JOURNALISTS' COMMEMORATIVE SERVICE

photojournalists, journalists and others running from danger in Syria

We will remember them

9th November, 2021

On Tuesday 9th November, 2021, at 6:30pm a service was held at St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street in the presence of HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, 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.

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.

The Revd Canon Dr Alison Joyce introduced the service:

Your Royal Highness, Ladies and Gentlemen – a very warm welcome to St Bride’s to what is always one of the most significant events of our year: our annual Journalists’ Commemorative Service.

A particular welcome to Tim Davie, the Director General of the BBC, who will be speaking to us this evening, and to Anthony Loyd, War Correspondent of The Times, who will be giving the main address – it is a great privilege to have you both here with us today.

The world has never been in greater need of good journalism; and we have never had more occasion to be reminded of the human cost of good journalism than we are today.

So it is our privilege this evening to honour the memories of all those journalists; photographers; film crew; and their support staff, and all who work freelance in the industry, who have lost their lives this past year –
and to remember in our prayers those who continue to work in situations of immense personal risk in the pursuit of truth.

We owe you all an immense debt of gratitude.

Our thanks to all those news groups whose support has helped to make this service possible, who are listed at the back of your orders of service – and to the individuals and organisations who have assisted with their time and expertise.

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

Tim Davie, Director-General, BBC

Your Royal Highness, Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s a great privilege to be here at St Bride’s, and to be with you all this evening.

This church holds a very special place at the heart of journalism. It means a huge amount to all of us at the BBC and to all of us here. It’s where we turn in the toughest times, and where our friends and our families can always find comfort, support, and solidarity.

As a leader of a news organisation what has always struck me is the contrast between the popular view of the industry from outside – the picture we see in TV and films of fierce competition and rivalry – and the reality within.

Very quickly you realise that what characterises journalists most is not the differences, but the beliefs and values we all share…

…That truth is the foundation of democracy… That power must be held to account…

…That those who abuse that power must be exposed, and those who are the victims of that abuse must be given a voice.

These are the values that bind us. But, more than anything else, what truly brings us together as a family is the compassion and care we have for our colleagues in peril right around the world, and for their families.

It’s that humanity and kindness that sustains us, and it’s why we are here in remembrance this evening.

Last month marked a moment of history.

For the first time in over 85 years, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to a journalist. Two journalists, in fact: Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov, for their fight for freedom of expression in the Philippines and Russia.

In praising their courage, the committee said that they considered the two to be “representatives of all journalists” who stand up for the ideals of democracy and peace in today’s world.

The fact that the last time the prize went to a journalist was in 1930s Germany forces us to think about the urgency of the moment we’re in.

In the disinformation age, truth is under assault like never before. Those who stand up for it most strongly have never been more targeted.

We know that the physical risks faced by journalists no longer come solely from the front line. Reporters all around the world face escalating dangers, increasing levels of harassment, and ever more subtle modes of intimidation.

In March, the BBC’s Beijing correspondent, John Sudworth, was forced to leave China as a result of pressure and threats from the authorities.

Over the summer, our Moscow correspondent, Sarah Rainsford, was expelled from Russia as a national security threat after more than twenty years of reporting.

These moves were almost unthinkable just a few years ago.

I know all news organisations are facing similar challenges – not only in autocracies but in democracies too. It’s hard not to conclude that it’s part of a growing assault on media freedom worldwide.

But if the award of the Nobel Peace Prize acknowledges that this is a moment of great risk for journalists and journalism, it also recognises that it’s a moment of great necessity.

Maria Ressa spoke about the crucial fight for truth that is taking place in societies all around the world. As journalists, she said, “we hold the line”.

She also said she hoped the win will be “energy for all of us to continue the battle for facts”.

We’ve seen so much of that energy once again this year; so much outstanding and critically important reporting from places like Myanmar and Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lyse Doucet has talked in the past about “an ache in the gut when a major story breaks and you just have to be there”.

I’m very much aware of how much we rely on that instinct. Of how much we ask of journalists who run towards danger to support peace and democracy abroad, and to bring the news back home.

We owe a great debt of gratitude to those journalists, their crews and support staff – to local reporters and producers, drivers and translators – and to all of their families.

As the battle for truth heats up, our debt grows ever greater.

Thank you.

Anthony Loyd, War correspondent, The Times

Remember 2003? How long ago it seems. That was the last time I stood here in St Brides, doing a reading. Marie Colvin spoke. The service was to celebrate the end of the war in Iraq, and the war in Afghanistan already seemed over, victory assured.

How fragile we are. How fugitive peace and stability can be.

2003 – it was the year before so much went wrong: the year before Abu Ghraib, the year before the Fallujah uprising. There were many good reasons to have questioned the rectitude of invading Iraq, but by the time we held this service that year and Marie  spoke the world seemed somehow more coherent, more cohesive and our confidence in the power intervention, indeed our hope for better things, was stronger.

Whatever the flaws of Iraq, there was also back then somehow a sense that Afghanistan had gone well: of the two wars, Afghanistan was somehow the good war.

I speak as a foreign correspondent of 28 years and most of my professional life as a journalist has been spent reporting on conflicts, but the issues of loss, setback, reversal, bad surprise, of things going horribly wrong very fast are common to us all: to every journalist, indeed to everyone sitting here.

The aftermath of the Taliban take over  in Afghanistan, where I have worked almost every year since first going to report there in 1996, has left me listless and in doubt – doubt about our power, as journalists, and doubt in the benefit of what we sometimes do.

Hopefully that doubt isn’t everlasting. It is natural to have times of doubt: indeed, doubt is an integral part of faith, of spiritual evolution and, on a lowlier level, doubt and self-questioning are an integral part of good journalism.

Yet doubt by its nature doubt puts us ill at ease, and when it comes to Afghanistan one can only feel ill at ease. My own doubt springs from a very simple question: what was the point of that?

That question is a general in scope: what was the point of the whole 20-year campaign, all that killing and suffering, and some achievements too, when it concluded in a full Taliban victory?

More narrowly: what was the point of all those years of journalism? What good did we do, having informed for so long, to such negative end?

We as journalists, like to think we do good. We generally aren’t stupid enough to think we’ll change the world, but most journalists I know are reasonably romantic enough to hold onto the ember of the wish to do so. To some degree most of us want to get our shoulder to the wheel and push it forward.

We are non-executive, we are informative but hopefully we each nurture the idea that yes, truth is an essential component of human communication without which we are lost – and by derivation journalism is a vital part of the democratic system: informing society, generating debate, leading through legislative process to executive decision and, hopefully, positive outcome.

All over the world journalists, and their local staff – are harassed, intimidated, subjected to increasing terrifying and hostile abuse on social media, beaten, imprisoned, sometimes tortured, murdered, or else killed in war zones either by intention (as was the hugely respected and well-liked Reuters photographer Danish Siddiqui in Kandahar this summer) or slain as a simple byproduct of working in a war zone.

We like to think this vulnerability, suffering and loss – in which local journalists and their staff are so much more vulnerable than foreign correspondents – is to an end, a greater good, and sometimes it is.

I am sure there are those in St Bride’s today – a few of you – who can reflect on positive outcome, justice perhaps, that relates directly to something you have written, filmed, or photographed.

But for many of us, positive outcome is very difficult to truly ascertain, and it is sometimes easy for doubt to prevail.  For those who report on conflict – on war, that most negative of all human experiences – it is hard in reflecting on one’s coverage of cyclical bloodletting, ruination, and pain to see any redemptive diamonds lying in the mud.

Indeed, the very stories those of us in this group are often best known for, are those that result in no good at all.

I’ve trotted that mantra  ‘journalism is a vital part of the democratic system, informing society, generating debate, leading through legislative process to executive decision and positive outcome’ hundreds of times through my head in reflecting on my interview with Shamima Begum in 2019, who went to Syria as a British teenage schoolgirl, a child of our society, who spoke to me as she wished to return face justice and save the life of her unborn child, and I wonder where exactly the positive outcome is of that story.

Mine is a privileged doubt – and I recognize that. Doubt as I have described is a necessary and transformative element in our work.  I have the chance to express it here, to walk out of the church afterwards not fearing that a motorcycle gun team are going to shoot me down; not fearing that masked men will break into my home at night and take me away; not fearing that I’ll get in my car and a limpet mine will incinerate me at the wheel.

Foreign correspondents travel to wars to work by choice: war is not imposed on me: I return to a land at peace. Of course, that carries an element of risk. I speak here just as Marie spoke here: war is governed by the dynamic of chaos, and you’ve got to be pretty dim to travel to the pit and see people fighting and dying and think ‘this won’t happen to me’.

However, consider what it must be like to have been an Afghan journalist in the past two decades , or to be one still.

Before we go there, let’s not be starry eyed about the reach and depth of what the US-led coalition were achieving in Afghanistan.

The war strategy was grievously flawed: it was going nowhere. Thousands of Afghans were being killed every year – Afghan security force casualties ran at an average of 6,500 dead a year every year over the past six years: that’s 3,000 more each year than the entire US-led coalition lost in 20 years.

Moreover, the US had signaled for years that they wanted out of Afghanistan. Trump codified in Doha what Obama had desired before, and Biden’s entire Afghan track record was one of a wish to leave the country,  so the fact that we all affected surprise when it finally happened, despite the fact a timeline for a full US withdrawal had already been laid out in Doha last year, speaks of our own fantastical optimism in the face of likely reality.

Along the way, in its efforts to install democracy through the prism of one of the most corrupt governments in a region infamous for corrupt governments, the American-led coalition and its Afghan allies had killed thousands of unarmed Afghans over 20 years and alienated swathes of the country.

The Taliban did too, but I’ll just say that again as it is an observation of fact rather than a guess or opinion: the coalition killed thousands of unarmed Afghans during its twenty-year presence: indeed, the last Afghans killed by the US in the country were the ten-member family of an Afghan aid worker – that number included seven children.

Yet, despite flawed strategy, and in the absence of better alternative, a few momentous things were achieved in the last twenty years.

Millions of women were educated. The literacy rate among females was a record 30 percent by 2018. There was nothing like a total balanced recalibration of rights for women across Afghanistan – in many parts of the land over the past 20 years  women were still seen as assets, second class citizens – but attitudes were fast changing and the impact of educated women in Afghan society was immense and self-generating.

The reversal of women’s rights, and the widespread cessation of their education, marks one of the most egregious losses of the war: and their removal from schooling and employment  by the Taliban will further cripple the country’s chances of regeneration.

Though the Afghan government was venal, corrupt, divided, and inept, the country did also experience a flourishing local media evolution during the two decades that the coalition were there, albeit a media that was under continued and escalating assault.

Let me put the scale of these attacks on Afghan journalists into perspective.

In Kabul in January this year I met one evening with Lotfullah Najafizada, the editor and director of TOLOnews, Afghanistan’s leading 24/7 news channel. I met him in his offices in the city and I remember as I walked into the office compound past steel gates seeing the rows of flak jackets, body armour and helmets in open lockers by reception. They were waiting to be grabbed when needed, either to survive while reporting the city streets, or in case the offices were stormed.

News gathering in Afghanistan had literally been been murder for some time by that January night. Leaving their offices at the end of the day, Afghan journalists making the journey home moved quickly for fear of the assassin’s tread. Some reporters in the city had taken to staying in their offices for days at a time rather than risk leaving at all.

When I met with Najafizada that evening, thirty-three Afghan journalists had been killed in the past three years, and the rate of attacks on the media was increasing.

Most of these killings were undertaken by the Taliban, but not all: ISK, the local ISIS also killed Afghan journalists.

The toll for TOLO NEWS was especially heavy. Najafizada had lost 11 of his reporters since the first seven TOLOnews journalists were killed in a Taliban suicide bombing in 2016.

In dead and wounded, TOLOnews had at the time suffered worse casualties while reporting in Kabul than many coalition battalions lost fighting in Helmand.

Thousands of the educated middle class, many journalists among them, had already left the capital amid this purge, long before the August evacuation following the Taliban takeover.

Since then, by which I mean since the Taliban take-over,  an estimated 70 percent of Afghan media outlets have closed, and those Afghan reporters who haven’t managed to get out of the country and remain in their posts do so under restriction and fear.

There are few silver linings here. It may be that Afghanistan finds some greater overall short-term stability under the repressive rule of the Taliban than it did during the corruption and violence of the previous twenty years.

In the medium term it is very unlikely that anything other than widespread starvation will occur in Afghanistan as punitive western sanctions and donor regulations take a toll on millions of Afghans this winter.

Reporting there twenty-five years ago in the winter of 1996, during the Taliban’s first tenure of power, I remember coming across gang of child grave robbers who were selling smashed human bones to sell make glue. The Afghan economy had collapsed soon after the Taliban had taken Kabul months earlier. Inflation was running at four hundred per cent and more than half of the country was unemployed. More than 3.5 million Afghans —  a fifth of the population —  were refugees in Pakistan.

Living standards had been further damaged when then, as now, Taliban banned women from working. In Kabul’s bazaars anything and everything was being sold to survive. Among the ruins I met men selling broken locks, empty Biros and soleless shoes.

At first, I did not believe the rumours of a trade in human bones until I saw it for myself. Children were being employed to rob graves, smashing the skulls and larger bones with rocks to hide their origin, before selling them to local merchants who mixed them with bones from dead livestock, and selling them on in mixed bulk to Pakistan.

“You see what we have come to,’’ a teacher told me as I watched children sell human bones to a bone trader one November afternoon. “No work, no food, no hope. A generation with no education, that has known only war.’’

I recall that scene vividly. I see the possibility of this same scene being repeated now, with the difference being, of course, that it will affect a generation that has known education, that did hope for something better.

Professional doubt in our ability as journalists to be an agent for long-term good is entirely natural response among any of us who have worked long term in Afghanistan, in the wake of what has just happened. Doubt is not the luxury however, of Afghan journalists forced to flee in fear of their lives or living in fear there now.

In closing, reflecting on Afghan colleagues and their country, I would like to say that what happens next in Afghanistan can be influenced to some extent at least by journalists, and especially by editors and executives.

We have a choice, whether to complete the abandonment of Afghanistan and fade out the media’s focus of what happens there next, just as the international media more of less abandoned Afghanistan during the civil war after the Soviet withdrawal, or to persist in reporting from the country in a way that may illuminate the necessity of dialogue with the Taliban as starvation threatens millions, respectful of the generation of young Afghans, men and women, who expected rather more from us than simply to run away.

So, I will ask the question again: ‘what was the point?’ For journalists, the point was and is to be there and report it, regardless of measurable success; our point is to endure and be stoic in the face of doubt, to be aware that the negative consequence of our absence from the field as reporters may far outweigh the positive consequence of our presence.

Readings

Libby Wiener, Political Correspondent, ITV News, read John 15: 12-17

My command is this: love each other as I have loved you.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last – and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.

This is my command: love each other.

Thanks be to God.

Alison Phillips, Editor, Daily Mirror, read Rule by Terror from The Face of War: Writings from the Frontline 1937-1985 by Martha Gellhorn

July 1983

El Salvador is slightly larger than Wales and even more beautiful and mountainous, blessed with a benign climate, fertile soil, lakes, rivers and magical trees. A country like a garden, a rural society, where most of the five million inhabitants live in destitution. For 162 years, El Salvador has been ruled by and for an oligarchy of landowners and its allied military. The last collected statistics in 1971 show how this works. Eight percent of the top citizens received fifty per cent of the national income. Twenty thousand farm properties occupied seventy-five per cent of the land, leaving the rest for 330,000 small farms. Sixty-five per cent of the rural population had become landless seasonal labourers.

There was no peaceful way to change this permanent greedy imbalance of wealth and opportunity. Elections were a sham, ballot boxes invariably stuffed to suit the ruling caste, the swindle enforced by the military. Orderly protest marches ended in massacres by the police. Strikes were broken by the army, strikers shot and imprisoned. The majority of the Salvadoran people could either live without hope, or rebel. Misery is not a synonym for ‘Communist subversion’. The true begetters of this civil war are successive brutal Salvadoran governments.

By now there is no pretence of law. Salvador is ruled by terror alone. The people have no protection except the Salvadoran Catholic Church, a moral and humanitarian support for which the Church pays in the death toll of its clergy. Doctors, nurses, and medical students are murdered for giving their professional help to the poor. Rule by terror threatens anyone and everyone apart from those who use terror and rely upon it. Nobody needs to tell you that ‘there is great fear in this country.’ You can feel it.

Music

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

Psalm 121 – Henry Walford Davies
Beati quorum via – Charles Villiers Stanford
In my life – John Lennon & Paul McCartney, arr. Daniel Jordan & David Buckley
Miserere mei – Gregorio Allegri
Dankpsalm Op 145 – Max Reger

Hymns:
Ye holy angels bright
Lord of all hopefulness
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty

Some of the music provided on the audio recording above is taken from the St Bride’s Choir recording archive as the choir were not singing from their usual, miked stalls, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

congregation sitting for service

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