We Chose to Speak of War and Strife
28 November 2016
‘Keep calm and stay balanced’ – that was John Simpson’s advice to journalists when he delivered the 2016 Hadyn Ellis Distinguished Lecture at Cardiff University.
The University welcomed John Simpson to deliver lecture established in memory of Professor Hadyn Ellis CBE, who made a significant contribution towards establishing the discipline of cognitive neuropsychiatry and was instrumental in establishing Cardiff as one of the leading research universities in the UK.
In a BBC career spanning fifty years John has reported on major world events from all corners of the globe, and was made a CBE in the Gulf Wars honours list in 1991. He has twice been the Royal Television Society’s Journalist of the Year, and has won three BAFTAs, the News and Current Affairs award for 2000 for his coverage, with the BBC News team, of the Kosovo conflict, and in 2001, an Emmy for his report on the fall of Kabul.
Acknowledging that we now live in a ‘post-truth’ era, the BBC’s World Affairs Editor opened his talk with an exploration of the role of journalism in the current political climate. Claims made during both the US election campaign and ahead of the EU referendum were highlighted, leading to the question “what should real journalists do at a time where truth doesn’t seem to matter?”
He advocated for balance and impartiality, stating that “what’s required from broadcasters is a sense of fairness, a feeling that the scales haven’t been unfairly weighted” though stressed that, of course, truth should never be balanced with falsehood.
The issue of media bias was also addressed, particularly the accusations of liberal or left-wing bias aimed at the BBC. John, whose career with the BBC has spanned five decades, stated that in all that time he has never experienced even a hint that news should be reported in a particular way for political reasons.
For the second half of his lecture, John shared a number of stories from his new book, We Chose to Speak of War and Strife: The World of the Foreign Correspondent, including tales of legendary war correspondents such as Martha Gellhorn and Marie Colvin. The book examines pivotal moments in history – from the Crimean War to Vietnam; the siege of Sarajevo to the fall of Baghdad – through the eyes of those who risked their lives to witness and report on them.
There was also praise for our School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies, when John opened his lecture by saying “It really is a pleasure and privilege to come to Cardiff, the mecca of journalistic training.”
He described his lecture and book signing on Twitter as an “absolutely lovely evening @cardiffuni with some of the sharpest and nicest students I’ve come across. Gives hope for the future.”