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22 July 2014

Sky reporter Colin Brazier’s apology for his MH17 error is a lesson in how to say sorry

Colin Brazier of Sky News was lambasted for picking through a MH17 crash victim's luggage on air; his apology is a moving reminder of just how unprecedented this disaster is.

By media mole

The Sky News journalist Colin Brazier made a big error of judgment over the weekend when reporting live from the crash site of flight MH17 in east Ukraine. In a clip where he is filmed standing among luggage debris of the passengers, he begins picking through one of the victim’s belongings. Although he stops himself almost immediately and says, “we shouldn’t be doing this”, outrage ensued.

The Guardian today has published his apology, which reads both as moving and contrite regret for his mistake, and as an insight into the unprecedented horror of the disaster.

Here’s an extract from his piece, but do read the whole apology here. It is a lesson in how to say sorry:

There is no studio and, at the crash site, no obvious frame of reference. We took an instant and simple decision to avoid pointing a live camera anywhere a corpse might be seen.

What about intimate belongings? They brought home the poignancy of the tragedy. They told a story of lives – swimming trunks, laptops, duty free, books – snuffed out in an instant. They provided the backdrop for me to ask why victims were being left to rot in the sun. Other journalists, some well known broadcasters, were handling belongings and speaking to camera. In a place without rules, I foolishly took that as a precedent.

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And so during that lunchtime broadcast I stood above a pile of belongings, pointing to items strewn across the ground. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a pink drinking flask. It looked familiar. My six-year-old daughter, Kitty, has one just like it.

I bent down and, what my Twitter critics cannot hear – because of the sound quality of internet replays of the broadcast – is that I had lost it. It is a cardinal sin of broadcasting, in my book anyway, to start blubbing on-air. I fought for some self-control, not thinking all that clearly as I did so.

Too late, I realised that I was crossing a line. I thought aloud: “we shouldn’t be doing this … this is a mistake”, an instant apology that was only selectively quoted by those determined to see what I did as a powerful example of journalistic vulturism.