My Week: Jonathan Rugman - Press Gazette

My Week: Jonathan Rugman


It is 8.45am and I am pedalling up Wigmore Street towards ITN when the day’s programme editor calls. George Bush is in town on perhaps his final presidential visit, and having watched his every move in Washington as Channel 4’s correspondent, I expect to be interpreting on the plain-speaking Texan’s behalf once again.

The bad news is that political editor Gary Gibbon and Jon Snow are going to the Downing Street press conference later that morning, but my editor knows how to sweeten the pill of disappointment; could I interview Kofi Annan at the Royal Festival Hall instead?

I order a car to meet me at the office in 15 minutes and cycle over there. A quick change into a suit and I’m on my way to meeting Kofi Annan.

My wife spent part of her childhood in Annan’s native Ghana, and I casually mention this while the cameraman is setting up for our interview.

Such simple ice-breakers can transform these encounters and Annan is far more forthcoming than I’d expected.

‘The Iraq war was a disaster,’he says, clearly irritated that Mr Bush’s simultaneous appearance across the Thames will push Annan’s latest report on Africa out of the headlines. It was ever thus between these two when they squared off between New York and Washington.

‘Give my regards to my fellow Ghanaian,’is Annan’s message to my wife as we part. Later it turns out that missing the Bush press conference was a blessing in disguise; Jon Snow complains bitterly of four hours being taken out of his day amid the security of the President’s visit, and that he didn’t get to ask one question.


Tuesday’s morning meeting is enlivened by the presence of a High Court judge who wants to see how a TV news agenda is put together. As a result, every hack’s verbal contribution sounds like that of a potential QC, expounding before the judge with gusto on the virtues of his or her story.

My producer, Ben de Pear, has unearthed an extraordinary interview with a serving Zimbabwean intelligence official, detailing the violence meted out in Robert Mugabe’s so called ‘torture camps”, 16 of them he says dotted around Harare alone.

By rights, the story should be the day’s lead, but I dampen down any expectation by pointing out that we will have to blur the man’s face and have his words spoken by an actor, which could detract from the impact.

That afternoon, I feed a couple of versions of my script to the Foreign Office. Minister for Africa Lord Malloch Brown is going to be interviewed after our piece and we want him to know precisely what the man is saying. There’s no way we can corroborate the tale ourselves, but Tiseke Kasambala has just come back from Zimbabwe for Human Rights Watch and we interview her in the edit suite.

It is clearly the first time she has heard an insider describe the campaign of terror and, with her surefire endorsement, my reservations about the piece disappear. The story is our lead and OKed by our lawyer minutes before going to air.

The ‘actor’voicing the piece is not an actor at all, but a journalist from the Zimbabwe Herald who has fled the country for offending the regime. A Zimbabwean viewer calls us in tears during the programme. She says every word of our story is true. Which would be gratifying, were the story not so horrific.

By 8.50pm I have cycled to my allotment in west London, where my potatoes need more earth heaped over their roots.


I’m in Brussels for the rest of my week, attending an EU summit in the wake of Ireland’s ‘no’vote. If the Lisbon Treaty is a dead parrot, why is most of Europe so intent on reviving it?

I call up a Belgian zoo and ask if they have any parrots we could film. I’m put through to the bird keeper, who tends to five military macaws from Mexico. We jump into a taxi and hurtle to Planckendael zoo, desperate for some parrot pictures to enliven a potentially dull summit.

I explain to the bird keeper that we are using Monty Python’s dead parrot sketch as a motif for our piece on the future of Europe. ‘Ah yes, Monty Python,’he says to my astonishment. ‘The dead parrot sketch is a good idea.”

That afternoon I’m in the middle of a media scrum and ask the Foreign Secretary if the Lisbon Treaty is a dead parrot. ‘I’m not getting into Monty Python analogies,’Mr Miliband says. No matter. I have my pictures of the macaws and my story.

My wife complains later that I’d over-laboured the joke.

She’s probably right, but the next day’s cover of The Economist has the headline ‘Just bury it’with the picture of a dead bird beneath. And who am I to quibble with that?