Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Press on.

YESTERDAY I went to church.

(I am as shocked as you, but it's all right because afterwards we all went to the pub and got drunk).

I'm not religious and I don't believe in God, but there is one place of worship I will gladly enter and that is St Bride's off Fleet Street, the journalists' church. It is a beautiful building, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and its tiered spire is the inspiration for traditional wedding cakes.

Fleet Street is where the profession of journalism began 500-odd years ago, and from where it has spread around the world. It remains the spiritual home of every hack on the planet, and not just because of the pubs.

Last night there was a memorial service held to mark the sacrifice and remember the names of all those reporters and photographers who have died in the course of their duties in the past year.

The church was packed with journalists from tabloids, broadsheets, television and radio; foot soldiers, executives, foreign desks, and editors. Some had been wounded in the course of their work and others had lost comrades. The News International benches were a little empty, but then quite a lot of them have bail conditions to comply with.

The topic of journalists dying in harness does not always cause much concern, because as ITV news presenter Mark Austin told the church few people have sympathy for those of us who run towards the kind of things everyone else is busy running away from.

You might think we normally die in the crossfire; but as Mark also pointed out of those journalists killed in the past decade 70 per cent were murdered in cold blood. And of their killers, 80 per cent have not been brought to justice.

Being a journalist is a great privilege, and you get to do and see wonderful things. But you are also treated as less than human. If I am assaulted during the course of my job the police are unlikely to prosecute, and in many parts of the world if a reporter is shot by someone angered by what they have written it is regarded as their own silly fault. Each one, however, is still a crime.

Photographers in the Vietnam War showed the American public the truth of the conflict, and helped turn the tide of public opinion. Journalists embedded with the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have done the same, despite the constraints of their position. Hacks operating as best they can under oppressive regimes in order to spread the truth put their lives at risk every day, and they are rarely thanked.

Britain is 19th in the Press Freedom Index, below Estonia and Lithuania but thankfully above the likes of North Korea. Anti-terror legislation, stalker laws and the new Bribery Act make it much harder to do our jobs these days, especially as none of these statutes was designed with us in mind and can be used by the idiotic or the guilty to stop the unwanted attention of journalists. After the phone-hacking scandal the bar for prosecuting journalists - whether it's hacking, corruption or anything else - seems to have dropped even lower along with our reputation.

We are not all changing the world, and we do not fight the good fight as often as we struggle to come up with a funny picture caption. But we do bear witness to all the things you want us to and some of those you don't, and we bear the scars of that too.

Tomorrow everyone is going to stop and remember the sacrifice of service people in the name of freedom. Journalists don't get included in that, so please have a few seconds' silence and thought today for those in my trade all over the world who have given the same in the past 12 months.


Fleet Street has been spread far and wide, but we are still here. You can beat us, shoot us, pummel us, sue us, and you can legislate against us, but we will always be here.


Gelson Domingos da Silva, Bandeirantes TV
     November 6, 2011, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Wael Mikhael, Al-Tareeq
     October 9, 2011, in Cairo, Egypt
Faisal Qureshi, London Post
     October 7, 2011, in Lahore, Pakistan
Maria Elizabeth Macías Castro, Freelance
     September 24, 2011, in an area near Nuevo Laredo, Mexico
Phamon Phonphanit, Sue Samut Atyakam
     September 24, 2011, in Yala, Thailand
Hassan al-Wadhaf, Arabic Media Agency
     September 24, 2011, in Sana'a, Yemen
Farhad Taqaddosi, Press TV
     September 20, 2011, in Kabul, Afghanistan
Javed Naseer Rind, Daily Tawar
     September, in Khuzdar, Pakistan
Hadi al-Mahdi, Radio Demozy
     September 8, 2011, in Baghdad, Iraq
Pedro Alfonso Flores Silva, Channel 6
     September 8, 2011, in Chimbote, Peru
Noramfaizul Mohd, Bernama TV
     September 2, 2011, in Mogadishu, Somalia
José Agustín Silvestre de los Santos, La Voz de la Verdad, Caña TV
     August 2, 2011, in La Romana, Dominican Republic
Ahmad Omaid Khpalwak, Pajhwok Afghan News, BBC
     July 28, 2011, in Tarin Kot, Afghanistan
Alwan al-Ghorabi, Afaq
     June 21, 2011, in Diwaniyya, Iraq
Shafiullah Khan, The News
     June 17, 2011, in Wah Cantonment, Pakistan
Edinaldo Filgueira, Jornal o Serrano
     June 15, 2011, in Serra do Mel, Brazil
Romeo Olea, DWEB
     June 13, 2011, in Iriga City, Philippines
Asfandyar Khan, Akhbar-e-Khyber
     June 11, 2011, in Peshawar, Pakistan
Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times Online
     May 29 or 30, 2011, in Mandi Bahauddin, Pakistan
Nasrullah Khan Afridi, Khyber News Agency, Pakistan Television, Mashreq
     May 10, 2011, in Peshawar, Pakistan
Chris Hondros, Getty Images
     April 20, 2011, in Misurata, Libya
Tim Hetherington, Freelance
     April 20, 2011, in Misurata, Libya
Karim Fakhrawi, Al-Wasat
     April 12, 2011, in Manama, Bahrain
Zakariya Rashid Hassan al-Ashiri, Freelance
     April 9, 2011, in Al-Dair, Bahrain
Anton Hammerl, Freelance
     April 5, 2011, in an area near Brega, Libya
Sabah al-Bazi, Al-Arabiya
     March 29, 2011, in Tikrit, Iraq
Muammar Khadir Abdelwahad, Al-Ayn
     March 29, 2011, in Tikrit, Iraq
Luis Emanuel Ruiz Carrillo, La Prensa
     March 25, 2011, in Monterrey, Mexico
Mohammed al-Nabbous, Libya Al-Hurra TV
     March 19, 2011, in Benghazi, Libya
Jamal al-Sharaabi, Al-Masdar
     March 18, 2011, in Sana’a, Yemen
Ali Hassan al-Jaber, Al-Jazeera
     March 13, 2011, in an area near Benghazi, Libya
Noel López Olguín, Freelance
     March 2011, in Chinameca, Mexico
Mohamed al-Hamdani, Al-Itijah
     February 24, 2011, in Ramadi, Iraq
Ahmad Mohamed Mahmoud, Al-Ta'awun
     February 4, 2011, in Cairo, Egypt
Le Hoang Hung, Nguoi Lao Dong
     January 30, 2011, in Tan An, Vietnam
Gerardo Ortega, DWAR
     January 24, 2011, in Puerto Princesa City, Philippines
Lucas Mebrouk Dolega, European Pressphoto Agency
     January 17, 2011, in Tunis, Tunisia
Wali Khan Babar, Geo TV
     January 13, 2011, in Karachi, Pakistan