Sharing in sorrow

Brian
Brian Jones
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Today marks one year since the March 12, 2009, crash of Cougar Helicopters Flight 491, which killed 17 of the 18 people on board.

A memorial service will be held tonight at the Basilica of St. John the Baptist. At the request of the victims' families, no media will be admitted. Organizers have contracted a private company to provide a live feed to local TV stations.

Today marks one year since the March 12, 2009, crash of Cougar Helicopters Flight 491, which killed 17 of the 18 people on board.

A memorial service will be held tonight at the Basilica of St. John the Baptist. At the request of the victims' families, no media will be admitted. Organizers have contracted a private company to provide a live feed to local TV stations.

With all due respect to the families, banning the media from the service is the wrong approach.

The vast majority of the public will not be able to attend the memorial service.

Nevertheless, thousands of people will be interested in what happens at the service and what is said, and by whom. The media should be there to do its job of relaying information to the public.

In most instances, denying entrance to the media to solemn events - such as funerals, memorial services or commemorations - is based on a desire to protect people's privacy and to show a proper respect for the occasion.

But too many people erroneously assume media attendance automatically equates with lack of privacy and lack of respect. That need not be the case, if handled properly by all sides.

Memories rekindled

In fact, media attendance can enhance the solemnity of an event.

The annual service held to commemorate the victims of the Ocean Ranger tragedy always receives media coverage. Organizers say they continue to hold the event, year after year, to keep alive the memories of that tragedy and the people who lost their lives. Media coverage of the event enhances, rather than detracts from, the respect shown to the victims of the Ocean Ranger disaster.

Most journalists, given such an assignment, will aim to be as unobtrusive as possible.

Most organizers, realizing the wide public interest in their event, will seek to accommodate the media, and set aside an area for them. In ideal circumstances, the TV cameras, photographers and microphones won't block anyone's view.

In the case of the Flight 491 memorial service, it would be perfectly reasonable for organizers to admit the media, with the proviso that they not approach victims' family members to ask for interviews.

Such agreements between event organizers and the media are common. For example, when Pope John Paul II gave mass in Fort Simpson, N.W.T., in 1987, about 100 photographers and cameramen were assembled on a platform off to the side of the altar, which had a photogenic canopy shaped like a teepee.

The clicking of cameras sounded like electronic artillery, but they all fell silent the moment the mass started, as journalists abided by the rules set by organizers.

Everyone got what they needed: media outlets obtained pictures, and millions of people around the world got to see photos from the event.

Sincere interest

It is easy, but inaccurate, to believe the common accusation that journalists are generally rude, obnoxious boors who don't care whose feelings they hurt or whom they offend.

Actually, many journalists don't like having to work on stories that involve death, tragedy, destruction and heartbreak. I've known journalists who quit the profession because they couldn't stand that aspect of the job.

One reporter I knew in Vancouver was assigned to cover one too many funerals, and found another career.

It is a groundless fear that reckless journalists will automatically intrude on privacy and bring disrespect to a solemn ceremony.

The crash of Flight 491 was a tragedy felt by all Newfoundlanders. People's sorrow and empathy for the victims and their families was real and sincere, and remains so.

The public's interest in viewing media coverage of the memorial service - were it allowed - would not be voyeuristic or exploitative. It would be natural and expected.

Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached by e-mail at bjones@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Cougar Helicopters Flight 491, The Telegram

Geographic location: Fort Simpson, Vancouver

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  • Jerome Kenny
    July 02, 2010 - 13:30

    Brian, am I missing something?
    There will be a live feed to local TV stations, thus providing everyone in the province the opportunity to see and hear what is being said and by whom.
    What we probably won't see is the tearful embraces of family members in the pews during the service. Do we need to see that?
    I'm sure the media will get their shots of the participants in the service when they are entering and leaving. Isn't that enough?

  • Jerome Kenny
    July 02, 2010 - 13:18

    Brian, I must be missing something here.
    There will be a live feed to local TV stations, thus providing virtually all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians the opportunity to see what is being said and by whom. What they will possibly not see are the tearful embraces of family members in the pews.
    I remember a tragic fire some years ago here in this province where a child lost her life and a TV reporter asked her mother how she felt. My first impression was: how long did that reporter have to attend journalism school to learn how to ask that question?
    The service will be televised on both CBC and NTV, so if someone feels they missed something, I would wonder what they where looking for or expected, from a memorial service.

  • Harvey
    July 02, 2010 - 13:12

    Brian, so all the families are wrong and you are right!!!If you were there at the service, what would you hope to bring to me that I should know that TV cameras can't?

  • Jerome Kenny
    July 01, 2010 - 20:18

    Brian, am I missing something?
    There will be a live feed to local TV stations, thus providing everyone in the province the opportunity to see and hear what is being said and by whom.
    What we probably won't see is the tearful embraces of family members in the pews during the service. Do we need to see that?
    I'm sure the media will get their shots of the participants in the service when they are entering and leaving. Isn't that enough?

  • Jerome Kenny
    July 01, 2010 - 19:59

    Brian, I must be missing something here.
    There will be a live feed to local TV stations, thus providing virtually all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians the opportunity to see what is being said and by whom. What they will possibly not see are the tearful embraces of family members in the pews.
    I remember a tragic fire some years ago here in this province where a child lost her life and a TV reporter asked her mother how she felt. My first impression was: how long did that reporter have to attend journalism school to learn how to ask that question?
    The service will be televised on both CBC and NTV, so if someone feels they missed something, I would wonder what they where looking for or expected, from a memorial service.

  • Harvey
    July 01, 2010 - 19:50

    Brian, so all the families are wrong and you are right!!!If you were there at the service, what would you hope to bring to me that I should know that TV cameras can't?