The media awards, Mani and the future of journalism

One of the effects of the Leveson inquiry has been to chip away at the reputation of journalism (not a very sturdy edifice even before the hacking scandal), as I‘ve said before on this blog.

Meanwhile, today’s news that the editors of both the Daily and Sunday Mirror have lost their jobs is a reminder of the precariousness of journalism as an employment field. And just to add to the gloom, there’s a rather damning assessment of journalism in today’s report on social mobility by Alan Milburn, with the profession seen as shifting “to a greater degree of social exclusivity than any other profession”.

Oh dear. Work that’s hard to get in the first place, has poor job security and will only leave you disliked by the general public - who would want to be a journalist these days? Actually, many would. At least to judge from last night’s Amnesty UK Media Awards. This was the annual event where awards are made for the best in the previous year’s human rights journalism (see the full winners list here). It was, naturally enough, teeming with enthusiastic journalists, some with a proven track record of producing excellent human rights-based work.

But there were a lot of young journalists there as well, and the awards also heard about how 3,000 people participated in Amnesty’s Young Human Rights Reporter competition. So reports of journalism’s impending death seem premature….

Meanwhile, here are a few quick points of possible interest arising from the awards themselves:

  • The proliferation of technology previously usually only owned by journalists is making it harder for despotic rulers to kill their own populations, as more and more people acquire cameras and other equipment to record human rights violations - a point made by Callum Macrae with regard to Channel 4’s Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields
  • Working with “vulnerable” communities involves an extremely delicate transaction between journalist and those they talk to - “trust” was referred to a lot last night. And time and time again it involves a host of fixers, intermediaries and other contacts who do a lot of the groundwork, sometimes at great personal risk
  • Outstanding journalism doesn’t always have to be about something brand new - a point made by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s Iain Overton with regard to their reinvestigation of deaths in UK police custody, including the 1998 Christopher Alder case. Overton called it a story that was “hidden in plain sight”
  • The local is also often international, something demonstrated by a case like the “Torso in the Thames”, where an ITV London Tonight investigation into an infamous unsolved murder on their patch involved multiple trips to Nigeria in an amazing feat of journalistic endurance

And, for me, another point from the awards is something to do with how new styles of reporting can still emerge and surprise. Though it can sometimes feel as if there’s nothing new under the sun in journalism (no pun intended), the reporting from Syria by the French photographer-turned-film-maker “Mani” for Channel 4 News showed how fresh approaches can still emerge. There was something genuinely new about the style of filming in his reports - moments of frightening chaos as street battles unfolded and then long passages of heart-breaking stillness as grieving families told their stories in darkened rooms with just the sound of candles hissing and children stirring in the background.

Amazing. I had a quick word with Mani last night. I said how much I liked his films and he tried to pass the credit on to his editors - “they did a really good job with the editing”. Someone in the judging of the awards this year said “Mani is the future”. I think they might be right.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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