Saturday, June 25, 2022

Clive Myrie: We make mistakes at the BBC because we are human but I hope the nation is proud of it

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Newsreader, journalist and presenter Kasia Delgado shares how hard it was leaving Ukraine the first time, being stopped in the street upon returning and why the BBC makes mistakes but deserves to be our nation’s pride

Myrie, who was there to meet his friends, politely declined but was impressed by this woman, who thanked him for his coverage of the war. After all, he has been reporting from war zones for the BBC for 20 years and has been a journalist for 30 years. This stranger was one of several people who had thanked him that day.

When Clive Myrie first returned to the UK after reporting from war-torn Ukraine, a woman approached him in a busy Birmingham restaurant and said: “I just want to say thank you very much. If you would like to join me and my friends for a drink, we would be very happy.”

“I thought, ‘Oh! My word,’” he says. “It was kind of upsetting because it’s about the team, but at the same time it was absolutely wonderful to hear. Long may this feeling that the BBC holds a valuable place in our culture.”

On Thursday February 24th, the day Russia invaded Ukraine, Myrie presented BBC News at Ten, updating viewers on the recent attacks carried out on the orders of Vladimir Putin. A tear ran down his cheek during the show.

On March 3, he told viewers: “Good evening and welcome to BBC News at Six, we’re live in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, where that huge column of Russian armor is located that we’ve been telling you about for the past few days, I’ve been there.” now drive down the northern approach to the capital.”

A few weeks later, Myrie and his team announced that they were forced to leave Ukraine as the situation worsened. Myrie shared images of giant snakes exiting the capital. He returned to Britain and traveled 17 hours to Romania via Moldova.

In the first week of the conflict, an estimated 280 million people from Britain and around the world watched the BBC’s online news edition. Has Myrie got a sense of the public’s appreciation from the scrutiny the BBC has endured on everything from bias to royalties to funding cuts?

“I didn’t realize how warm the welcome was until I came back after that first trip,” he says.

“It was absolutely amazing. And we didn’t realize on the ground that pretty much the majority of the British public had been watching TV that first week. They were glued to it.

“I got off the plane in England and as I was walking back to my house, people stopped me to thank me and the team for telling the story. I’m eternally grateful that people appreciated the coverage, appreciated what the BBC was trying to do.

“On another level, it reminded me of what the BBC can be, especially in times of crisis. We had it at the beginning of Covid, a similar love burst. You just have to hope those warm and fluffy feelings last.”

The BBC, for which Myrie worked for a year at Independent Radio News, certainly gets slammed, but one could argue that as a national broadcaster it has, and should have, higher standards than other media.

“We screw it up because we’re all human. Most of the time we get it right,” says Myrie. “But we are fallible. Bear with us. I hope the nation is proud of the BBC as the rest of the world is proud of the BBC. But in certain areas of our own country, they’re not proud of the BBC, and that’s a weird, weird thing.”

There were also people tweeting Myrie asking why on earth the host of Mastermind was going to Ukraine.

“I’m struggling to find the words to deal with this type of question,” he told the today Nick Robinson of the programme, “Because I’ve been a journalist for 30 years, after all. I’m actually a journalist, not a moderator. It’s not my job to sit behind a desk and read a damn autocue. It’s about going out and telling stories, and I do that all the time.”

The return to that warmth for his coverage of Ukraine was encouraging for Myrie, but the journalist found it hard to leave Ukraine, although it was also a relief to be with his wife Catherine, an upholsterer and furniture restorer, whom he met in 1992 , being at home.

“It’s complicated,” he says, “when I first went it was particularly upsetting because we still didn’t know what was happening off the battlefield. We still didn’t know what would happen to Kyiv, where I was stationed and where I met a lot of people who became friends. We still didn’t know if that was going to be fully attacked, so leaving these people was really difficult and I was fundamentally concerned. It was very difficult and I was very sad that I could walk and the Ukrainians couldn’t. I felt guilty.”

While he found the act of leaving difficult, Myrie, 57, has also been able to switch off enough from the war just enough to have some quiet time at home in north London.

“I’m pretty good at organizing myself,” he says, “because if you’re carrying all of that around, it could be what they call PTSD.” Of course there will be images and things that live with you and that can be brutal. This war in the heart of Europe means there are certain things that stand out in your mind, but I can make sure to steer clear of some because you need to be able to live your life away from the war zone .”

The millions of people who follow Myrie’s reporting and that of his colleague Lyse Doucet, the BBC’s chief international correspondent, are clearly grateful that the story is being told. However, many have also wondered what kind of personality it takes to do the work they do.

“It’s certainly not for everyone,” says Myrie, “and there are people on the editorial board who say they’re not going, and that’s perfectly understandable. We are not told to go to war zones; They ask us if we want to go, and the decision is entirely ours.

“You have to want to try to get as much truth out into the public as possible, and especially in this day and age when there is so much crap, so much propaganda that we know Russia is producing and we know they are Ukrainians pump some out too. You hope that you can lead the viewer, the listener or the reader down a path that is hopefully truthful to what is happening.”

Then there is the potentially life-threatening danger of telling the truth in a war zone.

“We have a very good security team, so we’re all trained to handle and report from hostile environments,” he says.

“No one is allowed to go out unless they have completed this special course, which is topped up every two years. It gives you the confidence to know where to go, how to act, to understand pressure and know which moments are more dangerous than others and to do a risk assessment.”

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