Jon Snow has said journalists were too distracted by Donald Trump and the “political flatulence” of Brexit to focus on the issues surrounding the Grenfell fire, an event that “haunted” him more than wars he has covered.
The veteran newscaster noted the growing risk of fire in the tower block was foretold “not by any journalist but in a blog by the leader of an action group for those who lived in the tower”.
The 24-storey tower was gutted by fire in June, killing 81 people and sparking huge anger about the authorities’ failure to properly appreciate the risk and journalists’ failure to cover it.
One residents’ blog, written before the fire, said they feared it would take a major blaze for people to realise how dangerous it was.
He added digital media “has filled neither the void left by the decimation of the local newspaper industry nor connected us any more effectively with ‘the left behind’, the disadvantaged, the excluded”.
“I do not dream of the wars and pestilence that I have reported — but when it came to Grenfell Tower, I was haunted. I still am,” Snow said on Wednesday, as he delivered the annual James MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival.
“The Grenfell story was out there, shocking in its accuracy, hidden in plain sight.. but we had stopped looking.”
He described hearing demonstrators cry after the fire: “Where were you? Why didn’t you come here before?”
“In that moment I felt both disconnected and frustrated. I felt on the wrong side of the terrible divide that exists in society,” Snow said.
Snow said Brexit had been “consuming the airwaves with so much political flatulence” and asked journalists: “How much time had we devoted to social housing?”
He added: “The antics of Trump, sapping airtime that could have been devoted to subjects nearer the hearts of those who watch.”
He hit out at the lack of diversity within the media, saying journalists had moved away from their audience to be “comfortably with the elite, with little awareness, contact or connection with those not of the elite”.
“I have no desire to find myself at another disaster, in another area, where people are shouting: ‘Why weren’t you here before?’” he said.
“Are we, the media, the worst people in the world? Is Trump making America great again? Is Brexit making Britain great again?
“However it all turns out, we the media have little cause to celebrate our role. We should have been far more robust.”
In a HuffPost UK interview in February, Snow said now is the “golden age of journalism” because of the opportunities of technology, despite Trump’s hostility and love of the insult “fake news” he throws at reporters.
In his lecture, he said: “We embrace and revel in the digital age, but we cannot let its barons devour our local and national sources of information.
“For every Grenfell blog we find, there will be more we don’t. We have seen what can happen when people shout and we still don’t hear them.”
He added it was, for journalists, “worst and best of times to be on deck”, adding: “It still does have all the potential to prove to be the Golden Age.”