Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Error of judgement.

The news has been full of horrific images from around the world over the last couple of weeks and thanks to modern communications we are able to watch much of the reporting from these scenes in real time. One particular piece of journalism has attracted a large amount of attention and criticism. Sky News reporter Colin Brazier was reporting from the MH17 plane crash site and he began to rummage through a passenger's suitcase while speaking to camera. Part way through the reporter suddenly says 'we shouldn't be doing this... this is a mistake' and stops. However, the video went viral, in some versions without the final comment from Brazier, and the full force of social media instant rage came crashing down upon Brazier's head. Today in The Guardian Brazier explains how he came to make the error of judgement in his broadcast and in so doing gives us an insight into what many journalists are confronted with when reporting from these scenes of devastation.

The incident raises several issues for me. The first is that I am not sure why we need to have so many reports from these situations in order to understand what has happened or is happening. Did we really need reporters standing in the middle of the wreckage to convey the horror of what had occurred? Whenever a disaster, tragedy or atrocity takes place the default seems to be to send one of our well known news presenters to stand at the scene, breathlessly telling us what we already know. Are they really better placed to inform us from the field rather than from the studio? Often they are simply anchoring the programme and introducing other reports. Is this about creating a sense of tension and immediacy rather than helping us to gain insight into the events?

In Brazier's case the situation was different. He and other journalists had been allowed access into the heart of the site, where normally they would be excluded to the perimeter, as Brazier observes in his piece. We also had an insight into the shambles around the site as investigators and journalists where herded around by the Ukrainian rebels and we were able to observe the failure to secure the situation, protect the evidence and enable a proper investigation to take place. There are times when the on the ground reporting does bring a perspective that would otherwise be missing.

What is also revealed in Brazier's piece is the toll that this type of 'in the field' reporting has on the journalists. I guess we have become so familiar with seeing these reporters speaking to camera against a backdrop of mayhem, that we can forget they are human beings, struggling with their own emotions as they engage with the devastation around them. Brazier speaks of the sudden connection between what he was seeing and his own family as the context of his error of judgement:
And so during that lunchtime broadcast I stood above a pile of belongings, pointing to items strewn across the ground. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a pink drinking flask. It looked familiar. My six-year-old daughter, Kitty, has one just like it. I bent down and, what my Twitter critics cannot hear - because of the sound quality of internet replays of the broadcast - is that I had lost it. It is a cardinal sin of broadcasting, in my book anyway, to start blubbing on-air. I fought for some self-control, not thinking all that clearly as I did so.
There are of course situations where the journalists cannot gain access. At the moment reports are coming out of Iraq that Christians in Mosul are being driven out of their homes or murdered for their faith. The story is gaining some coverage but is largely being drowned out by the situation in Gaza and the Ukraine. What is noticeable is the lack of on the ground reporting from Mosul, presumably because it is too dangerous for journalists to go anywhere near the place, and so there is little visual imagery to convey the atrocity on our televisions. Perhaps if we could see something of the tragedy that is unfolding in Mosul more attention might be given to it by news agencies, the public and our politicians, who seem to be almost silent when it comes to anything to do with Christian persecution in the Middle East.

I confess I was appalled when I saw Brazier's Sky News video clip. Looking back at my Twitter timeline I see I didn't make a comment at the time or RT anyone else's comments. though I easily could have - it only takes a click. I'm grateful to Brazier for his openness and honesty about what happened and for the reminder that those reporting the news are affected by what they encounter and can make mistakes, just like the rest of us.

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