A service to commemorate journalists, cameramen and support staff who have lost their lives while bringing us the news was held at St Bride’s Church, on Wednesday 9th November, 2011.
Freedom is something we all take for granted in the western world. But in many other parts of the world it is a pipedream. Freedom of expression, in particular, is always under threat, not just in totalitarian regimes, but even in established democracies. In the name of a justified war against terrorism many regimes are openly attacking journalists who dare to speak out, and in western countries laws have been passed that undermine press freedom and civil liberty.
It is all the more important that we speak up for liberty and free expression, and that we honour and remember those who have died across the world in bringing us the news. This service is dedicated to those thousands of journalists who refuse to accept the idea that might makes right, who believe in democracy, and who are determined that the voices of those in power will not be the only ones heard. Every year more journalists die speaking truth to power. Tonight we remember those who have died during the past year, bearing the torch of freedom.
The Venerable David Meara delivered the Bidding:
We have come together in St Bride’s Church to commemorate and honour those journalists, cameramen and support staff who have died on active service during the past year across the world.
Benjamin Franklin wrote two hundred and fifty years ago that “Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.” Those who report from conflict zones and repressive regimes know only too well that bearing witness to truth in the pursuit of freedom has a personal cost.
As we honour our foreign correspondents, cameramen and support staff and commemorate those who have died, we pray for God’s blessing upon them and the loved ones they have left behind, trusting that one day freedom will reign and truth will prevail.
Mark Austin, Anchorman, ITN
A few weeks ago I travelled with a cameraman to Mogadishu in Somalia – possibly one of the most dangerous capital cities in the world right now. We knew that as Westerners we ran a considerable risk of kidnap or worse. We knew also that as Western journalists we were particularly juicy targets for the Islamist militants or the gangs linked to them. We were determined to go to see for ourselves what was going on there, to report on the dreadful famine made so much worse by the conflict that still rages on the edge of the capital.
But the innate cowardice that has been my protection in many a war zone through the years meant I would only make the trip if some sort of satisfactory security could be provided. So it was that we put ourselves in the custody of a local warlord called Bashir who, for a heavy price, provided 36 tough, battle hardened and crucially, heavily armed, young men to watch our backs every step of the way. That they did so, was, of course, a huge reassurance. That it was necessary is an indication of just how dangerous covering the news has become for journalists. And that we had to resort to such measures is, for me, a cause of considerable sadness, and in a sense, guilt.
Sadness, because of what it says about what has happened to our trade. Where once the neutrality and independence of the media was widely recognised and respected, now it’s clear journalists are being specifically targeted or sought out by those who fear the truth emerging. It’s no longer enough to blame the messenger, it seems. Silencing the messenger is all too often the name of the game now. And guilt because of the glaring inequality that now exists in journalism. I can insist on that security in Somalia, I am insured and have the backup of a large organisation with considerable resources and which makes safety a priority. But by and large the journalists we should be thinking about and honouring tonight have no such protection. They are the local reporters and photographers and freelancers in places like Somalia, who put their lives on the line every single day.
I speak of reporters like Nur Mohammed Abkey, a veteran journalist for Radio Mogadishu, whose body was found in an alleyway with gunshot wounds and evidence of torture. He was killed, say colleagues, because of his affiliation to the government-run station. He didn’t have protection. Or Nasteh Dahir Farrah, a freelance and vice-president of the National Union of Somali Journalists. Recently married, he was shot dead as he was walking home from an internet café. He didn’t have protection either. A colleague said simply: “Someone didn’t like his reporting”. Someone didn’t like his reporting. Just think about that. Someone didn’t like what a journalist had written. So what did they do? They didn’t try to put their side of the story. They didn’t attempt to persuade him of the validity of their arguments or their political creed. No, they just shot him dead in an alley.
There are many journalists like Nur Mohammed Abkey and Nasteh Darrir Fareh in countries all over the world. In places like Mexico, Colombia, Zimbabwe, the Philippines, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan journalists are regularly murdered because of what they’ve written or said. Or because of a story they were investigating. These are reporters, not dropping in for a few days to temporarily cover a story, but rather they’re journalists who are working and living with the constant threat of intimidation, violence and murder. Journalists who are getting uncomfortably close to the truth. Despite the dangers they’ve made a simple decision. They’ve decided it is their job to try to tell the truth about what is happening in their country.
These journalists know full well the risks of challenging the government or the militias. But they believe they MUST challenge, they MUST hold to account because they believe it is the right thing to do. They also know if they don’t, the chances are, no-one else will. We tend to think that most journalists who are killed are caught in the cross fire, or just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some are, it is true, and their deaths are no less regrettable for that. But the horrific truth is that more than 70% of the journalists killed in the last two decades were murdered in cold blood. And here is the scandalous statistic. In 80% of those cases — yes 80% — the killers are not brought to justice. So what we have are police and security forces who do not take seriously the murders of journalists or, worse, who are complicit in those murders. It is nothing less than state sanctioned killing and it is an outrage.
We journalists – all of us – share a belief that news and the spread of information is the foundation of democracy. We share a belief that good journalism should call bad government to account. We share a belief that good journalism is about exposing abuse of power and corruption and malpractice and not letting it go unmonitored and unchecked, unknown, unpublicised and untold. We share all those beliefs about our trade. But here’s the thing… Increasingly such journalism and such beliefs come at a high price and let’s be honest very few of us are prepared to put our lives on the line for it. It is why tonight we should honour those who do. But honouring them is not enough; more must be done to protect them. When journalists are deliberately targeted and killed it is a crime. When it happens during a conflict it is a war crime. It is as simple as that and governments and regimes around the world need to recognise it. It is difficult to be optimistic. If bad people in bad regimes see journalists can be killed with impunity, what hope is there?
And I see other reasons to worry. Rigorous cost cutting within the media means there are fewer overseas-based correspondents who build up real experience on their patch. Instead there is an increasing tendency to use so-called parachute correspondents less able to assess dangerous situations in conflict affected areas. They do not have the same connections or contacts or knowledge and will be more inclined to make errors of judgement. These are serious issues. And then in television in particular there is a real question about technology and the impact it can have on the way journalists work. There is much talk of the benefits of technology that allows us to broadcast live from virtually anywhere in the world at virtually anytime. In the world of 24/7 breaking news it is all about being live, as it happens, at the scene, up to the minute. Exciting, breathless and edgy reporting from the frontline as the bullets and the rocket propelled grenades fly. Get that sound. Get that picture. Get it all. Because if we don’t the opposition will.
But wait, stop a moment, let’s pause and think. Just because you can, doesn’t always mean you should. Covering any conflict is dangerous, but covering conflicts and uprisings like we’ve witnessed recently can be particularly difficult with no clear frontlines and certainly no rules. The bravery of many journalists goes without saying but it is perhaps important that the expectations placed upon them, or which they place upon themselves, do not expose them to an unnecessary level of danger.
In conclusion, it seems to me that both journalism and journalists are under assault like seldom before. A free media relies to a great extent on journalists being allowed to work without fear of murderous retribution. It is our duty to protect both the trade and those who ply it. To do otherwise is tantamount to saying that those we honour this evening – those who died in pursuit of the truth – did so in vain.
Trevor Kavanagh, Associate Editor, The Sun, read Isaiah 58: 6 – 11
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?
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 him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
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.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he ill say: Here am I.
If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves on 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.
The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.
Emma Daly, foreign correspondent for the Independent and the Observer during the war in Bosnia, read an extract from the Penguin Book Of Journalism 1999
Journalism can be a dirty game, in which competition drives people to shameful deeds. But in times of trouble, most of my colleagues will do all they can to assist – share material with their rivals, help the competition to call in, lend equipment, supplies, whatever it takes. Being surrounded by death and destruction does help to put things in perspective – an ‘exclusive’ tag is really not the point when the story is about a mass grave.
It is not that we are great humanitarians, that we suffer for the sake of others. But I think we are motivated to continue, at least in part, by the people we meet in these not-so-distant lands. I never thought I could change the world, but I would like to show you what I have seen. I want to give a voice to so many: to the 12-year-old girl who watched her 5-year-old sister ripped apart by a shell in the playground; to the grieving parents mourning a 17-year-old daughter whose death was stolen and re-broadcast as propaganda by her killers; to the 29-year-old keening, with great gasping sobs, over the body of her mother, to all those whose lives have been destroyed in the pursuit of power. To those friends whose memories and stories I never noted down – because sometimes you just want to talk as people, to set the job aside for a few moments. To all who survive with grace and humour and dignity, offering coffee to every stranger who crosses the threshold and time to every curious journalist dropping by to ask: ‘And how do you feel?/What do you think?/Show me your scars.’
We can do no more than record as faithfully as we can what we see and hear and smell and taste and touch. Each one of us is influenced by our history, our beliefs, our prejudices, and each of us has a responsibility to try to identify such traits and to work around them. By now I almost expect the work of reporters in the field to be dismissed as ‘naïve’ by diplomats, pundits and other specialists who rarely leave their comfortable Western capitals yet who have an unshakeable faith in their own knowledge, garnered mostly from official briefings. ‘You simply don’t see the big picture,’ is the patronizing phrase often used by those who choose to see only in the abstract. Or as a colleague once said to me, ‘All you people in Sarejevo are obsessed by dead children and that is simply not the point.’
St Bride’s Choir directed by Robert Jones and accompanied by organ played by Matthew Morley performed the following:
Organ music before the service:
Fidelis – Percy Whitlock
Nimrod from Enigma Variations – Edward Elgar
Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? – Psalm 15: 1-3, 8; set by Matthew Morley
Bring us, O Lord God – William Harris
Songbird – Christine McVie
The parting glass – Irish Traditional, arr. Gant
Nun Danket – Karg-Elert
Praise to the Lord
Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord
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