Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Je suis Charlie

It’s hard to put into words the devastation and sickening fear I felt watching Sky news this afternoon as they showed footage of the extremists who massacred a newsroom of journalists and cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

War correspondent friends of mine have talked before of the deep dread and impending sense of doom that they feel 24 hours a day when they are on assignment in dangerous places around the world, notably the Middle East. They get used to expecting something bad to happen but nothing can prepare you for the war coming to your own front door. As a journalist in a Western capital, the idea that you might be shot dead during morning conference while discussing ideas for an upcoming magazine issue is simply beyond belief.

Observing the two gunmen as they fired rounds of ammunition in a deathly quiet Parisian street before virtually ambling back to their car as they gloated loudly at the bloodshed they had caused, I was struck first by their almost comic insouciance. No sense of urgency, they looked bungling and one even paused to pick up a shoe and throw it into the back of the car before they headed off at a relaxed rather than breakneck pace into the anonymous city traffic. I guess it’s easy to be brave with a Kalashnikov in your hands.

It’s a sad day for journalism, freedom of speech and the right to an uncensored press when a group of talented professionals is gunned down in cold blood in their place of work for daring to have a sense of irreverence. Will we now see armed guards stationed at the entrances of PA, Reuters and the BBC?

I remember feeling a sense of excitement when I started training as a journalist, almost 30 years ago. Whether doing the bacon sandwich run at 6.30am for the rest of my office, taking copy (long before PCs and email) or being sent to cover my first major trial at the Old Bailey, the pure adrenaline buzz of starting my longed for career in newspapers was unforgettable. Would I advise my daughters to embark on a career in journalism now? I'm not sure, much as I still love the job I do.

Writing a blog to stand up and be counted and say this is unacceptable is a small thing to do. What we all need to show now is solidarity in the face of such unimaginable tragedy. Anger, yes, action, yes, acceptance, never.