Reflections of a Grade B Reporter
Since being offered the post of Grade B Reporter by the BBC in 1964, Martin Bell has spent more than half a century in the unquiet corners of the world, including four years in the surrogate war zone of the House of Commons.
It has been a period of rapid change in the way that wars have been fought and perceived, and of equally rapid change in the way that news has been gathered and presented. From Vietnam to Bosnia and beyond, the former BBC correspondent has been in the thick of it.
He has served as a corporal in a colonial army. He has flown on a defoliation mission with the Americans. He has been embedded with the British. He has crossed the Suez Canal with the Israelis. He has been under fire in conflicts from Belfast to Nigeria to El Salvador. He has kept the company of soldiers, warlords, mercenaries and militias. He has attended one of Idi Amin’s weddings. He has been arrested and deported. He has been mortared by the Serbs and robbed by the French on the same day. He has given evidence at the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. He has had a calypso written against him. His travels as an ambassador for UNICEF have taken him to unreported conflicts in the Yemen and Africa. He has been a witness to most of the wars of a turbulent half-century.
His conclusions are first hand and personal. He draws on his memories as a soldier and journalist, his broadcast reports, his notebooks and diaries, and original documents that he took away from the war zones. He also draws on his poetry when, otherwise, he would have been lost for words.
He writes of the pity of war and (usually) its futility; of the failures that occur when armed force is chosen by politicians who have had, themselves, no experience of it; of the complex and ever-changing relationship between the media and the military; of the dangerous disregard of the lessons of history; of minefields and airfields and fields of fire; of the attempts to establish a system of international justice; of ‘black swan’ events and unprecedented dangers at home and abroad; of wars of religion and climate change; of truth and falsehood in news reporting; of great traditions and disgraceful fabrications; of the hazards of the 24/7 news cycle; of a TV news that, being no longer an eyewitness, censors the real world violence and peers across frontiers with the help of unverifiable videos. And of a journalism in retreat – the Death of News.
This is a compelling account, of where we have come from and where we now stand, by one of the journalists of our time.
The recollections pass belief
Of waste and sacrifice and grief,
Of peace, the plunder, war the thief
And ceasefires all too brief.
By: Martin Bell
Martin Bell, OBE, is a British UNICEF Ambassador, a former BBC broadcast, a renowned war correspondent and former member of British Parliment, who served as an independent politician. He is sometimes known as "the man in the white suit". I met Martin in Belize and served as his news producer in El Salvador, during a most difficult period of that bloody civil war. Mt most vivid images were holding on to white flags during a shootout between the FLMN rebels and the Salvador military.
The link below was provided by Martin's crew member Bob Grevemberg, who is not only my Tocayo, he is a fellow grandfather to our gorgeous granddaughter OLIVIA.