Free at last

Oh happy day. After 114 days in captivity, Alan Johnston has been freed, safe and seemingly well.

What made Alan's time as a hostage so perverse and unjust was that he had spent three years in Gaza putting the case of the Palestinian people, as much as any objective journalist can, telling stories that may otherwise be untold to a Western audience.

Whatever the Army of Islam's motive for this deplorable act, it was only ever going to work against the Palestinian cause. Yet that should not prevent them from being congratulated for letting the episode reach its only desirable conclusion.

The bile and invective I instinctively prepared at the time of the bogus announcement of Alan's death can thankfully remain unpublished. I'm glad I held my tongue at that time, in spite of a great anger. Whatever one's view of the desperate situation in the Middle East, one can't deny that progress will not be made as long as so many bitter words are spoken.

Hopefully Alan will now get time to readjust to life outside his Gaza cell and to spend time with his family, who must have had the worst four months imaginable. The mood among colleagues also seems to have instantly lightened, people relieved to have truly good news to report for once.

And then when he finally gets back to work, hopefully in some nice, quiet posting - Baghdad, perhaps, or maybe Beirut? - mine will be one of many pockets only too happy to shed a few pounds to buy him a drink.


Mighty Mika

Just when I thought there was no one left to champion the cause of real journalism over celebrity tittle-tattle, along comes MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski.

Objecting to Paris Hilton's first interview following her release from jail being the designated lead story in her bulletin, she stages a very entertaining on-air coup. As befits the daughter of a former US National Security Adviser, Ms Brzezinski wants to lead on Iraq - but there's editorial pressure from above. The adamant anchor ends up destroying the paper copy of the script in a very public display of defiance.

You'd never see George Alagiah or Sian Williams having such a public editorial hissy fit - would that they should.

What's a little unsettling is how Mika's male colleagues react to her stance. First they say she's not a journalist any more as if a "real" journalist, rather than a presenter, would see the value in the Hollywood-based Hilton story over some crumby foreign thing. Then later, one says she's "such a journalist" as if that's something to be avoided in modern TV news. Cronkite and Dimbleby must be rolling in their graves.

Has Mika Brzezinski committed the journalistic faux pas of becoming the story? Arguably, yes.

And there is something in the Hilton story - preferential treatment for stars, say, maybe the overcrowding in LA's penal system, or even just as a matter of interest at the end of the summary - but I suspect Mika's reaction would not have been quite so intense had the item not been placed so high by her producer.

However, Brzezinski has struck a blow for sensible, adult news, for those of us who think that just because what's important in the world and what the masses want to hear about aren't necessarily the same thing, that doesn't mean we should let populism run the news agenda.