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.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Captain Hook

Well the vultures are circling as England engineer another batting collapse to hand India a victory at Lords. The pundits have been lining up to call for England captain Cook to be dismissed and it looks like he could be on his way out after this dismal display. Given the way three of the batsman ludicrously holed out after lunch today, I would suggest Captain Cook be replaced by Captain Hook for this really was a pantomime performance.

Friday, 18 July 2014

A simple question

A simple question today as the Assisted Dying Bill is discussed in the House of Lords. It is not do you want the right to choose the time and means of your death in the face of terminal illness? It is are you prepared to be the elderly vulnerable terminally ill person who is pressurised into requesting death because you are made to feel a burden on family and society?

Thursday, 17 July 2014


Anyone who knows me will have been aware of the agonies I suffered last season as Manchester United staggered from one humiliation to another under David Moyes. Moyes is a decent man and a good manager but he seemed completely out of his depth at Old Trafford. I recognise that Moyes was badly let down by some seriously over paid and under performing players, however, man management is part of the job. Now I look forward to a new season with new manager Louis van Gaal, who recently led the Dutch side to a World Cup semi-final in Brazil.

There has been much speculation about who will leave the club and who will be signed in the wake of Van Gaal's arrival but for me the good news has already started. It has been reported that as part of his deal with MUFC Van Gaal negotiated a £1.2 million donation to his favourite charity Muscles for Muscles whose work focuses on spinal muscular atrophy. The money was saved by manager and club as Van Gaal didn't use an agent in negotiating his two year £12 million contract. Set aside for a moment the issue of whether anyone should be paid that sort of money, they shouldn't, and let us rejoice in the fact that a charity has benefited from this deal, rather than one of the shady snake oil salesman who all too frequently infect the game.

Van Gaal is not alone in his charitable works. A couple of days ago it was revealed that Arsenal and Germany player Mesut Ozil paid for the operations of 23 Brazilian children out of his earnings and bonuses. Now, how about it Wazza, RvP and those of you who earned so much and delivered so little last year in a MUFC shirt?

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

El Cid on a bike

It was worth the wait to watch the Tour de France flash by me in Chelmsford last Monday, even if ITV did decide to cut to an ad break just as the Peleton reached me. However, I've become increasingly amazed as the race has progressed through France and one by one the superstars of this toughest of challenges have fallen by the wayside. First out was Mark Cavendish with a dislocated shoulder having crashed in a sprint to the line on the first day. Next off was Chris Froome who, refusing to let a broken wrist get in the way of defending his title, fell twice more and fractured his other hand. Even as he staggered towards a support car his team were trying to offer him another bike. Other members of Team Sky have fared little better as day after day riders have been withdrawn. Then yesterday Alberto Contador abandoned his challenge having broken his leg, but only after his doctor had made a vain attempt to strap him up so he could continue.

I watch these supreme athletes take tumble after tumble during the TdF, get back up and carry on draped in tattered Lycra with medics leaning out of cars, applying plasters, spraying on plastic skin and slapping on the ointment. I remember a couple of years ago viewing open mouthed as a group of riders were knocked off the road by a courtesy car and found themselves splayed across a barbed wire fence like latter day Steve McQueens. I gasped as, undeterred, they untangled themselves, grabbed their bikes and charged off down the road in pursuit of the leaders. Even more surprising is the way other riders, rather than taking advantage of misfortune, often slow down to let the fallen catch up with them. It puts the average pampered World Cup footballer to shame as they dive, tuck and roll at the merest brush of an opponent.

As we were listening this evening to the latest roll call of casualties and vain attempts by support teams to keep them in the race, Kate commented: 'One of these days they are going to strap a rider to his bike like El Cid and send him off down the hill.' I wouldn't put it past them. Respect.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

I agree with George...

The Daily Mail seems to be having a bit of a thing about people named George at the moment. It has got itself in a pickle with George Clooney by running a completely false story about his future mother-in-law. When George challenged The Mail they offered an extremely rare apology. This apology turned out to be another piece of journalism which George has rejected as disingenuous if not dishonest. George Clooney deserves great credit for being prepared to take on a newspaper that trades in this type of journalism, particularly on-line, on a daily basis.

Today the Mail has published another article, this time penned by George. However, in this case it's George Carey the former Archbishop of Canterbury. This George is making a bit of a habit of dropping bombshells on the Church he used to lead at the most inappropriate of times. So while General Synod meets in York, George takes the headlines with an article explaining why he has shifted his position on the issue of Assisted Dying. It just so happens that George has decided to take a position on the Assisted Dying Bill before Parliament at the moment which is diametrically opposed to the official position of the Church of England on the issue. So no surprise what took the headlines in the media this morning. Let's set aside the complexities of the arguments about this sensitive and important issue for a moment; I have blogged on this in the past and will do so again and you can read about my views here and here. And before anyone lectures me, as has happened today, that this is an issue about compassion verses cold theology, I can assure you that this is an issue that directly affects my own family circumstances. I would simply make the point today that it is unhelpful and inappropriate for a former leader of the Church of England to make life so difficult for the present incumbent of that office. George Carey was fortunate to be preceded by an Archbishop who, upon retirement, on the whole held his counsel on contentious matters affecting the Church; George Carey's successors have not been so blessed.

So to be clear: I agree with George about The Daily Mail article. George Clooney that is, not the other one.

Update: Some good responses to George Carey's article being posted today. I found +Nick Baines' critique particularly lucid: Dying matters.

P.S. I tried to find an unflattering picture of Clooney so as not to unduly influence this post but to be honest I couldn't find any!

Friday, 11 July 2014

Hold the front page

To be honest I'm not a regular subscriber to the Church Times for a variety of reasons which I won't bore you with now, however,  this morning's front page made me feel as depressed as a Brazilian football fan at about 9:29 pm last Tuesday.

I'm not sure who decided to run with this picture but as someone who has a role in fostering vocations in the Church of England I fear the front page has made my job even harder. What message does the picture convey? Ministry in the C of E is for white, middle aged people who like to bounce like Tigger while managing to look slightly awkward about it? Strange, because in the Diocese of Chelmsford two weekends ago we held three ordination services at Chelmsford Cathedral with 32 people being deaconed. Something of the diversity of the diocese was represented in age, ethnicity and gender amongst both candidates and congregations, though we've still a long way to go. Don't get me wrong, God calls white, middle aged people to ministry and I'm one of them, though I was ordained in my mid-twenties, but they aren't the only people he calls. It is said that a picture paints a thousand words and unfortunately most of the words that came into my mind when I saw this front page are unpublishable.

Anyway, if you feel you are hearing even an echo of a whisper that God may be calling you to ministry, to use +Stephen Cottrell's phrase, why not have a chat with your local minister or check out Call Waiting.