Sky News presenter Colin Brazier on why the refugee crisis has been biggest test for journalists in a generation


The migrant crisis. Has Europe seen a more important story since the fall of the Berlin Wall? Its repercussions are multi-dimensional.

Politicians have been tested, in the case of Angela Merkel, perhaps to ultimate destruction.

Bogeymen, like Hungary’s Viktor Orban, have taken shape. Nameless victims have been mourned. Some, with identities – like Aylan Kurdi – have given this tragedy an unforgettable human face.

Amid all this emotion and complexity, journalists face their biggest test in a generation. How to tell this story without demonising or defaulting to banalities and over simplification? Harder still, how to avoid viewer fatigue for a story with no obvious end in sight?

Just as, a quarter of a century later, we are still witnessing the effects of the collapse of the Soviet Union and its vassal states, it will take years for the impact of the migrant crisis to become clear. But, history provides us with punctuation marks.

One such exclamation mark was 1989. It happened, coincidentally, to be the year that saw the launch of a fledgling rolling news channel by Sky TV.

I wonder if we will look back on last year, the summer of 2015, as another of those seminal moments.

It’s a measure of how committed Sky News was to the telling of this story that our channel has just won an international Emmy award. It recognised the efforts of the entire channel in bringing into our living rooms the hideous reality of drowning in the Aegean, or the significance of razor wire borders going back up all over MittelEuropa.

Technology played its part. Drones were able to give us a bird’s eye view of the biblical columns of foot-slogging refugees. Night vision cameras allowed us to see the terror on the faces of terrified passengers bound for Lesbos, or somewhere worse. Amazing graphics back in London allowed us to show how, like water finding its way around an obstacle, the tide of humanity was forging new northbound routes through South-Eastern Europe.

But ultimately it was the quality of the storytelling that made Sky’s coverage worthy of the accolade it has won. The bravery of peerless correspondents like Alex Crawford and Stuart Ramsay. The resourcefulness of cameramen like Garwen McLuckie and Neil Hamilton. The drive of producers like Nick Ludlam and Dan Hewitt.

Not for the first time, Sky proved itself more nimble at recognising where – physically where – the story was going next. In a single fortnight, my presentational team leapfrogged from Hungary, to Greece, back to Hungary, to Serbia before winding up in Croatia. And, while on the Serbian/Hungary border, we got a glimpse of the lengths some governments will go to preserve their territorial integrity, as I anchored our coverage from the midst of a violent set-to involving riot police and stone-throwing migrants.

Where is the story now? The focus seems to be returning to where it began – the southern reaches of the Mediterranean. And Sky has followed it there. In recent days our brilliant Europe correspondent, Mark Stone, has once again shown how the stakes for migrants and refugees heading out of Libyan waters could scarcely be higher.

Mark delivered one of the most memorable reports I have ever seen from the deck of a rescue ship, as it tried – and failed – to pull to safety all the people crammed on board a hopelessly inadequate dingy.

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