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MH17 ‘looter’ reporter: Why I did it

Wed 2014-Jul-23 @ MYT 12:32:34 pm

Colin Brazier, the Sky News reporter who rummaged through an MH17 victim’s luggage on air, has explained what led to his unthinking cock-up while wandering through the “butcher’s yard” that is the crash site in eastern Ukraine.

Others did it, too, he noted, and he foolishly allowed that to be a precedent, he said in his mea culpa in the Guardian: “Good journalism takes many things and the empathy I hope they have wrought in me is one of them. But so is understanding the boundaries of decency and taste. And from time to time, we screw up.”

Unlike other times at disaster scenes, the Ukraine site was wide open. “There are no police to unspool tape and cordon-off sensitive areas. There are roadblocks manned by sullen-looking teenagers cradling AK-47s, but no meaningful law and order. So I, and many others, were allowed to walk around the crash site at will.”

The personal belongings of the victims “brought home the poignancy of the tragedy”, he writes. “They told a story of lives – swimming trunks, laptops, duty free, books – snuffed out in an instant.They provided the backdrop for me to ask why victims were being left to rot in the sun.”

Foolishly, he allowed the sight of “other journalists, some well known broadcasters, were handling belongings and speaking to camera” to be a precedent.

And so during that lunchtime broadcast I stood above a pile of belongings, pointing to items strewn across the ground. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a pink drinking flask. It looked familiar. My six-year-old daughter, Kitty, has one just like it.

I bent down and, what my Twitter critics cannot hear – because of the sound quality of internet replays of the broadcast – is that I had lost it. It is a cardinal sin of broadcasting, in my book anyway, to start blubbing on-air. I fought for some self-control, not thinking all that clearly as I did so.

Too late, I realised that I was crossing a line. I thought aloud: “we shouldn’t be doing this … this is a mistake”, an instant apology that was only selectively quoted by those determined to see what I did as a powerful example of journalistic vulturism.

It is telling that Brazier felt more anguish in breaking a professional rule, by emotionally breaking down on camera for a moment — “a cardinal sin of broadcasting, in my book anyway” — than in flouting more universal standards of decency by actually handling and displaying on air a piece of someone else’s life.

Colin Brazier’s piece about why he did it

The satirical site The Poke took a different view of the whole matter:

“At the time it was thought this would add some humanity and a personal element to the tragedy...” [Click photo to read The Poke version.]

“At the time it was thought this would add some humanity and a personal element to the tragedy…” [Click photo to read The Poke version.]

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