Leave people to grieve in peace – don’t shove a camera in their face

When did the news become a tear-streaked reality show? asks Alison Graham

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My very own amber alert indicating an Incoming Crass Question lit up when BBC Special Correspondent Lucy Manning looked pained as she addressed a man whose wife had died in the Grenfell Tower fire. He couldn’t accompany her body home to Morocco because his passport was destroyed in the blaze.

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“I’m sorry to ask you this…” came the preface, the one that led me to put my head in my hands as I groaned, “What fresh hell is this?” even before she opened her mouth to continue… “but, how do you feel that you can’t accompany your wife back home?”

Yes, there it was. The “how do you feel?” question, the most redundant, thoroughly vacuous piece of tasteless blancmange in the journalist’s emotional armoury. OK, once and for all, let’s grind this indicator of insensitivity into the muck where it belongs shall we?

If you have to apologise before asking a question of someone, a member of the public, who finds him or herself in dreadful circumstances, then it’s a question you shouldn’t be asking. I have a heart and a brain. You do too. We have a bloody good idea how it must “feel” to lose the one person you love most in the world in grotesque circumstances. 

We could all see the bereaved man, Sabah Abdullah, right there in front of us and we could all hear what he said about his wife Khadija Khalloufi. I don’t need one last painful splinter to be pulled from his wounds. (Thankfully, he was given a replacement passport and he could return with his wife’s body.)

Similarly, I really don’t want or need to watch people sobbing in acute distress. There has been too much of this after Grenfell, bereft men and women, who have lost relatives and every single thing they possess, effectively being invited to cry as the camera hangs around just to make sure we get a good view.

Like the man who haunts me still, who thought his brother was behind him as they fled the blaze, only to find that he wasn’t; he was trapped and he died after begging on the phone “Why did you leave me?” I couldn’t handle that, ever. Could you? No. So he wept hard and the camera stayed for a good old gawp. Just let him alone to grieve in peace. 

On a different BBC News at Ten item recently about infant mortality, there was the young woman who talked of the death of her baby. She spoke with great composure, until she didn’t. She cried. But not only did the camera hang about, it also zoomed right in for a proper closeup shot of her tears. For the love of decency, have a heart will you? Get out. It’s not the moment everyone waits for in The X Factor or The Voice as a contestant slithers into tears. This is wreckage, this is devastation, not a talent show.

I can’t make any apology for duffing up BBC News again. It’s probably the one programme that unites most of us as we live through dark days. But these things must be said if we are to hang on to the “media” that the good and decent among us deserve.

When everyone from Donald Trump to Lily Allen (she was outspoken on Channel 4 News about the Grenfell Tower death toll) is kicking the “mainstream media” (I hate that phrase, it’s the media, anything else is comment) then we’re all in trouble.

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Imagine a world where intelligent people like you and me had to rely on “social media” for someone else’s approximation of “news” that consists only of yelling the loudest and conspiracy theories. Heaven help us all.