From his days covering news in the Westcountry at the BBC’s Points West to his now regular presenter slot at BBC News at Ten, Clive Myrie has always been one of the most measured and accessible presenters on television. However, despite exuding a professionalism that any budding journalist would aspire to, he sometimes questions whether the dispassionate stance required of journalists is always the right position to take.
Talking to Seth Dellow in an audio interview available on the Marshwood Vale Magazine website, Clive highlighted his wish to move towards more empathetic reporting ‘which is not simply being an observer’ he says, or a ‘disinterested outsider.’ It’s about telling the story through the eyes of whomever he is talking to and trying to put himself in the position of the viewer. He believes he should be presenting the pain and feel that pain as a viewer feels it. ‘I need to be that viewer more often than not, rather than a dispassionate observer who breezes in and then breezes out.’ He says that if he can make the viewer or listener understand the story from an emotional perspective, then hopefully that story will live longer in their mind.
Ideally, he would like people to want to become better informed about the story that he is reporting on. ‘And that, in turn, leads to a more educated and well-informed viewership’ he explains. ‘Surely that’s the point of what we do as journalists. You know, we’re informing the public of the world around us and the society in which they live, and in doing that, … can help them make better choices about where they live; how they conduct their lives; who they vote for; how they act within a society. And if you can do that with just one person, then I think that is a good thing.’
Some of his thoughts on offering a less detached form of reporting come from the last year when the Covid pandemic brought shocking stories to the forefront. Covid has been the constant story and ‘it’s been difficult’ he says. There also hasn’t been much respite. But he says it’s been heartbreaking as well. He is used to covering conflicts and wars and death around the world. ‘To be covering it on the scale that we see now in our own backyards here in the UK is very sobering’ he says. ‘And it shows that despite our wealth and despite our position in the world, we can be humbled too. I think that’s a salutary lesson for us.’ He believes there’s a lot to be learned about how we as a nation deal with poorer nations, especially in terms of the amount of assistance we can offer. Or in terms of the rhetoric that we use talking about them or describing them. `We’ve learned a lot about our own societies as well,’ he says, especially about the divisions and those sections that have been affected more adversely as a result of the pandemic. ‘The divisions within our society have been accentuated and have been laid bare for anyone who wants to see. There should be a renewed commitment on all of us to try and make a better society in this country, and a more equal one.’ He says ‘that’s what Covid has shown us’.
Born and raised in Bolton, Lancashire, Clive grew up watching TV and seeing reports and stories and films from around the world. It gave him a window on a world that was beyond Bolton. ‘That’s partly, I think, why I wanted to become a foreign correspondent,’ he says. ‘I was just fascinated by all these exotic locations that people like Alan Whicker would go to.’ He also cites seeing Trevor McDonald reading the news as something that made him feel it was something he could get into as well.
He remembers Bolton being a ‘welcoming’ place and doesn’t recall being aware of racial abuse growing up, although he recalls that the black population in Bolton at the time was small. However, he was growing up in a time when there was mass immigration from South Asia in the early to mid-seventies. ‘I think that contributed to a level of ill-feeling among some whites towards South Asians.’ He thinks there may have been more virulent anti-black feeling elsewhere and knows that perhaps his father encountered problems with racism, but his own memory is that it ‘wasn’t something that really darkened my door.’
His parents came from a generation that didn’t talk about that at home. ‘A bit like First World War veterans’ he says. ‘It’s something that you sort of lock in.’ He compares it to a world today where ‘everybody thinks they have to communicate absolutely everything about their lives—which can be intensely tedious. They are just from a generation that didn’t do that.’
But despite the lack of immediate impact on his youth, the question of racism and the impact of the Black Lives Matter initiative is inevitably on his radar. ‘Things are better than they have been in the recent past,’ he says, ‘but there are still a lot of issues. We don’t have as intense a legacy here as the Americans do and America hasn’t really come to terms with that past.’
However, despite the lack of intensity, he says racists here are much cleverer at hiding their true prejudices. ‘And it does tend to be institutional racism’ he says, explaining that it’s perhaps woven into how big institutions operate highlighting ‘recruitment practices and so on.’ And although he agrees things have improved along those lines, he points to the disproportionate figures in terms of the number of senior managers in big corporations who are from black or ethnic backgrounds. ‘If you look at University faculty numbers for people who are from black ethnic backgrounds’ he says, ‘those kinds of areas do show that there is a problem. And that simply cannot be because black people are stupid or can’t get these positions—there must be something else going on. I think we’ve moved a long way and the discussion is now about how we take the next step in trying to identify the subtler forms of racism that exist and try to find a way of tackling them.’
In an era when taking a shot at the BBC has become something of a national pastime, Clive talks about enormous depth in its value as a news provider. He cites how polls ‘from the right and the left’ regularly suggest the BBC is the most trusted news source. But is the BBC foolproof? ‘Absolutely not’ he says. ‘Are mistakes made? Absolutely, but there are mechanisms within which the BBC operates that allow for restitution if mistakes are made. That is not the case on social media. A mistake goes out there and it stays out there. No one corrects it. There is no official arbiter for dealing with a lot of the problems that exist in terms of fake news and so on online. But the BBC is beholden to a regulator and to its own internal charter. So that means the public can have confidence if a mistake is made, if there is a problem—that there will be rectification and an apology if necessary.’
Clive’s career to date has seen him reporting from over 80 countries, offering balanced reporting, and asking tough questions when needed. His latest role sees him in the chair that he remembers Magnus Magnusson sitting in from his days watching television as a lad. As the new presenter of Mastermind, he now gets to ask questions where he already knows the answer.
Seth Dellow’s full interview with Clive Myrie is available to listen to on the Marshwood Vale Magazine website.