A few weeks ago, I got a call. Channel 4 News was planning to run a story on the death of a child in a school playground accident, and did I want to comment?
The programme wanted the piece to include a perspective about the danger of over-reacting to such tragedies. It was thought that I would be a good person to make that point.
I checked online and found some more details about the event. The child, a five-year-old boy subsequently named as Samuel Orola, had been seriously injured during lunchtime, when he fell off a climbing frame in the playground of Tolworth Junior School, Kingston, London. Paramedics had been called, but he was pronounced dead on arrival at hospital. (I got the call the next morning.)
I called the journalist, and said I did not want to be interviewed. I explained that while I think we are prone to over-react to extremely rare tragedies – that sometimes, terrible things happen and no-one is to blame – and while I do think that we cannot eliminate risk from children’s play, I felt it was too soon after the event to be saying this, with the family having only just heard the news that every parent dreads. I asked if Channel 4 would consider covering the story at a later date, when it would be more appropriate to make wider points. I was told that this would not happen – that the story would only be covered on that day. (I watched Channel 4 news that night. It ran a short factual report.)
I’ve long known that sooner or later, I would get a call like this one. I’ve not known quite how I would feel, or how I would respond. Now I think I do. I do not feel comfortable making wider points about these issues in the immediate aftermath of such a tragedy. I think that to do this so soon after the event is insensitive, if not exploitative.
Another factor influenced my decision. I think that the public are becoming more aware of the dangers of rushing to judgement, and of always seeking someone to blame. Maybe as a society, we are taking a more balanced view. Some of the comments on the local news story suggest this. In which case, maybe I didn’t need to go on TV to make the point.
On the other hand, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I missed a rare opportunity to get people’s attention and help them reflect on a tragic event, at the very point when that tragedy had just happened, and when we are most swayed by our emotions. What do you think?
Samuel Orola’s funeral was last Thursday. My condolences go out to his family, friends and schoolmates.