BBC's Ray Accepts the Distinguished Media Leadership Award
At an April 14 ceremony in New York City, Vin Ray, the British Broadcasting Corporation's Deputy Head of Newsgathering, accepted the Dart Center's Distinguished Media Leadership Award, given to the BBC in recognition of the network's pioneering efforts to provide trauma training and support to staff involved in war coverage.
At an April 14 ceremony in New York City, Vin Ray, the British Broadcasting Corporation's Deputy Head of Newsgathering, accepted the Dart Center's Distinguished Media Leadership Award, given to the BBC in recognition of the network's pioneering efforts to provide trauma training and support to staff involved in war coverage. The text of Ray's speech follows:
Thank you very much, It's a fantastic honour to receive this award. It's also very unusual — its certainly the first time I've ever collected an award for anything that didn't explicitly involve coverage — and that makes it all the more special. What is really special, though, is that the Dart Centre might think the BBC worthy of such an accolade.
The award certainly couldn't be more timely. The BBC, like every other international news organisation, is facing a more hostile climate than ever before. With the advent of 24 hour news and online, we have more people in the field than ever before. But this is at a time when conventional front lines no longer exist and the notion that a sense of neutrality might protect journalists can no longer be counted on.
So the physical and mental welfare of our staff has never been more important. At the BBC the amount of time and money spent on the safety, security and welfare of our staff has never been greater. But in the great scheme of things, it's a relatively recent phenomenon.
In 1992 — only 12 years ago — as a producer I drove the BBC's first ever armoured vehicle in Sarajevo — and I was wearing one of the corporations first flack jackets. These days flack jackets are standard issue and we have a fleet of armoured cars. What seemed extraordinary only a short time ago, is now as basic a part of the kit as a camera.
I left Sarajevo after six weeks under siege, saw terrible suffering among the local people, witnessed the death of an American colleague and was with an ITN cameraman who had lost his fingers in a mortar blast. I finally made it out on a Medivac plane with our correspondent, Martin Bell, who had been hit by shrapnel. That was in the morning and I was, in fact, home in time for tea with my three small children. It was a bizarre and, frankly, uncomfortable juxtaposition which I struggled to deal with. Mental welfare at the time consisted — if you were lucky — of an extra day off.
These days, the BBC has mandatory Hostile Environment Training and a well established and free counselling service for all it's staff. Executives don't know who goes, we only know the numbers; and no one is forced to go — but it's there if you need it. It started slowly, but a number of high profile correspondents 'came out' by discussing how they had had counselling sessions. Journalists like Jeremy Bowen, George Alagiah, and David Loyn probably did more to advance the cause of mental welfare in the BBC than any policy I or other executives dreamed up. Having said that, there are a number of Executives who have been at the forefront of this work, Richard Sambrook, The Director of News and David Lane, who runs safety and security have provided leadership and — crucially — money. Adrian Van Klaveren, Jonathan Baker, Sarah Ward-Lilley, Dipti Patel, Robert Westlake, Tony Loughran and Caroline Neil all invested a huge amount of time and energy. And special thanks must go to Mark Brayne, who's here tonight. Mark is a very experienced correspondent and executive who trained as a psychotherapist; he has now joined the Dart Centre. But he has been a real driving force behind this work.
These managers are among many senior staff being trained in spotting and handling the effects of trauma — they are part of a culture which has led us to talking and thinking about how we handle traumatic stories and the communities involved in them in the most responsible way.
And in the process of all of this, we have come to realise something which ought to be pretty obvious — that this is not just a moral obligation — it's basic business sense, too. Ultimately it makes far better journalism.
The other thing to realise is that, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, we are not even at the end of the beginning — there is such a long way to go. It feels to me as though we are only just beginning to understand what it means to make mental welfare a priority, So we thank the Dart Centre for all their excellent work and urge them to continue to push the boundaries in order that we can deepen our understanding.
Now finally, award ceremonies are a good time for thanking unsung heroes. In our business, that usually means the engineers, or camera operators or fixers. But I would like to thank the most unsung heroes of all: the partners, Children, Parents and friends, who say goodbye — then they wait — and then — more than perhaps we realise — mop up the difficulties around a homecoming. So in accepting this award tonight, I would like to pay tribute not only to our journalists, but to all those families and friends, who do more than we will ever know, to look after their welfare.