THE BLOG

Hacks Bleed, Too

08/08/2014 13:31 BST | Updated 07/10/2014 10:59 BST

By Geoffrey Seed, author of The Convenience of Lies.

As the graveyards of Gaza overflow, spats between journalists over how this most deadly and one-sided conflict should be reported might seem an irrelevance.

But Jon Snow of Channel 4 News took to YouTube to editorialise his personal horror at what he'd witnessed when the children of Palestine failed to find shelter from Israel's tanks and jets.

Guardian columnist, Giles Fraser, was similarly appalled and wanted more emotional media coverage in which "...screaming is the most rational thing to do."

Maybe, maybe not. The BBC's distinguished foreign correspondent, David Loyn, worried that such partial reporting would reduce news to mere propaganda. I am just about with him on this. In principle, it cannot be for journalists to compete with the grieving victims of war. Their function is to ask who, what, when, where, how and why - not to show their own feelings.

Many brave reporters and TV camera crews are doing just this amid the debris and body parts in Gaza as they try to make sense of ancient enmities and modern political complexities. But hacks have hearts and sometimes, one's overwhelmed humanity shows out.

I produced a Channel 4 film about torture in Namibia during South Africa's murderous bush war there against liberation fighters it described as terrorists. Villagers suspected of aiding them were assassinated. Men, women, children. It didn't matter. A priest photographed such a massacre and one of his images haunted me then - and still does.

It is of a boy of five or six, a little older than the son I'd left at home. A high velocity bullet had torn a deep furrow across his chest then severed his left arm. The wounds were pink, his bones like ivory. He was dying as he stared into the lens - nameless and blameless, fallen by the grotesquely arrayed bodies of those who'd fed and nurtured him.

This picture - and the child's innocence - moved me. I had to get into Namibia to investigate further. I entered the country as a tourist, stayed in safe houses to evade South Africa's secret police and drove across minefields and deserts with a beautiful female "terrorist" to gather more evidence of similar atrocities.

But my most enduring memory is of a middle aged fisherman I interviewed inside a small church. The altar was lit like a rainbow from sunlight streaming through a crude stained-glass window.

He was banned to a township but was smuggled out to meet me. Police had arrested him on a drugs charge - something he denied. He'd been stripped naked, his hands cuffed by his ankles and an iron bar inserted under his knees to suspend him between two oil barrels. Salt was then forced into his mouth which was gagged. Finally, they squirted lighter fuel on his hands and set fire to them.

He recounted this ordeal slowly and in a gentle, almost whispered way. And in that place and in front of that simple man, I began to weep. For weeks, I'd heard only of human wickedness committed by a state that would arrest and jail me if I got caught. Suddenly, in his presence, I wasn't a hack anymore. There was nothing remotely hard or detached about me.

Then something extraordinary happened. He took my head to his chest as I would've done with my little boy if he'd been upset. And with a hand dreadfully scarred from burns, he stroked my hair to bring me comfort.

"It's all right," he kept saying. "It's all right."

And it was... eventually.

The evil he suffered is obvious but he didn't die. Those trapped in Gaza have done so in fearful numbers and in terrible ways. So if what some reporters have seen causes them to depart from their normal script, I fully understand - and can sympathise.

Geoffrey Seed is the author of The Convenience of Lies, published by Endeavour Press.