Mark Austin


Up early for the 7.30am train from St Pancras to Nottingham to interview the local MP, Alan Simpson, in his new eco-friendly home, part of our environment series. The day doesn’t start well. Claire, the producer, and I jump on the slow train which doesn’t serve breakfast. I blame her and she tells me to get lost. Things basically deteriorate from that moment. We’re halfway to Nottingham when I get the call from editor Deborah Turness, who thinks we should be presenting the Evening News from the Scottish fishing village of Cellardyke where the swan with H5N1 was found. Good idea, but, rumbling through the Northamptonshire countryside, I was not ideally placed to get there. Eventually we tip up in Nottingham and Claire heads off to inspect Alan Simpson’s green credentials as I race by taxi to Birmingham airport. I phone Simpson to apologise. I was actually looking forward to the interview; he’s dismissive of what both Blair and Cameron are doing on the environment. Three hours later I’m in Edinburgh, bumping into George Alagiah at the airport, who’s also on his way to Cellardyke.

Off over the Forth Bridge and into Gordon Brown country towards the East Neuk of Fife. I know the place well having spent many summer holidays there. It’s a glorious coastline, and we head past Anstruther and into Cellardyke. Two local police officers are the only physical manifestation of the exclusion zone emergency that’s making headlines on the radio. Cellardyke is overrun by camera crews and journalists.

The local pub becomes local HQ for ITV News, largely, but not exclusively, because the landlord Trevor has a computer on which the 6.30 programme editor can email my scripts.

The programme goes surprisingly well, though my wife phones to ask why we’re so excited about a swan that’s been dead for over a week. By the 10.30 news it’s getting seriously cold and we also have in close attendance a group of youths threatening to sing the "birdie" song as we go on air.

Mercifully, they desist and we get through the second programme of the night. It’s been a long day.


Get back from Edinburgh mid-morning and spend some time with the kids on school break. A quiet weekend with two highlights. My father-in-law is a Frank Sinatra fanatic and has invited us to the Palladium for the Sinatra show. It’s great fun, terrific big band and remarkable technology with Sinatra on a giant screen. It just made me wish I’d seen him live. And on Sunday to Stamford Bridge to see a Drogba masterclass (how the sinner repents), a Chelsea victory with 10 men and a young son hoarse with excitement.


Into the office to hear confirmation that we have a new director of programmes at ITV News — Tim Cunningham from Sky. It’s unusual for us to take someone from outside at that level, but people who know him say he’s bright, imaginative and right for the job. I glance at his CV and see he’s another Old Etonian going places. Jeremy Thompson, Sky’s star man and an old friend, calls me to admit Cunningham is a good signing. Nice gesture, but then when you’ve just been made RTS Presenter of the Year, as he has (deservedly), I guess you’re in the mood for nice gestures. I wish Tim the best of luck.

Quiet newsday, but some discussion about whether to lead on Iran after Bush’s reported threats to nuke their nuclear sites or on the Hurndall inquest, which concluded that the peace campaigner Tom Hurndall, shot in the head by an Israeli soldier, had been intentionally killed. It has obvious parallels with the murder of James Miller, the young cameraman and film-maker also shot by an Israeli soldier in 2003.

I argue to top the programme on this story. What is going on within the Israeli military to let this happen?

And here are two British families fighting for justice who deserve to be heard. I met James Miller in Afghanistan a few years ago while he was working with Saira Shah. They were a talented and brave team. We were all taking exceptionally sweet tea with the Taliban as their militiamen told us what we were allowed to film (i.e. nothing).


Awake to a call from an Iraqi friend who worked for us during the war three years ago. I haven’t heard from him for months. He told me how things are getting worse and worse and asked whether I was planning to go back at all. I tried to explain that there wasn’t much point because it’s impossible for journalists to work effectively or safely there. I realised, as I said it, that this must have sounded feeble to someone who has to put up with the violence day in day out. There’s very little proper journalism coming out of Iraq, and it’s a huge gap in everybody’s coverage of the biggest story around. It’s why we have a "video diarist" in Baghdad, Ali Hamdani, who’s giving viewers at least some sense of what life is like there.


The big story for us today is Herceptin. Our social affairs correspondent Helen Wright has been working on the issue for months and has built up good relationships with the women involved in the court cases. The 10.30 news wants some new line, so I go to Harley Street to interview one of the country’s leading cancer specialists, Karol Sikora, who says Herceptin and other new treatments for cancer and heart disease could bankrupt the NHS. It moves the story on and is picked up by the newswires. In the evening I chance upon Jon Snow leaving the office — helmeted, cycle-clipped and besuited. He tells me he’d returned the day before from Baghdad where he’d been filming a documentary on… guess what?… the difficulty of reporting from Iraq. Very Channel 4! What is it about Snow? No slave to the studio, him. But does he never stop?

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