THE Archbishop of Canterbury has praised journalists who
"witness the full horror of what is going on and dare to speak it",
and in so doing "unlock the covers of the wells of compassion".
At a service for fallen journalists held at St Bride's, Fleet
Street, in London, on Wednesday, entitled "The Pen is Mightier than
the Sword", Archbishop Welby paid tribute to reporters who, in
pursuit of the truth, risked being "hurt deeply, mentally,
emotionally, physically, spiritually or even killed". He named both
James Foley and Steven Sotloff, journalists beheaded by Islamic
News 5 September). Such correspondents were like the look-outs
described by Isaiah ("Watchman, how goes the night?").
"They are the ones who witness the full horror of what is going
on and dare to speak it. The rest of us are one step, or many
steps, removed - both from the adrenalin and from the agony."
Archbishop Welby gave thanks for those who "light the lamp of
truth where it is being snuffed out by so many. Not only by savage
evil, by those who sell arms and convey lies; but by those who are
indifferent and forgetful.
"It is right and essential that we give thanks for those who
unlock the covers of the wells of compassion that can become
available in this wonderful country of ours; who challenge the
complacency in which some people suggest we can live in our own
country as though the rest of the world did not matter, and, if we
are sufficiently inward-looking, that the rest of the world will
not affect us."
The public should be grateful, he suggested, for the immediacy
of today's reports: a far remove from the "famously unreliable,
exceptionally partial, and profoundly delayed" bush telegraphs of
He spoke of the courage journalists displayed by putting
themselves at risk. "The people who do it are not safely removed
from the agony," he observed. "The reality of disaster, of war and
suffering, is brought to us in a completely fresh way. It may still
occasionally lack accuracy - that is an inevitable part of being
human - but what it lacks in one area is more than compensated for
by immediacy. And immediacy means risk."
And he singled out for praise those who had reported on the
Ebola crisis in West Africa. Their stories had enabled him, he
said, when meeting the head of the UN's response team, to "sense
much more profoundly what he was saying".
The Archbishop's encounters with war correspondents had stripped
him of any illusion that they were "entirely saintly", he admitted.
"But there is an old saying in the Church, 'ex operandi operandum'.
Or to put it another way, the fact that the priest is all messed up
does not mess up the sacrament."
He concluded: "To witness is to tell the truth. And the more
horrific the circumstances, the more needful, the more precious,
the more costly is the truth. But we believe, as Jesus put it, the
truth is not cheap. As he said, the truth sets us free."