Posted by: Ciaran | March 18, 2010

Journalism and the truth – Jeremy Bowen

Today we at JOMEC were lucky enough to have a talk from the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen. He has, for many years, been one of my favourite journalists and he spoke at length about his career as a foreign correspondent, which has taken him to more than 70 countries and seen him report on 14 wars.

He said that to report conflict, a journalist has to be able to “deny the evidence of [their] own eyes” and believe they are indestructible. Notionally, he has now stopped covering war zones: he said he took the decision after he became a father, and after the death of his friend Abed Takkoush in Lebanon a decade ago.

Jeremy also showed us this video of him coming under fire while reporting from Lebanon in 2008. Describing events in the aftermath of the footage, he said it was “touch and go” getting away from the incoming rounds.

He talked for a long time about the difficulties of reporting from a war zone. More than once he told us: “What may be a great day for us as journalists is probably the worst day of someone else’s life, or even the final day of their life.” While acknowledging that war reporting was often highly intrusive, he said the most interesting stories in war zones are about people.

He said: “You have to have empathy to do the job. You have to be able to give an idea what it’s like to be that person on that day.” One of the things which he said kept him going, even in the most testing of environments, was the feeling of being present at the most important event going on in the world that day.

He also told us it was impossible to be objective – becuase every individual carries their own beliefs, prejudices and values – but that it was possible to try and be impartial. He described impartiality as a “flawed concept” but said it was the best journalists could do.

The most important factor in his reporting, though, is the search for truth – without that, he said, journalists are simply voyeurs. “Someone has to shine a light in to the dark corners of the world,” he told us. “You have to find nasty truths and nasty people, and bring the light of journalism on to them.

“Journalism should seek the truth and that is the purpose of my work.”



  1. […] Audiences are fickle, and it is a simple fact that some stories will capture the imagination where others will not. Equally, I have already written about how easily stories come and go from the news agenda, but also about how journalism must be a “truth-seeking missile,” holding people to account. […]

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