Former Telegraph Editor-in-Chief: Journalists Must Be Allowed Freedom on the Field

London – Sir Max Hastings, former editor-in-chief of England’s The Telegraph newspaper, recounted to Asharq Al-Awsat the details of his career in journalism, starting with his landmark coverage of the Falkland’s War and ending with his lament of the current state of affairs in the field.

The son of a war correspondent, Hastings aspired to be a soldier, but he soon found out that he did not have the required discipline to join the army. He instead set his sights on writing and kicked off his career in television before moving to paper journalism. His mother was editor-in-chief of the US Harper’s Bazaar magazine.

“I believe that all young journalists dream of travel and I was lucky to start my career in journalism when the world was witnessing many exciting developments,” he said.

Earning a journalism scholarship in the United States in 1967, he bore witness to the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. He also covered the war in Vietnam when he was 24 years old, saying that he was “reckless” at the time, but that the experience had him “enrapt.”

Asked about the war in the Falklands, Hastings said that he had his breakthrough when covering the war. He explained that many of his war correspondent colleagues believed that the war would not erupt and they opted not to travel to the region, but he did.

He said that he was “lucky enough” to be there to document it, adding: “Seeing as I was the only journalist there, all newspapers published my articles and my daily coverage,” he stated, revealing that he later published a successful book on his experience.

“Luck has played an important role in my success,” admitted Hastings.

He explained that he was lucky enough to join the BBC at the age of 17 because his father used to collaborate with them. He was also said that his mother’s career in the industry helped him land his first job in paper journalism.

“Today at the age of 71 and as I look back, I realize that many of my colleagues died while performing their duties as war correspondents, but I am still alive even though I went through dangerous experiences,” Hastings said.

“Besides luck, what allows a journalist to stand out and advance in his career is challenging authority. The skilled journalist must break the rules every once in a while,” he revealed.

Asked about his views on Israel, he replied that he was initially a supporter during the late 1960s and early 1970s, but “then I became a witness to Israeli aggression and its treatment of the Palestinian people and I no longer liked Israel.”

He described himself as one of Israel’s “staunchest” critics, adding that a day will come when it will regret its oppressive actions.

Commenting on the situation in the Middle East, Hastings said that this is a very complicated file.

“I believe that we committed errors in our policy in the past few years, starting with the war in Iraq in 2003. I was against intervention in Syria because of the vagueness of the British strategy even though I oppose Bashar al-Assad, but I do not think that Britain should abandon the Middle East.

“Its intervention must be diplomatic and political, not military.”

Asked to assess the current state of the media, Hastings quoted a British journalist who once said in 1968 that there was a vast amount of information, but very little knowledge. The case still applies today.

He explained that when he worked for the BBC and The Telegraph, journalist crews had budgets that allowed them to travel the world, but this has now changed. He said that there are now plenty of ways to gather and spread information, but there is very little knowledge.

He attributed this to the lack of specialists in the field. He said that in his day, some of his colleagues were specialized in covering issues of defense, while journalists these days cannot tell the difference between a battalion and a brigade.

On his experience as The Telegraph editor-in-chief, Hastings remarked that it was a daunting experience to assume such a post at the age of 39. He said that many people, including Rupert Murdoch, opposed his appointment, “but I was always certain that a person can take the lead through setting goals, assuming responsibility, … investing in productive workers and letting go unprofessional staff.”

He stressed that The Telegraph stood out from among its rivals, such as The Times, because it used to provide its readers with plenty of information, at one point featuring 17 stories on its front page. This has however all changed now because readers are more interested in reading celebrity news.

He noted the poor wages journalists are earning these days, adding that the “unique” journalist can distinguish himself from his peers by placing the story he is working on as the most important priority in his life until it is published.

“He would do the impossible to gather information and facts … and madly pursue his goal,” Hastings stressed.

“I know a lot of people who took up journalism but they did not excel, not because they were not smart enough, but because they did not give their stories enough attention.

“A journalist should be able to run free on the ground to meet interesting people … but these days they are bound by several duties, such as editing and writing articles for the paper and electronic copies of the newspapers,” he said.