Dying to tell the story
With Remembrance Day approaching, Britain’s journalistic fraternity has tonight remembered its fallen in a service at the ancient church of St Bride’s in Fleet Street, City of London.
The Order of Service states: “Journalists and cameramen have always been casualties during the conflicts they are sent to cover… This service commemorates a small fraction of the many hundreds who have died across the world during the first ten years of the 21st Century.”
Among the 49 journalists working for British media outlets who’ve been killed this past decade and are being remembered tonight: our own Gaby Rado (pictured), Foreign Affairs Correspondent with Channel 4 News, who died in northern Iraq in 2003. Others include the award-winning freelance cameraman Martin Adler, who made many powerful films for this programme before he was murdered by a gunman in Mogadishu four years ago. And the talented documentary maker James Miller, shot dead by an Israeli soldier in Gaza. The roll-call at tonight’s service also includes the names of our ITN colleagues Terry Lloyd, Fred Nerac and Hussein Osman – all of them killed (or in Fred’s case, presumed dead) in Iraq. Foreign news journalists scanning the list of those killed will see many familiar names, each conjuring a nostalgic picture of a smiling face, a shared joke, a shouted greeting and the emptiness of an absence.
But the St Bride’s list is not exhaustive. At a farewell party the other night for a Channel 4 News colleague, Tim Lambon, we watched again the amazing footage he’d shot of Mohammed Fatnan, the Iraqi government-minder-turned journalist, as he rescued an injured five-year-old girl shot in the head by American soldiers in Baghdad in April 2003. If you haven’t ever seen Lindsey Hilsum’s report on this, please watch it.
Her reflections on Mohammed, following his kidnap near Kerbala as he went home to make final arrangements for his wedding the following year is deeply moving. Mohammed is also presumed dead – one of the 139 journalists killed in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003.
Across the world, the number of journalists being killed as they work is rising; some are caught in the crossfire; increasingly though, journalists are being targeted – because they are journalists. From Iraq to Sri Lanka, Mexico to Iran, journalists, cameramen and camerawomen risk death, violence, kidnap, disappearance and exile. Their families face threats, impoverishment and terrible anxiety.
The International News Safety Institute reports that so far this year, 70 media workers have been killed around the world. The Reporters Without Borders website has a map of “Predator” nations, where its press freedom barometer reports that 37 journalists have been murdered this year and 157 imprisoned (not to mention the 113 bloggers locked up worldwide).
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists records the deaths of 839 journalists killed around the world since 1992. In 539 cases, no one was brought to justice.
Scrolling down the list of freelance camera-operators killed down through the years on the website of the Rory Peck Trust makes sobering reading. Every year, at the Rory Peck awards night (the next one is to be held on 17 November) the audience stands silently as the list of names rolls down the screen. It goes on too long and every year it gets longer.
This week, the continuing deterioration of press freedom in Russia was brutally highlighted by the beatings of two journalists, one within an inch of his life. Oleg Kashin reported for Kommersant newspaper. The attack on him was caught on CCTV. Tonight he remains in a medically induced coma in a Moscow hospital with a broken jaw, two broken legs and broken fingers.
Two days later, Anatoly Adamchuk, a reporter with a newspaper in Zhukovsky, outside Moscow, was attacked as he left his newsroom. Both reporters had been writing on politically-related themes. According to the Union of Russian Journalists, 57 have been attacked in the past year alone.
Since 2000, there have been 19 unsolved murders of journalists in Russia – including that of the prominent reporter Anna Politkovskaya who covered the conflicts in Chechnya. It’s widely believed the attacks continue because of impunity.
All pretty depressing news really from the depressing news industry.
The good news is that the organisations and charities mentioned above are today providing support for working journalists and looking after journalists (and their families) from all over the world who find themselves hounded and threatened by those who believe the sword is mighter than the pen. It’s also good news that those linked to the British media, whether British nationals or foreign, are tonight being honoured in the service at St Bride’s.
The Rector of St Bride’s, Venerable David Meara, says the service “is a reminder that bearing witness to the truth has a cost, as we honour those who have paid the ulimate price in bringing us the truth as they see it.” The address is being delivered by Marie Colvin, Foreign Correspondent with The Sunday Times.
And in the Order of Service, sent to me in advance by the organisers, I was struck by a quotation from Emma Daly, former Foreign Correspondent for the Independent (and now the Communications Director at Human Rights Watch), who covered the conflict in Bosnia:
“We can do no more than record as faithfully as we can what we see and hear and smell and taste and touch. Each one of us is influenced by our history, our beliefs, our prejudices, and each of us has a responsibility to try to identify such traits and to work around them. But in spite of the difficulties, dangers and the struggle to remain impartial, our only purpose was to record these scenes so that no one, not those who would rather ignore this nastiness, not even those in whose name the crimes were committed, would have an excuse to say: “I did not know.”