Sky News reporter Colin Brazier broadcast live from the MH17 crash site this week, with a cameraman panning closely to the personal artifacts of passengers believed to have died almost immediately as the plane was allegedly shot out of the sky. Brazier touched some of those artifacts, causing an uproar in British media.
In the live broadcast, Brazier is seen walking through a debris field, stopping for a short time, and picking up what appeared to be a pink children’s item from a suitcase. Moving the object, he then picked up a set of keys from the bag. Apparently realizing immediately his transgression, he tells the camera, “We shouldn’t really be doing this, I suppose,” and tears away from the luggage.
The incident has caused an uproar with viewers and families of the victims of the crash, as the event is being perceived as tampering with the site of a crime and rummaging through artifacts belonging to the recently dead. Families of the victims are also in an uproar, and the UK’s broadcasting oversight committee has received more than 100 complaints from viewers on the broadcast. As the Daily Mail reports, one relative of victim Richard Mayne–his older brother Thomas–condemned the network publicly. “It’s sick and the worst example of news journalism which is sensationalising an appalling human tragedy. … It’s really hard for us at the moment. The magnitude of it all and the way it happened. You don’t think this sort of stuff happens to you,” he explained.
Journalists also protested. Said BBC radio reporter Shelagh Fogarty, “Those items are essentially sacred things now for the relatives. Just appalling.”
Sky News has since released a statement explaining the situation and apologizing, both as a network and on behalf of Brazier:
“Today whilst presenting from the site of the MH17 air crash Colin Brazier reflected on the human tragedy of the event and showed audiences the content of one of the victims’ bags,” a Sky News spokesperson said. “Colin immediately recognised that this was inappropriate and said so on air. Both Colin and Sky News apologise profusely for any offence caused.”
Brazier noted during the broadcast that the camera was capturing some of the least gruesome imagery at the crash site. “I’ve been walking around, coming across body parts all the time, many of them charred beyond recognition. … Men, women and children, indeterminate frankly, you can’t tell,” he explained. “Very often you are looking at charred spines, that’s all that’s left.” While Sky News refused to broadcast the images Brazier described, other media outlets have done so, particularly Vice News, which posted raw video of MH17 victims lying on the ground, rarely intact, on its website, but received no such backlash.