Journalism In A War Zone

About twenty years ago there was a British sitcom called “Drop The Dead Donkey”. It was set in a Television news room.

It was topical with scenes often written just hours before transmission.

One of the running gags was that the action man war correspondent carried a prop …a child’s teddy bear…which was used to illustrate reports from war zones and weather disasters.

What made “Drop The Dead Donkey” watchable was that a lot of journalists supplied the writers with anecdotes of their own experiences of incidents in newsrooms and from front lines.

Realistically, the Teddy Bear did little to undermine faith in Journalism itself. Obviously many journos reporting on the Norn Iron Troubles just took the British line and reported press office statements as Fact. It was the phone hacking scandal of over a decade ago that nearly destroyed Journalism as something to be admired.

More precisely, it was the Government refusing to implement many Leveson recommendations that undermined public confidence. Why did the Government back down? That is an interesting question but maybe journalists know too much about politicians…..the drunks, the philanderers, the drug takers, the corrupt.

Journalism is about two things…publishing information and withholding information. It is a very effective form of Blackmail.

It is of course almost impossible to watch any news item from a war zone or earthquake or tsunami and not have that Teddy Bear from “Drop the Dead Donkey” in my mind.


We can see it with our own eyes. The journalists are doing a remarkable job in the most difficult of circumstances. There is no “nuance” to analyse. Ukrainians are brave and in old fashioned terminology of warfare have GOD on their side. The Russians are liars the clichéd barbarians of almost the Dark Ages.

Simplistic? Or just Simple?

One of the interesting things is that western journalists in Ukraine and the Polish border are now invested in this story. As they share underground bunkers with Ukrainians, they have “gone native” and watching TV, we have done the same.

The Russian government has responded to journalists (foreign and domestic) in Russia with censorship and draconian prison sentences for those reporting and publishing accounts that are deemed “anti-Russian”.

And in the West….there are rumblings that the governments are not happy with the reporting of BBC, ITV, Sky News. The constant images of a brave Ukrainian president, the fighting spirit of Ukrainian army and civilians and the images of bombed out buildings and over one million people fleeing to Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Moldova and increasingly the good nature of ordinary people in the west…being generous and hospitable….the images of ordinary people doing SOMETHING is in stark contrast to governments doing NOTHING.

I am being unfair. There are Sanctions but some western countries are dragging their feet and being minimalist.

This is especially true of Britain, where Russian corruption is a major influence in the City of London and Conservative Party itself.

I am not suggesting that every Brexiteer in Britain is a Racist. But just about every Racist is a Brexiteer. When the European Union expanded from 15 members to 28 and brought in Eastern and South East European nations to what was to then “western Europe”, it gave impetus to the campaign to leave Europe.

Frankly in British terms, Sweden, Netherlands and Austria are more acceptable than Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania.

It is now an irony that Priti Patel, the British Home Secretary, notorious for anti-migrant rhetoric is now in a position of appearing to welcome refuges from Ukraine. Karma!

The problem is that BBC, ITV and Sky News are showing images that might be called “human interest”. The photogenic mothers and children being left to the Polish border by husbands and fathers, returning, poorly armed to the front line.

It is a powerful image.

Governments are urging the news outlets to be more conscious of the Big Picture.

A no-fly zone would be a step closer to escalating the War. Poland and Hungary being used as an arms warehouse where Ukrainians drive in and drive out, carrying weaponry is a dangerous game.

The West wants their journalists to manage the expectations of people in the West without actually telling them that the West is totally impotent.

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9 Responses to Journalism In A War Zone

  1. David says:

    Good writing.

    Another observation is that this war and coverage strengthens the separate identity of Ukrainians in Ukranians’ own minds.

  2. hoboroad says:

    I remember when a certain journalist later in life decided to run for Parliament and was accused by his political opponents of paying children in Belfast money to throw stones at British soldiers. I wonder how many journalists in Ukraine are getting their stories given to them by various Spooks and military top brass just like they did in the bar at the Europa Hotel back in the bad old days. The first casualty of war is always the truth. During the run up to the first Gulf War remember the stories about babies taken out of incubators in Kuwaiti hospitals and the incubators then taken to Iraq totally fake news.

    • Oh yes certainly true that journalists paid kids to throw stones or pose for photographs holding stones, bottles etc.
      A friend, a Catholic (unusually at BBC) was a secretary and she had the misfortune to know some of the network journos on their six month rotation.
      You mention the Europa …I remember one writing a farewell to Belfast piece and he said that a lot of information on republicans came from waitresses/chambermaids and a lot of information on loyalists came from other male employees at the Europa.
      Ukraine is very good at propaganda. In itself Propaganda is not a bad thing (as long as its true) so all that footage of young women carrying babies, old women carrying their pets and the couple who got married.
      All of it adds up.
      As a father and grandfather……..and this goes back to the Ethiopian famine in 1984, its impossible not to see such footage and not think of my own.

      But I now believe that for every standing ovation, Zelensky gets, for every blue and yellow ribbon in Westminster, for every City Hall in Ukraine colours, the sell out of Ukraine will be massive.
      Apart from a revolution in Russia, I can see no way Ukraine can win.
      I daresay behind the scenes, western diplomacy is planning a sell out.
      1 Russia will get a lot of the eastern parts.
      2 Ukraine will recognise the Rssian annexation.
      3 Ukraine will agree not to join NATO or EU,

  3. hoboroad says:

    Ukraine reminds me of what I read about Biafra it was a big media story at the time. And brought a lot of unlikely allies to its cause but ultimately a failure and a terrible price was inflicted upon its population by Nigeria. The same is going to happen to Ukraine a country left in ruins and for no gains whatsoever. The Ukrainians will probably turn on those who are being lauded on a world stage today. I see a number of British soldiers have gone AWOL from their units and are heading for Poland of course if they are killed or captured Putin will claim direct UK/NATO involvement in Ukraine. At least Biden was smart enough to stop Poland handing over Mig 29 fighter jets to Ukraine.

  4. hoboroad says:

    I see Prince William told some Ukrainians living in London how sad he was about what was happening in their country. But he could not leave it at that. He said we were not used to conflict in Europe unlike in Africa and Asia. Did he never talk to his late mother about her visit to War torn Bosnia? Or see the conflict in Kosovo on his television set ? He really must have led a sheltered life to have avoided coming across these Wars in Europe.

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