Journalism is not a crime; it’s a way of life

“There are some very pleasant people in newspapers, but would you want your son or daughter to marry one?” That was a question asked by the journalist Peter Smark in a five-part series in The Age in the 1970s.
Well, my answer is yes, and I’ll give you three examples why from this week’s news: Peter Greste, Ian Cook and Martin Beesley.
You’ve heard about Peter Greste, who was sentenced to seven years in jail by an Egyptian court, which did not know the meaning of justice. His two Al Jazeera colleagues, Mohamed Famy, and Baher Mohamed were also sentenced to seven and ten years respectively. (Pictured above from left are: Mike and Andrew Greste, and Peter Greste).
Caged like animals each time they were brought to this so-called court, to listen to an incoherent prosecution present irrelevant evidence, including old stories Peter Greste had filmed in Somalia and photos of a European holiday he had taken with his parents. Somehow they were convicted of aiding the Muslim Brotherhood and spreading “false news” about the military coup. How this judge could know what false news was, given the prosecutors’ presentation, is beyond me, and the defence. All it proved was that the judge was as blind as justice is supposed to be.
Peter Greste, an award-winning Australian journalist, and his family, two brothers in court, Mike and Andrew, and his mother and father, Lois and Juris, in Brisbane watching the verdict on their computer were stunned. Mike Greste said: “I’m totally gutted. It’s devastating. It’s the death of democracy in Egypt.” Juris Greste said: “That’s absolutely crazy.” Lois was sobbing: “Oh my God!”
ABC’s excellent Foreign Correspondent program also had reaction from the family of Peter’s Al Jazeera colleague, Mohamed Fahmy. His mother, Wafa Barriouni, asked the ABC producer: “Seven years he will keep in the prison, seven years… for what? Can you, one of you tell me for what?” It was a question that could not be answered. Mohamed’s brother Adel gave the most realistic appraisal: “There is no hope in the judicial system. We had hope in the judicial system, now we know there is no hope.”
Peter had been through hell in the world’s flashpoints before, and won a Peabody award for his documentary on Somalia for the BBC Panorama program. In 2005, he was in Somalia with his friend and BBC colleague, Kate Peyton, when she was shot and killed in Mogadishu. But this was a different kind of hell, parachuted into Cairo to cover the military coup while the regular correspondent was on holidays, only to find himself in prison for simply doing his job. The imprisonment of Peter and his colleagues has prompted a mantra used by human rights organisations like Amnesty International and journalists around the world to highlight the injustice of the Egyptian judiciary: “Journalism is not a crime.”
Would I want my daughter to marry Peter Greste? Of course, I would, and the same goes for Ian Cook (photo above), an Australian television legend, news director of Channels Nine, Seven, Ten and Sky News in London and Australia, who died this week of motor neurone disease at the age of 68.
Cookie, as he was known, was a tough news director, who cared for the craft of journalism, and hated getting things wrong. He knew ratings were paramount for commercial television, and for most of his years, starting in the seventies, the stations he worked for, won those ratings. Robert Penfold, long-time reporter, foreign correspondent and Los Angeles Bureau Chief for the Nine Network, said: “Ian was a great mentor and leader for me and so many others in the news business for so many years.” Robert said Brad Smart, one of his fellow reporters in Melbourne, when they were working for Cookie at Channel 0 (an Ansett station) in the seventies, “reminded me of a 1974 article in one of the Sunday papers about the ‘27-year-old whiz kid who was running Reg Ansett’s newsroom.’ He was indeed that.”
Robert Penfold wasn’t the only one who remembered Ian Cook as a great mentor. When the news of his death was first reported, Twitter and Facebook erupted with scores of tributes to this media executive who had helped them at the start of their careers. Here are just a few of them:
Ian Kain, supervising producer at ABC24, who also worked at Nine and Sky News, posted on Facebook: “He taught generations of Australian Journalists and producers how it’s done. He taught me to keep sentences simple, that a tease is just that, and let the pictures tell the story. Cookie, you will be missed but never forgotten.”
Nicole Webb, a former presenter at Sky News, also posted on Facebook: “He was a great mentor for so many of us. Scary as hell in those super early days, but underneath a giant softie with a heart of gold and a real news man who knew his stuff more than most.” Asha Phillips, former producer at Sky and Nine News, added: “He was my first boss, my first mentor and the first person to teach me how to really write for tv. He was a tough Cookie but he was a gentleman.”
And Ky Chow, Associate Multimedia Editor at the Australian Financial Review, told friends on Facebook how Ian Cook, then News Director at Sky News, gave him an internship, despite his lack of experience, then sat him down and taught him the rudiments of video editing and scripting. “He gave me my first job in journalism and he gave me encouragement and advice in the years after, even after things got tough for him.”
Things really got tough for Cookie in the past four or five years. He had motor neurone disease, which he kept quiet until he had difficulty walking without a cane, and then one day at Sky he came in with two canes. I had one walking stick that day, due to one of my artificial hips playing up, and he joked: “I’m a two cane man.” He later had a fall and had to get a wheelchair.
I had emailed him and asked how he was going. He replied: “I’m on four wheels and Angelos (Frangopoulos, Sky News chief executive) very kindly bought me a very flashy electric model so life in here’s not too bad at all. How are the hips these days?” Ian was like that. He’d always ask about my hips while he was suffering an illness that had no cure.
In recent months, he was at a nursing home in Sydney’s western suburbs, getting the best of care, while losing much of his mobility. But he was still able to subedit on his computer from his sick bed. A former Niner, Barry Matheson, said Ian had played an important role in his life, being responsible for sending him to LA as Nine’s first North American correspondent; he visited Ian at the nursing home earlier this year: “I was blown away that he still did subbing for Sky every afternoon (from 4 to 6pm). A pro to the very end.” Barry recalled what it was like to work for Ian Cook: “He was very inspirational and, unlike other news directors, Cookie rolled up his sleeves and was a “hands on” guy, pounding away on the typewriter, going through every script and checking the film editing. I have to admit we had a few screaming matches over stories, not unusual in a high-pressured newsroom, but he never held a grudge and we just got on with the job.”
Sky’s political editor, David Speers, also spoke of his professionalism: “Cookie was a great newsroom leader, never an easy job. He was also the best mentor of young journalists I’ve seen. He was always willing to tell me when I was on the right track or the wrong track. I respected him hugely and will miss him dearly.” The last word on Cookie should go to Angelos Frangopoulos: “Ian has left a lasting legacy in Australian journalism, guiding hundreds of young people through their careers, offering advice and support.”
And last but not least in this trio of journalists who I’d let marry my daughters (they’re already taken, I hasten to add) is an old mate from my newspaper days, Martin Beesley (photo above), former editor of the Daily Telegraph, and managing editor of The Australian, who died this week at the age of 66, only six months after his retirement.
I worked with Martin at The Australian in the late seventies and early 80s, and also saw him quite a bit at Channel 9 where he was chief of staff for Mike Willesee’s current affairs program. He later became news director at Channel Ten before returning to News Limited in the late 80s, including a role as editor of the Media Section of The Australian.
I remember Martin as a cool customer, always remaining calm in the middle of any media storm. He was a bloke you could depend on when a big story broke. He also had a terrific sense of humour, usually aimed at himself. Peter Meakin, now director of news at Channel Ten, worked with him at Nine, and told the Daily Telegraph: “He was much loved — easy to work with, always without dramas and always with a lovely self-deprecating sense of humour. He was a true gentleman.”
Stephen Romei, the literary editor of The Australian, posted a nice tribute to Martin on Facebook: “He was a smart, tough. fair editor. I never saw him lose his temper, or his sense of humour, or his commonsense or his sense of perspective.”
Like Ian Cook, Martin Beesley was a great mentor. He took on the role enthusiastically in his last seven years at News Limited when he moved to Cumberland Newspapers, later to become NewsLocal, News Corp Australia’s community newspaper network. The Daily Telegraph obituary comments: “This allowed him to concentrate on a mentoring role, teaching young journalists the finer points of the newsgathering business. He said this job gave him renewed pleasure in his vocation and reinforced the value of community links between journalists and their readers.”
Martin Beesley, Ian Cook and Peter Greste. Three excellent journos I’d love to have a beer with. Sadly, Martin and Ian are no longer with us, but I will be raising a glass in their honour at services next week. I hope the Free Peter Greste campaign is successful, and I can toast Peter in person.
Journalism is not a crime, it is a passion with a cause. It is a life worth living.
UPDATE: In my original post, my opening sentence was this: “It’s a question often asked by people in my profession: ‘Journalists are nice people, but would you want your daughter (or son) to marry one?’” I wanted to use the quote above by Peter Smark, an award-winning journalist, who had written it in a five-part series on newspapers in the 1970s. As a result, I wound up using a question based on Googling the original quote, and left out the son in my first draft. Melissa Roberts commented below that I had left out 50 per cent of journalists — “The female ones.” I hadn’t left them out on purpose — I tried to remember the original quote, and mucked it up. Well, I found the original quote and have put it in the introduction. The late Peter Smark was a brilliant journalist, and he deserves the credit. PS And if you are reading this for the first time, Peter Greste was finally released after spending more than 400 days in an Egyptian prison and deported to Australia. He is campaigning for the freedom of his two colleagues, who are now out on bail, after an appeals judge ordered a retrial. Proceedings have been adjourned until this weekend.

5 thoughts on “Journalism is not a crime; it’s a way of life

  1. “Words cannot describe the sense of loss some are feeling nor can they adequately sum up a life that touched and influences so many of us. Martin and Ian thrived to achieve, strived to perfect an honourable profession. Peter is on that path and I hope Justice will be reward enough when he is free to following his dream, to inform. And to write.
    Some say that “true” Journalism is an art-form long gone. If you have ever listened to a whisper of knowledge from one of these gentlemen, know that it has not.
    Tom, Journalism is an all consuming passion and not one that cannot be discarded lightly. As is demonstrated by you good self. Nice piece mate.

  2. Hi Tom, good article. Journalism is indeed a life lived in passion, and when its done right, it shines a light into dark corners. But you left out 50 per cent of journalists. The female ones.
    Melissa Roberts

    • Hi Melissa, Thank you for that. I did think about using the line: “would you want your son or daughter to marry one,” but I was thinking back to the seventies when I first read that quote somewhere, and tried to find it on Google. I came up with lots of “would you want your daughter to marry one” and the “one” referred to a variety of professions. So I stuck with that as a figure of speech, meaning that most journalists are good people. And since I have two daughters, it made more sense to use the old expression, because I wanted to talk about the three male journalists, two of them mates who died last week and Peter Greste who was unjustly jailed last week. It was meant to be a tribute to them. (My youngest daughter got married two months ago, and her husband asked me for her hand in marriage. I said yes, of course, but if I had a son, would the woman have asked me or my wife if it was okay to marry our son?) These days, I think more than 50 per cent of journalists are female. Thinking about it, I guess it might be a bit sexist because it means that parents don’t have to worry about who their sons marry, just their daughters. Let me see if anybody else agrees with you. You are the first to bring this up, but I did consider it. Kind regards, Tom PS Melissa, I have just gone back and read it again, and, of course, I was thinking of my daughters and the original quote mentioned “daughter” not “son.” It wouldn’t have worked as well as an essay if I didn’t personalise it, and I don’t have a son! I hope that helps. It helps me! PPS Melissa, I have thought about it some more, and I think I fixed it. I have added “or son” in parentheses! The intro’s not quite as punchy, but I think it works! PPS Thinking about it again (you have me thinking, Melissa!), I could have added “would you want your daughter (or son) to marry one (of any gender),” but the intro would not only lack punch, but it might mean some wouldn’t bother reading the rest! And for the record, my two daughters are journalists, and neither is married to a journalist. That’s it. I promise to say no more about it unless you have a further comment!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s