Gareth Jones shone the light on the abuses of Holodomor, Source: Diego Sideburns, on Flickr (BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED)

Why journalism matters: The historic example of Gareth Jones

Why journalism matters: The historic example of Gareth Jones

Can we draw inspiration from the past to face the disinformation challenges of today?

Fake news, disinformation campaigns, and wartime propaganda are not unique to our times. During the 20th century, humanity saw a lot of wars, massacres and operations of massive destruction. Thanks to brave journalists, people had the opportunity to read, listen and watch reports from the front lines. Reports of people who were ready to sacrifice their lives to tell the truth.

A great example of a professional journalist, whose legacy seems more essential today than ever, was Gareth Jones. He is recognized as the first reporter to reveal the horror of the Holodomor, the Soviet government-induced famine in the early 1930s. Famine which killed millions of Ukrainians. Even today, his life shows us the importance of investigative journalism, the search for truth, and the protection of human rights.

Some biographical notes of Gareth Jones

Gareth Jones was born on 13 August 1905 in Barry, Wales. He studied at Aberystwyth University, the University of Strasbourg, and Trinity College. He was fluent in English, French, German, and Russian which helped him in his work in different European countries to get trustworthy insights. Although he only lived 30 years, he did have an extraordinary life. 

Shortly after graduating, he was hired as Foreign Affairs Adviser to a member of the British Parliament and former prime minister of the United Kingdom, David Lloyd George. During those days he had the unique opportunity to see how British domestic and foreign policy works. 

In 1929 Jones changed professions. He became a freelance reporter. Thanks to that decision, he had complete freedom to choose which topics he wanted to cover. It is interesting that in February 1933 he had the opportunity to fly with Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels in Hitler's new airplane.

After his trips to the Soviet Union in 1930 and 1931, Jones published six articles in The Times. They spoke about the starvation of the local peasants. In 1933 Jones went to Ukraine and faced a terrible situation:

I walked along through villages and twelve collective farms. Everywhere was the cry, 'There is no bread. We are dying'. This cry came from every part of Russia, from the Volga, Siberia, White Russia, the North Caucasus, and Central Asia. I tramped through the black earth region because that was once the richest farmland in Russia and because the correspondents have been forbidden to go there to see for themselves what is happening.”

This report was denounced by Moscow-resident American journalist Walter Duranty, Pulitzer Prize winner, with his article for The New York Times titled Russians Hungry, But Not Starving. Unfortunately, Duranty was willing to defend Stalin's policies which resulted in the deaths of millions of people. He was Moscow bureau chief of The New York Times for fourteen years, so, he had much more influence on other reporters and editors than the young Jones.

The two sides of journalism

A parallel with Duranty immediately comes to mind when we think of our times. In February 2024, another American journalist, Tucker Carlson, had the unique opportunity to talk with one of the most powerful people on the planet, Vladimir Putin.

He could’ve asked the Russian President more about Russia, Ukraine, the sense of war, and the consequences of his political decisions - but he did not. He also had the opportunity to walk the streets of Moscow and report a story about how Muscovites and Russians live. Do they really support the so-called special military operation? He did not dare to find out.

Those examples are the ideal lessons showing what journalism should be and what it shouldn’t be. Journalists are seekers of the truth, those who ask countless questions and never give up on getting truthful answers. Real journalists should be willing to face the worst to tell the world what and why really happens.

Unfortunately, a principled journalist like Gareth Jones did not get to interview Stalin, yet he did not give up and sought to find where the real stories were hidden. We need a modern-day Gareth Jones to balance out the contemporary Walter Durantys.

The Welsh journalist paid dearly for his bravery because he was banned from re-entering the Soviet Union. He never again had the opportunity to meet the people and places whose hardships he brought to the world. He was killed in Mongolia in 1934, just one day before his 30th birthday. The circumstances of his death are still unclear.

If you want to learn more about Gareth Jones’ life and legacy, you can watch the movie Mr Jones (2019), directed by Agnieszka Holland or read the book Gareth Jones: Eyewitness to the Holodomor, written by Ray Gamach. 

This article is part of Read Twice – an EU-funded project, coordinated by Euro Advance Association that targets young people and aims to counter disinformation and fake news by enhancing their skills to assess critically information, identify vicious and harmful media content and distinguish between facts and opinions, thus improving their media literacy competences.

The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of its author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the European Union nor of TheMayor.EU.



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