How foreign correspondents weigh up reporting with personal safety — Ukraine.
An admirable clip of the BBC’s Clive Myrie doing the rounds, speaking about the need to cover the war in Ukraine against his and his colleagues and friends’ personal safety.
It’s an unusual clip because the question pulls back the veil of the 4th wall and gets personal, so much so, Clive uses a word he’d use outside the office. In today’s free-for-all in journalism it’s justified to explain the stakes; more of these on air to explain to viewers.
I wanted to add my own context based on my experience as a journalist and one that has covered conflict and my deep knowledge of media practices.
I have a dear friend who often taints all journalists as useless. Brexit, COVID, PMs- parties have made him believe they can’t get to the truth. However much I tell him about the institution of journalism, the companies and the individuals, he can’t distinguish between them.
Clive is one of the best journos in the business, much loved by colleagues and viewers. I first bumped into him on a murder story in 1994. He was at the BBC I was at a company called Channel One. We’ve bumped into each other enough to say hello at the RTS Awards, where I’ve been a judge, and I was grateful he spoke to my Masters students.
Clive is that rare journo whose own integrity is the mark of the best at the BBC and journalism. He’s ego-less and knowledgable. His stature is not impacted by some of the flaws in reporting in which the BBC can be sometimes find itself. The BBC gets many things right but with the arm of politics and government on it, can falter. Race and culture is another which tests the BBC. More recently, references to Ukrainian refugees with blue eyes implies there’s a grading acceptance of human beings in war conditions. Marcus Ryder MBE commented upon on this on the BBC. Clive often speaks out on matters of race.
Wars and conflict are the ultimate test for reportage. It has been since the first designated war correspondent William Russell reported for The Times Newspaper in the Crimean War in 1854–55. Over the years many journalists have sought to report from within. For me it wasn’t so much bravado, though as a test of self it plays a part, but it’s about an integrity of accuracy, empathy and impartiality you as a journo believe you can bring to the viewer.
Clive says that here.
I felt that way reporting from South Africa and the townships between 92–94 when I felt there were stories being missed, not being told. I feel that today in Ukraine when I would have wanted to report from within a family enduring a night of bombardment. How do they cope? These are human, even emotional sides of reporting that can allude the screen. Many execs eschew this. I, in a practice called cinema journalism, see it as necessary, but those days of front line reporting are behind me. In recent years, I’ve been on the Syrian border, or been sharing ideas with journos in Russia and Ufa.
There was a time when the juggernaut of news operations and safety consultants provided a cushion, a safety net, for the welfare of journalists. That human right norms would protect journos merely dong their job.
But much has changed in recent times. In some regions journalists have themselves become targets, and the concern now will be is Ukraine one of them? Would Russian forces actively attack journalists to cut off reportage? What do you think?
Becoming a foreign correspondent is not just a matter of being a great writer, but of qualities unseen, qualities that define a standard of selflessness and yes fearlessness and meet the challenges of frontline, often dangerous reporting. Hence it’s a difficult, sometimes impossible subject to teach. I know I teach it.
It’s years distilled into 2 min 20 reports.
Clive’s concern for safety is real. I/we wish him and colleagues well in reporting stories like these to inform viewers in exceptionally difficult conditions.