pray that God will bless all they have done and make it fruitful. We pray, too, for the loved ones they have left behind, trusting that beyond our brief day the eternity of God’s love awaits us.
Victoria Newton, Editor, The Sun on Sunday
The thing I love about this annual service is that I see lots of faces that I know. Old friends. Former colleagues. We may have different roles and work for different titles, but we all reflect one profession and one passion: THAT PASSION IS JOURNALISM.
SOMETIMES that passion comes at a high price.
On behalf of us all I should say how honoured we are that the Archbishop of Canterbury has joined us for this service to remember those colleagues who have been killed in the line of duty.
There is a wider reason for our gathering in this, the journalist’s church. We are here not just to mourn those who have fallen but to pay tribute to those who continue a mission that unites us all:
What is it we seek to do?
To tell the truth, to hold officialdom to account, to defend the poor against the powerful, to shine the fierce light of investigative journalism into the corrupt corners of our national life.
And we’re here to put some fun into people’s daily lives – to share with our readers, viewers or listeners – what Oscar Wilde called the serious business of enjoyment.
But we are also here because – and this may sound corny but it’s true – because someone inspired us to believe that as journalists we could help make a difference, make the world a better place.
In my case that person was Kate Adie. There I was, a schoolgirl struggling with double maths, and there was Kate Adie on the telly most nights broadcasting to millions from the horrors of Tiananmen Square or from warzones in the Middle East or Africa
Kate was a tough woman making it in the macho world of the war reporter. That young schoolgirl was inspired to believe she could do the same. She wanted to take on the men in the toughest world of all – the news room.
What stuck in my mind about Kate Adie was her sheer grit, the 24 hour dedication she gave to her work and the risks she was prepared to take.
And of course she was a woman making it in a man’s world.
I’m not going to pretend I’m anther Kate Adie, but I like to think that, like so many of us here, I share her sense of commitment to what it is we do.
That commitment requires first and foremost – forgive me your grace – bloody hard work. I sometimes wonder whether editors such as myself, let alone our readers, have any idea what frontline journalists put in and put up with to get their stories
I don’t mean the crazy hours or the drinking. That, as they say, comes with the territory. I mean the dogged determination day in day out , no matter what it takes, to nail the truth behind the closed door, the slammed telephone, the endless no comment and the threat of legal action.
Most journalists don’t have to face gunfire or shelling on a regular basis like Kate Adie or so many other frontline journalists did and still do.
But it does takes a special kind of person to get behind the closed door and the slammed phone.
Take the Lance Armstrong story. My point here is not about a cyclist who used and abused drugs to get to the top of his sport.
My point is the way that the Sunday Times reporter David Walsh refused to take no comment for an answer.
How many times did Walsh feel like quitting, on the long road to proving Armstrong was a cheat? Did he give up when Armstrong called him “the worst journalist in the world”? Or when he was ridiculed in press conferences? Or when he was shunned by some in the cycling community? Or when Armstrong successfully sued The Sunday Times for libel?
No, he did not.
He kept going through a commitment to expose the sordid truth behind the success of a world famous sportsman.
I honestly believe that the courage, the sense of belief and the technical skills that drove David Walsh are values shared by journalists in newsrooms up and down this country.
I think journalists of every persuasion and publication have come to share something else in recent times.
It’s not been an easy few years for many of us in this business. Every day seems to bring with it a new challenge. Regulatory investigations, criminal investigations, even the police now using spying powers against journalists and our whistle-blowers.
Yet in the last few months there have been many examples of people from different papers or media organisations reaching out to extend a hand of support and friendship to a fellow journalist in difficulty. This industry is supposed to be dog-eat-dog, everyone for themselves, and yet in the last year it has been full of acts of kindness and help, from one professional to another.
If you asked the public about journalists, I doubt they would talk about us in this way. In fact I know they wouldn’t!
And whose fault is that?
I’d say we only have ourselves to blame. Often we are better at breaking the big stories than we are at telling our own story. As we rebuild the reputation of the industry, this is something we all must do better.
We need to remind people why world class professional journalism REALLY matters.
We are in an amazing business which makes a unique contribution to our social and public life.
We should celebrate our achievements, not shy away from them.
Let me list just a few great stories and campaigns that have changed the world around us for the better.
Courageous journalists exposed the Rotherham child abuse scandal, celebrity tax dodgers, corruption in Fifa around the World Cup, the Elm Guest house child abuse scandal, the Catholic church cover up of abusive priests, the crystal drug taking Minister and the Co-op Bank, Chris Huhne and his points swapping the Pakistani cricket match fixing and many, many more.
It was a newspaper that helped raise millions for Help 4 Heroes to aid our wounded war veterans, and look how the press continues to challenge government policy on issues like the bedroom tax and fixed odds betting terminals.
It is no coincidence that this great reporting was mostly launched by the PRINT press and largely followed by broadcast and digital media.
So let’s remember that for all the problem newspapers face we remain a powerful force for change in this country – change for the better.
Let us also remember that in this church every year we honour those colleagues who gave their lives to report the horrors that are happening not far from our shores.
We salute their memory and marvel at the pride and the passion with which they pursued their profession.
That’s why we are still here. To uphold their values and continue the fight to tell the truth.
And it’s why we should all be proud to say we are journalists.
The Most Revd and Rt Hon Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury
Thank you very much for the invitation to be here today. It is an honour to be invited here, it’s a privilege to be here for such an important occasion.
We live in a world at the moment in which in many areas it feels as though the darkness is falling ever more severely on whole swathes and regions of the world, and in which the light of news very often seems to go out. Whole areas where there is fighting that is forgotten because there is simply so much of it. Whole areas which depend only on the likes of James Foley and Steven Sotloff to show some light on what is happening.
The front-line reporter is the one who sees first-hand what is going on. They are the look-outs, who stand on the watchtower, day after day and all night long, in the watches of the night. “Watchman, how goes the night?”, as Isaiah described it from two and a half thousand years ago. They are the ones who witness the full horror of what is going on and dare to speak it. The rest of us are one step, or many steps, removed – both from the adrenalin and from the agony. We rely on the reports. And the nature of the reports has become more and more immediate, of that we can be thankful.
I remember as a child being shown a letter from an ancestor who had been in the Charge of the Light Brigade, and wrote to his mother that evening to reassure her that he was alive and unhurt and to describe the battle. In those days things were heard by word of mouth, by propaganda. It was the bush telegraph, famously unreliable, exceptionally partial and profoundly delayed.
Last week I was in Ghana, the 36th of 37 visits to provinces of the Anglican Communion – my wife Caroline and I promised to visit all 37 by the end of 2014. The province of West Africa covers not only Ghana but also Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. A few days before we went I read an extraordinary (and I may say sadly unremarked) report in The Times on Ebola in Freetown and around Sierra Leone. It bore adequate comparison, as a piece of writing, to the description of the plague by Defoe in his journal of the plague year, or Pepys. It was as horrifying as Camus’ La Peste. Last night there was another report on the BBC from Sierra Leone, again extraordinarily vivid, bringing into our own rooms the greatest public health crisis which the world has faced for many years, a plague of extraordinary proportions.
And the carefully measured tones in which the reporter in The Times set out what he did, or last night on the television, had the colour in it because of the brilliance of the reporting. Last Friday I sat and listened to the chief of staff of the UN team fighting Ebola, and because of the reporting I was able to sense much more profoundly what he was saying, and to see the urgency of it.
Those reporters are as much at risk as anyone in a war zone. They were careful not to get too close, I hope. But they were run the risk of many things, not only of contracting Ebola (probably a fairly low risk), but the much higher one of the psychological trauma with which they will live for years afterwards. And that is true of those who have been in war zones.
Some years ago, about six weeks after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, I was in Baghdad to reopen the Anglican church there. It was, as they say, an interesting trip. We were there the inside of a week. But while I was there I bumped into a well-known reporter from a television company. They were there for months at a time, living hard, working incessantly – very long hours – and constantly at risk. Last January we were in the South Sudan in a town destroyed by war, surrounded by bodies, burying them in mass graves. As we left, reporters were arriving. They were going the opposite way. They are the ones who come to mind when we read of Isaiah’s watchmen: ‘What of the night?’
Such reporting now is a far remove from the bush telegraph: precisely because the people who do it are not safely removed from the agony. The reality of disaster, of war and suffering, is brought to us in a completely fresh way. It may still occasionally lack accuracy – that is an inevitable part of being human – but what it lacks in one area is more than compensated for by immediacy. And immediacy means risk.
We are here today because of the moments when that risk turns into a reality. I started with looking at how we communicate, because how we communicate is driven by the communicators themselves. The reality of a world in which the horrors of the Ethiopian famine – that extraordinary report of many years ago now, reported by Michael Buerk – or of the Ebola this week and last, are conveyed extraordinarily powerfully in a new way. But the power of the communication demands that the communicator puts themselves in the place where they are a witness. Witnessing is profoundly costly.
So it is right and essential that in this darkening world we give thanks for those who witness, who light the lamp of truth where it is being snuffed out by so many. Not only by savage evil, by those who sell arms and convey lies; but by those who are indifferent and forgetful. It is right and essential that we give thanks for those who unlock the covers of the wells of compassion that can become available in this wonderful country of ours. Who challenge the complacency in which some people suggest we can live in our own country as though the rest of the world did not matter, and, if we are sufficiently inward-looking, that the rest of the world will not affect us.
It is right that the value of our common humanity is brought home to us by those who go to places that everyone else is leaving. We are not naïve; my experience of a few different areas of fighting and meeting war correspondents leads me to suggest, controversially, that it’s just a little bit possible that they are not all entirely saintly at every minute of the day. But there is an old saying in the Church, ex operandi operandum. Or to put it another way, the fact that the priest is all messed up does not mess up the sacrament.
Even where there are all sorts of personal things that one can say about those who go and report wars and conflicts, whether wars against disease or poverty, or the old-fashioned type where people kill each other deliberately and horribly; whichever it is, whatever they are like, what they do – and sometimes are hurt deeply mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually or even killed doing – what they do remains of extraordinary value, a God-given calling to inspire others to serve our common humanity.
To witness is to tell the truth. And the more horrific the circumstances, the more needful, the more precious, the more costly is the truth. But we believe, as Jesus put it, the truth is not cheap. As he said, the truth sets us free.
The words of the anthem that follow borrow two prayers from my 13th-century predecessor Edmund, who was exiled and died in Pontigny for his truth telling. Perhaps in our hearts as we listen to them we may echo their words as our prayer, committing ourselves and those whom we have loved and lost for their truth-telling into God’s hands.
Bridget Kendall MBE, BBC Diplomatic Correspondent read War Photographer by Carol Ann Duffy
In his dark room he is finally alone
with spools of suffering set out in ordered rows.
The only light is red and softly glows,
as though this were a church and he
a priest preparing to intone a Mass.
Belfast. Beirut. Phnom Penh. All flesh is grass.
He has a job to do. Solutions slop in trays
beneath his hands, which did not tremble then
though seem to now. Rural England. Home again
to ordinary pain which simple weather can dispel,
to fields which don’t explode beneath the feet
of running children in a nightmare heat.
Something is happening. A stranger’s features
faintly start to twist before his eyes,
a half-formed ghost. He remembers the cries
of this man’s wife, how he sought approval
without words to do what someone must
and how the blood stained into foreign dust.
A hundred agonies in black and white
from which his editor will pick out five or six
for Sunday’s supplement. The reader’s eyeballs prick
with tears between the bath and pre-lunch beers.
From the aeroplane he stares impassively at where
he earns his living and they do not care.
Paul Vickers, Secretary and Group Legal Director, Trinity Mirror read Isaiah 21: 6-12
This is what the Lord says to me: “Go, post a lookout and have him report what he sees. When he sees chariots with teams of horses, riders on donkeys or riders on camels, let him be alert, fully alert.”
And the lookout shouted, “Day after day, my lord, I stand on the watchtower; every night I stay at my post. Look, here comes a man in a chariot with a team of horses. And he gives back the answer: ‘Babylon has fallen, has fallen! All the images of its gods lie shattered on the ground!’”
My people who are crushed on the threshing floor, I tell you what I have heard from the Lord Almighty, from the God of Israel.
A prophecy against Duma. Someone calls to me from Seir,”Watchman, what is left of the night? Watchman, what is left of the night?” The watchman replies, “Morning is coming, but also the night. If you would ask, then ask; and come back yet again.”
The choir & organist of St Bride’s performed the following anthems and songs:
God be in my head – Walford Davies
Ubi caritas – Maurice Duruflé
For lo, I raise up – Charles Villiers Stanford
Into thy hands – Jonathan Dove
Forever Autumn – Wayne/Osborne/Vigrass arr. Jones
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty
Lord of all hopefulness
Ye holy angels bright
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