On Tuesday 7th November, 2023, 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, 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:
A very warm welcome to St Bride’s, to what is always one of the most significant events of our calendar, and never more so than at the present time.
Exactly a month ago today, on the morning of Saturday 7th October, I was on a bus travelling between Jerusalem and the West Bank, when news began to break about an appalling incident in the south of the country. By bizarre coincidence, and for completely unrelated reasons, my elder daughter and her father were also in Israel at the time.
We all had a pretty harrowing time trying to get out. But while foreign nationals like me were doing our very best to escape the conflict, members of the Press were doing their best to get in, and then to make their way to the places of greatest danger – (alongside those who were already there because it is their home).
And I have never been more proud of our association with your profession; never more convinced of the profound importance of what you do; never more impressed by the courage and dedication of those who cover stories at such immense personal risk; and never more powerfully affected by the appalling loss of life that we shall be marking this evening.
While I was in Israel eleven journalists were killed in the conflict. That number is now around 37, and there are others who are still missing. We keep a list of names of those who have died on the candlestand by the journalists’ altar, and it is a constant challenge for us to keep it updated, such is the scale and the rate of the loss of life. It is truly heartbreaking.
At this commemorative service, we do not only remember those members of the profession who have lost their lives in conflict: we also honour the memories of those who have died old and full of years, whose contribution we rightly celebrate. And we remember those whose lives have been cruelly cut short, by illness or accident.
We honour writers, reporters – including those who work freelance – broadcasters, photographers, camera-crew, and their support staff. And we continue to hold in our prayers those who are currently in prison, or held captive. None of them are forgotten.
Our particular thanks to those who will be reading for us and lighting commemorative candles this evening – and a very special welcome to Sophie Raworth, and to the Rt Honourable Sir John Whittingdale, who will be speaking to us tonight.
We begin now with an opening prayer. Let us pray.
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.
The Rt Hon Sir John Whittingdale OBE MP, Secretary of State for Media, Tourism & Creative Industries
I am humbled to be asked to speak at this event in the presence of many distinguished journalists and foreign correspondents, as well as to follow in the footsteps of courageous reporters like the first person to give this address, Marie Colvin, or indeed, soon after, Paul Conroy, who was with as her photographer when she was killed.
Some of you may wonder why this year a politician has been asked to speak. It is in part because many of those who might have been here are elsewhere at the moment, reporting from war zones across the globe. But I hope that it will also allow me the opportunity to put on record how important we regard the work that they do and our commitment to trying to improve their safety both here and in the hostile environments across the world to which they are posted.
Last week was Journalism Matters week: an annual event intended to highlight the vital part that journalism plays in holding power to account, in exposing corruption and seeking out the truth against the ever-increasing volume of disinformation and false propaganda.
We owe those who do that work a huge debt of gratitude and this year we were able to celebrate their contribution at receptions, both in No 10, Downing St and the following day in Parliament.
It is a sad fact that for centuries journalists have risked their lives to report from war zones and other hazardous places with some of the earliest recorded deaths occurring in the American Civil War and in the Crimean War of the 19th century.
Today, the world is more dangerous and the task harder than perhaps at any time since this service was first held. In Ukraine, 17 journalists and media workers have been killed in the line of duty since the beginning of that war in 2014. And already, as has been referred to, the war in Israel and Gaza is being described as the deadliest for journalists in 30 years with at least 35, perhaps 37, having died so far.
Yet without the work of journalists in those places the world would not have known about the massacres in Bucha outside Kyiv or in the Kfar Aza kibbutz or indeed, the conditions in Gaza City today.
But it’s not just in war zones that journalists are risking their lives. In Mexico, 5 journalists have been killed already this year. In the Philippines, radio anchor Juan Jumalon was shot in the middle of a radio broadcast earlier this month. And of course much nearer home, we remember Daphne Caruana Galizia, killed in Malta six years ago and Lyra McKee, shot during rioting in Northern Ireland in 2019.
There are sadly many, many more examples, and our thoughts are with all of them and their families and their friends and colleagues who mourn them.
Media freedom is ultimately about our freedom. Yet it is in decline across the world, with UNESCO reporting that 85% of the world’s population experienced a decline in press freedom in their own country over the past five years.
I am proud that it was the UK that helped to found the Media Freedom Coalition, which brings together 50 countries from six continents to promote media freedom through advocacy, diplomatic interventions, legal reform and funding.
In countries where it is most under threat, such as in Russia where the Putin regime is trying to destroy and extinguish all media freedom, we will continue to highlight the courage of those still struggling to provide independent and accurate reporting.
And in particular, we remember the cases of the American journalist, Evan Gershkovich, who has been held for over 200 days now, as well as that of Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian and British journalist who was sentenced earlier this year to 25 years on trumped up charges.
We have also imposed sanctions on some of the leading propagandists in both Russia and Belarus, as well as on their organisations, RT and Sputnik. While in Ukraine, we are supporting journalists by providing personal protective first aid and medical equipment and delivering training, for example, on crisis management and physical security.
And through UNESCO’s Global Media Defence Fund, we are providing an additional £250,000 to support frontline journalists in Ukraine.
More than ever, this emphasises the importance of defending the UK’s long and proud commitment to a free and independent press.
But here there are threats to journalism, too. We have seen recently the staff of Iran International, a TV station based in Chiswick, having to be moved overseas because of the threat to them in this country from potential attack. And also we have seen the threat to the Persian service journalists at the BBC, whose families are intimidated in Iran.
Criticism is a healthy component of thriving political debate. But too often we’ve seen this mutate into threats, harassment and abuse, which is directed at your profession. That’s why we set up the National Committee for the Safety of Journalists in 2020, which I chair, along with my colleague, the Minister for Safeguarding, and it exists to ensure that a safe environment exists for journalists operating in the UK.
We have already produced a National Action Plan for the Safety of Journalists, which is a series of commitments setting out to address the safety issues experienced. And since its publication, we’ve seen the appointment of a Journalist Safety Officer at 22 police forces across the UK, including Police Scotland and the Police Service of Northern Ireland and new guidance to combat online harassment and abuse has been published by the Media Lawyers Association.
And to ensure that activity continues to respond to how the problem of journalist safety is evolving, we’ve just published an updated Plan last week with new pledges to create a new online tool where journalists can report abuse and to help them build greater understanding of the safety issues affecting them.
In addition, we have set up a working group for publishers and broadcasters to share best practice about how best to safeguard editorial staff. But we know this does not end at the physical safety of journalists so we’ve also tried to legislate to make it harder for powerful people to stop the publication of investigative journalism through unscrupulous lawsuits.
And we’ve expanded the National Committee to deal with these legal threats through the launch of a new task force and we are also removing the threat to the freedom of the press, which is posed by Section 40, so that costs in future are not a barrier to investigative journalism as was announced today in The King’s Speech.
I am honoured to have been asked to speak today in order to join you in commemorating those who have lost their lives while carrying out their duties and also to remember distinguished members of your profession like George Alagiah, who Sophie has just spoken of.
It is difficult to express the magnitude of gratitude that we have for the work that journalists do but I am grateful to have had this opportunity to at least try to do so.
Sophie Raworth, Journalist & Broadcaster, BBC News
Good evening. I’m here tonight with the family of George Alagiah, his wife Francis, his four sisters and one of his brother-in-laws to tell you about the wonderful journalist who we lost all too soon in July this year, the man who was one of the faces of BBC News for more than 20 years.
I first met George 20 years ago when we launched the new BBC News at Six together. He loved his job. He loved being in the newsroom. He adored being part of the team. He was unusual in the world of television because he had little ego.
As one of our producers on the team wrote to me after his death, George acted like an equal, which was so rare, he didn’t ever presume he knew best or was above anyone he valued. Everyone asked everyone’s opinion and took their thoughts on board. He had the most experience by far, the most knowledge, the most understanding of the stories and why they mattered. He had every right to act like he knew best, and yet he never did.
But George was a foreign correspondent at heart. That was his true passion. He spent much of the 1990s in South Africa, as the BBC’s Africa correspondent, during which he reported not just on the hope and optimism of the Mandela years, but also on the horror of the Rwandan genocide.
The BBC’s Allan Little worked alongside him for some of those years. He said he looked up to him like a mentor, like a Big Brother. What shone through, always in both his work and his life, Allan said, was Georgia’s empathy. It was rooted in the deepest respect for the people whose lives and often misfortunes he was reporting on.
He could talk to anyone from Heads of State to children in a refugee camp on the edge of a war zone and everyone wanted to talk to him. You saw him winning their trust, responding to his effortless warmth. He wanted to do well by all of them to be true and honest and fair.
George loved telling other people’s stories. That’s what made him an award-winning and much respected journalist. What George wasn’t quite so good at, was talking about himself. For a man who sat in front of 5 million people every night he wasn’t all that comfortable in the spotlight.
I remember him reporting from a village in Sri Lanka that had been destroyed by the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004. It was the village where his grandparents lived, it turned out, and George did a piece to camera standing by a well – one of the only things left after the waves – and revealed that this was where his grandfather had used to bathe him as a small child.
And I remember ringing him from the newsroom and saying tell us more in your report. Tell us more about that. I want to know more about your life there and that village that you’ve gone back to, but he wouldn’t do it. Not on air. It’s not about me, he said. No one’s gonna be interested in that, Sophie. But of course, we all were.
He did write about returning to that village though, a few weeks later in a piece in The Times. He said in reporting on many disasters in my career, the one thing I have learned is the amazing power of the human spirit. I’ve been to so many places where at the worst of all possible times you see how strong the urge to survive is, and I have seen that here.
It was the amazing power of George’s human spirit that impressed me most about him, particularly in the last few years after he was diagnosed with cancer in 2014. He had at least five major operations and around 200 rounds of chemotherapy – he said he’d lost count – and yet he bore it all with such good grace. He was often in pain, yet I never heard him complain. He was endlessly positive and optimistic and he was an incredibly kind and much loved and respected man, so much so that at lunchtime today more than 800 people packed into St Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square, for George’s memorial service.
George’s spirit felt very much there today. In fact, very George, he had written some words just a few weeks before he died, which he wanted to be read at that service today and I had to do it.
I’m going to read you some of them, not the entire passage, but some of his last words now, which was his message to us all:
“It is a painful yet exclusive luxury to be living with cancer because for the most part, it is a story of a death foretold. Many of us cancer patients know that our time is running out, so there is time for reflection. It is not the brutality of a car crash. Why am I making this little interruption, which is meant to be other people’s remembrance of me, not me of them? If you haven’t already told the people you love that you love them, tell them. If you haven’t already told them how vulnerable you sometimes feel, tell them; if you want to tell them that you’d like to be with them until the front hall stairs feel like Everest, tell them. You never know what is coming around the corner. And if, lucky you, there is nothing around that corner then at least you got your defence in first.”
Holly Williams, Foreign Correspondent, CBS News read Isaiah 58: 6-12
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 will 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.
Lord Black of Brentwood, Patron, Rory Peck Trust, read an extract from First to Fight by Roger Moorhouse
Clare Hollingworth (1911-2017) was the first correspondent to report the outbreak of World War II. Hired by the Telegraph just a week earlier, she was sent to Poland at the end of August 1939 to report on worsening tensions in Europe.
With the outbreak of war, some of the ethnic Germans on the Polish side of the 1921 partition saw the opportunity to avenge themselves on their Polish neighbours, and engage Polish forces to aid the German invasion. Ther result, in some cases, was running battles and bitter inter-ethnic violence.
Jan Karski, an officer in the Kraków Cavalry Brigade, described how his unit’s orderly withdrawal from Oswiecim was attacked by insurgents: “As we marched through the streets, to our complete astonishment and dismay, the inhabitants began firing at us from their windows. They were Polish citizens of German descent who were, in a fashion, announcing their new allegiance.”
Neighbours, friends and even family members faced off against one another. In one instance in Katowice, a skirmish saw a 150-strong Polish ‘self-defence force’ defeat a large group of German militants. The British Journalist Clare Hollingworth witnessed the aftermath, as captured Nazi sympathisers were brought into the main square: “Thirty or forty young men, the oldest not above twenty, were marched by under double guard. All wore swastika armguards. Hearing the guns and the alarm, they had assumed that the German forces were through and had catapulted onto the streets yelling ‘Heil Hitler’. Instead of a popular rising, they had found Polish troops to surround and disarm them.”
A short while later, Hollingworth heard the volley of gunfire as the group was executed.
After the fall of Katowice, Kraków was threatened. The ancient Polish capital, former seat of Polish kings and cultural heart of the nation, faced the prospect of war on its doorstep with profound unease. On 3rd September, Kraków’s iconic hejnal – the interrupted trumpet melody, played every hour from the tower of St Mary’s Cathedral – was suspended. There were even rumours that the Germans would enter the city the very next day.
Despite the imminent danger, at the local military headquarters, Clare Hollingworth heard a strangely optimistic assessment from a Polish officer: “You will understand, Mademoiselle, that we must yield ground in order to straighten our line.” Hollingworth asked if they were willing to sacrifice the entire Kraków region. “We are prepared for that”, the officer replied, “as it’s for the ultimate victory. Poland will lose territory during the war but will gain much more afterwards.”
At once Hollingworth saw the fundamental flaw in Polish strategy:
“They do not realise that they would never be able to fall back fast enough or unify their front line”. She concluded, more presciently that perhaps many of the military men around her, that “the war was moving too fast for the Poles”.
That afternoon, Kraków’s mayor was evacuated eastward, alongside government officials and the military command. Hollingworth, too, soon followed, with a gnawing sense of guilt that neither Britain nor France would be able to prevent what was to come.
The St Bride’s Choir and the organist of St Bride’s performed the following anthems and songs:
Ubi caritas – Ola Gjeilo
O pray for the peace of Jerusalem – Herbert Howells
Bridge over troubled water – Paul Simon arr. Robert Jones
Agnus Dei – Tarik O’Regan
Prelude on Darwall’s 148th – Percy Whitlock
My song is love unknown
Be thou my vision
Ye holy angels bright
Photo: International photographers carry an injured man in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti on 29th February 2004 after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide resigned and fled the country. ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP via Getty Images
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