Peter Taylor OBE on reporting terror: 'Once you lose the capacity to feel, you shouldn't be doing it'

"Many of the unsavoury people you meet, you actually grow to like them," explains Peter Taylor OBE. "But you never forget what they've done."

Speaking to a packed room at the Groucho Club in Soho on Monday (April 3), the reporter relived more than 50 years of reporting on terror across the globe, including accusations of having "blood on his hands".

Best known for his coverage of the political and armed conflict in Northern Ireland, Taylor said as soon as the news of Bloody Sunday broke he "immediately got on the phone and got on the next plane".

'There was still blood on the floors'

"I hadn't a clue what we were going to do when we arrived, but I know I wanted to explain what had happened and why it had happened. I couldn't believe what I was told as I was knocking on doors. There was stilll blood on the floors."

"Here's me, a middle class Brit, part of the so-called establishment, whose soldiers had just shot dead unarmed civil rights demonstrators. It really shook me." 

His message for young journalists attempting to cover similar conflicts was simply to "try and understand".

"I think in the early days I was part of the media consensus that said 'isn’t it awful those murdering bastards', without trying to understand why they were murdering bastards."

"Until you understand it, I understand it, the Government understands," he added. "There’s no chance of resolving it." 

'Once you lose the capacity to feel, you shouldn’t be doing what you’re doing'

The veteran reporter also quashed the idea a journalist should be completely impartial, adding: "Once you lose the capacity to feel, you shouldn't be doing what you're doing."

He spoke of his guilt and emotion after the murder of Desmond Irvine, the Secretary of the Northern Ireland Prison Officers' Association whom he interviewed as part of a film.

Irivine had been advised not to do the interview by the Prison Officers' Association, however, was keen to get his message out, with Taylor hailing his contribution as "remarkable", and the "backbone" of the film.

After publication Irvine messaged Taylor to say how pleased he was with the piece. He was shot dead just a few days later.

Taylor soon recieved calls from reporters asking "what it was like to have blood on your hands", and described crying at the officers' grave.

'I don't buy into conspiracy theories'

Speaking of the more recent Westminster attacks, the reporter rubbished the idea of consipracy theories, saying the real battle now was ideaolgy.

"I don’t believe either that the publicity [the attack] was given was whoppied up by the Government to whip up more funding - the intelligence services frankly need that funding.

"I’m not one of those who do no tthink the threat is manufactured, it is real. And it’s not going to go away.

He added: "All conflicts come to an end, and if they don’t end they morph into a diffeent type of conflict. Raqqa will fall, but the real battle is to destroy the ideology, and that will take years and years and years."

Peter Taylor OBE was speaking at The Groucho Club as part of a Media Society event. To join The Media Society or to see more of our events, visit our events page.

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