I read with interest the Twitter outrage sparked by Sky News’s Colin Brazier’s actions as he reported from the MH17 crash site in Eastern Ukraine.
It was easy to initially share the feelings of revolt and bile that users were directing at the reporter when viewers witnessed him reach into the luggage of adead child and start to examine the items during a live report. Here was a reporter not only further contaminating what was a massive crime scene but was also so taken up in the moment that he violated the private possessions of the dead.
Yet, I felt sympathy.
It’s so easy to regard live reporting as little more than tragi-porn-news, especially in these situations. Relenting live dispatches that increasingly know no boundaries. For that is precisely what was going on at the MH17 crash site. A war zone, a crime scene, the haphazard environment ‘encouraged’ those reporting to plunder it for more personal stories that would connect with viewers.
I can’t imagine what it’s like to report from a scene like this. I felt sympathy for two reasons. The first was that the item he saw in the luggage was a drink bottle just like his own child’s. Seeing that was a jolt of reality in the midst of quite surreal horror; I’m not sure I’d have kept it together either. On screen, though viewers did not notice, Brazier lost control and began to cry. Second, and less understood by the outraged Twitterari was that Brazier wasn’t alone in handling items from the crime scene. All the reporters were doing it. Stepping over the moral front line amongst the chaos had become the norm.
Brazier apologised the moment he realised what he was doing. Sky apologised some hours later. On reflecting about this I’m still struck not only by the emotionally trying scenes reporters are increasingly expected to report from in a prolongued manner, but also the knee-jerk reaction on Twitter from an audience who as much seek out such tragi-porn as revile it so publicly.
You can read Brazier’s reflection on his actions here at the Guardian.