Clive Myrie (BBC, left) and Kamal Ahmed (The News Movement, right)
Clive Myrie has been one of the most high-profile journalists on our screens over the last few years for his frontline reporting in Ukraine.
This was recognised as the BBC journalist and presenter picked up the ‘outstanding contribution to journalism award’ at yesterday’s Future of News event held by the Society of Editors. In his keynote speech, Myrie discussed some of the key forces shaping journalism in 2023.
Myrie has worked as a BBC correspondent in most corners of the world: Asia, Africa, Europe and the US. Few are better placed to talk about the pressures facing the media.
On diversity and inspiration
There have also been few more high profile black journalists on our screens in the last year than Myrie.
Conversations on the day consistently acknowledged the importance of diversity and inclusion within newsrooms to foster trust within communities. Myrie took stock in the fact the industry is waking up to a staggering lack of representation of certain sections of society.
Speaking to Journalism.co.uk, he says: "For too long, we haven't been willing to understand there is a problem with diversity.
"If we are to remain relevant with audiences, we need to be representative of the audiences we serve. That’s why diversity matters."
He was inspired to pursue journalism as a career by legendary Trinidadian-British journalist Sir Trevor McDonald, who joined the BBC in the late 60s and became a key figure for ITV decades to come. Although Myrie does not feel responsible to inspire others, he hopes he can be somebody else’s Trevor McDonald.
"He [McDonald] didn’t need to be on the streets with a placard saying 'more black rights'.
"He didn’t need to do that. He simply needed to do his job and that was a huge inspiration to me. I hope that is what I am to others simply by doing my job.
"I didn’t set out to be a totem for the black community, but if I am encouraging younger black kids to get into this business: that’s wonderful. Long may that continue."
On impartiality and polarisation
Myrie collected his award as his employers remain under fire for the Lineker saga, the debate that has raged around employees of the public broadcaster and which opinions they can air in public.
The BBC has doubled down on its mantra around impartiality, but it seems to have raised more questions than answered, like whether guidelines apply to freelancers (which Gary Lineker essentially is) in the same way as staff members,
Speaking at the event with Kamal Ahmed, former editorial director of BBC News and now co-founder of The News Movement, Myrie backed the concept of impartiality because public broadcasters have a duty not to sway licence fee payers.
He argued that this does not come as naturally to young reporters. Growing up with social media has reinforced the value of individual opinions over a wider objective truth.
"Opinions are two a penny. Everyone has opinions," says Myrie.
"What the BBC was founded on was the idea, based on the fact it gets its money from everyone, is that you need to find the objective truth and cut through the opinion. And that underpins the funding model.
"Get rid of that and have opinions all over the place, why would you pay the licence fee?"
Opinions can also change from one day to the next, so public broadcasters must be a consistent voice amongst all the noise: "that has to be the mission of the BBC, certainly in the news division - I don’t know about sport."
Echo chambers have real potential to mislead people. In his keynote speech, Myrie remarked how autocratic regimes rely on people only getting one viewpoint to reaffirm their agenda.
On freedom of the press: at home and abroad
This is all a perfect storm for propaganda and powerful forces, he adds. Journalists face more opposition that work to hinder, silence and outright prevent their work from being published.
The former Washington correspondent took aim at the US, saying it is a "shining example of the toxicity of our modern age."
"We live in a world of individual truths" Myrie adds, rather than objective truths. This divides societies. Impartiality is the enemy for some, he suggests. This was such a brilliant explainer of all the threats to press freedom around the globe currently. The list was long.— Jonathan Weinberg 🇺🇦 (@writesJW) March 15, 2023
He cites the recent case of Fox News, which helped to pedal Trump’s narrative around the ‘stolen’ US presidential election in 2020. It recently emerged the broadcaster was fully aware the claims were false and has yet to provide evidence to back the rigged election lie.
Myrie also cites Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom index and the 28 countries with “very bad” conditions for journalists (global scores under 40, including countries from Belarus to North Korea).
The "usual suspects" are included, chief amongst those China and Russia. These two countries will silence the press and will not care about how it looks.
Last November, a US reporter was physically prevented from asking tough questions about human rights to Chinese president Ji Xinping. Chinese authorities have also pressured BBC’s Beijing correspondent to leave China and move to Taiwan.
Russia is a place that has banned Myrie and some of his BBC colleagues from entering because of their reporting on the Ukraine war. It is a country where the Kremlin has a total grip on the media and can control all reporting in its favour. Russian nationals are largely oblivious to the truth of the war, such as how many journalists have lost their lives in Ukraine through the actions of their government.
But before we in the UK think too highly of ourselves, press freedom is a glaring, growing problem stemming from emboldened individuals and authorities. In recent years, a BBC journalist was hounded by anti-lockdown protestors and an LBC journalist was wrongfully arrested and detained by police for conspiracy to commit public nuisance, despite holding press credentials on her.
In both instances, reporters tell of how these experiences have impacted their mental health. Politicians have had to come out to apologise and condemn these actions. The cases have led to a change in the Public Order Bill offering special protections for journalists.
"The fact that this amendment had to be written in our mature democracy in 2023 is shameful and makes this country (The UK) look no better than Russia, China, Iran or Saudi Arabia," says Myrie.
"But at least we can say it was written. This trade, our trade, is a noble craft."
On mental health
There is a cost to this craft. Myrie says that journalists who fear for their safety or have to report on the pain and suffering of others will frequently find there is a mental toll. Other speakers on the day shared personal accounts of experiences related to their job that have impacted their mental health.
He, too, has found his job taxing, but is finding ways to compartmentalise and cope. When he returns from conflict zones, he turns to other hobbies to shut down and the news does get turned off. It is the only way to prevent his two lives from bleeding into each other.
"I don’t know if I have suffered from PTSD, it hasn’t been diagnosed. A number of my colleagues have had to deal with that," Myrie reveals.
"Images stay with you, no question, of pain and trauma that you come across. But I haven’t found those images have been able to impede my normal working life. So I am coping with it, it feels like."
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