This powerful guest post is by Debbi Morello. Debbi Morello has had an eclectic career path including cause marketing for a little paper that was just getting started called USA Today. Inspired to pursue photojournalism she spent nearly 15 years working for news organizations on several continents and winning international awards. For the last 10 years she has combined her keen eye and storytelling skills as a communications and outreach specialist for humanitarian organizations, U.S. government and UN agencies worldwide. Now she is eager to stay on this side of pond. You can talk to her on Twitter: just look for @debmorello!
Anthony Shadid, center, with residents of Cairo last February. The loss of Anthony Shadid saw the departure of perhaps the finest foreign correspondent of his generation. An inspiration to many, especially younger Arab-American journalists. (Ed Ou for The New York Times)
Recently, the journalism world lost some its most acclaimed giants. Internationally recognized, award-winning, highly respected journalists who helped change the landscape of the conflicts and injustices they covered. But the world not only lost veteran foreign correspondents, we lost many journalists who risked their lives everyday in their own countries where they do not have the freedoms we oftentimes take for granted.
All of these brave journalists lost their lives while doing what they love, their jobs.
I was asked the question, how is it that there is not more awareness about the many journalists, particularly of late, who lost their lives – or why aren’t more people talking about it? I did not have a good answer. I could only speculate with this response – like in any industry, people tend not to pay much attention outside their own industry, or field, of interest.
Changing that would take much more than raising awareness – it would require changing human nature. I won’t try to do that in this little post. But while I have your attention, what I will do is talk about the journalists who lost their lives recently, who despite the risks, were compelled to tell the story about ordinary people living and trying to survive, in a country in conflict.
Stephen Farrell provides a sobering perspective on the work of foreign correspondents, local and citizen journalists, and a retrospective of recent events that have left many in the field asking tough questions. In his in his post Conflict Reporting in the Post-Embed Era on At War: Notes from the Front Lines in The New York Times, Farrell weighs the costs of working in war zones.
“In recent months there has been a sense of time and chance suddenly catching up with not just a generation of journalists, but some of the most totemic figures within that generation.”
Maybe there will be some insight into why they do what they do. Perhaps the next time you see a headline that you might take for granted, you’ll know a little bit more about what made it happen.
“I don’t think there’s any story worth dying for, but I do think there are stories worth taking risks for.” Anthony Shadid
And all of them did just that, not for fame, or glory – that’s what separated them from the pack, they did it because they believed in bearing witness, in telling the stories that needed to be told.
Shadid collapsed and died a few weeks ago of an apparent asthma attack while leaving Syria under the most difficult of circumstances and unable to get medical attention. Remember, no foreign journalists have been allowed in Syria. The outpouring was tremendous. Remembering Anthony Shadid – The New York Times To understand just a bit about his legacy and his many contributions it is worth reading this compilation of what made him so special.
Bill Keller, Former Executive Editor of The New York Times said about Shadid:
“First, he understood the basic rule of reporting: always go. He went to places that were inaccessible and dangerous and miserable — not as a daredevil or adrenaline junkie, not recklessly, often reluctantly, always with the most meticulous and careful planning — but he knew you had to be there. You had to see it. It’s nice that people call him a poet, but poets can write around the holes in a story. Anthony was first and foremost a witness — an incomparable, reliable witness.”
Shadid was 43.
Tyler Hicks the award-winning photojournalist with The New York Times, was often on assignment with Shadid and was with him in Syria. Hicks’ searing images and breathtaking account, Bearing Witness in Syria: A Correspondent’s Last Days appeared in The New York Times on March 3.
Marie Colvin, who covered many of the Arab uprisings, died after a round of attacks in Syria. One of the most distinctive figures of her generation with her trademark black eyepatch she wore after she lost her eye after a shrapnel wound in Sri Lanka in 2001. (Ivor Prickett/The Sunday Times, via European Pressphoto Agency)
Within a week of Shadid’s death, another veteran war correspondent was killed while covering the besieged enclave of Babo Amr in Syria. Marie Colvin, an American journalist who worked for The Sunday Times.
She had just filed this story. The day before she was killed, she spoke to friends and colleagues and gave several interviews about the horror that she, and the other journalists with her, witnessed. Journalist Marie Colvin in Homs: ‘I saw a baby die today’ BBC News
She was living with other journalists in makeshift media center, a house in Babo Amr. Syrian forces targeting the journalists shelled the house. Award-winning French photojournalist Rémi Ochlik was also killed.
Christian Amanpour said this of her friend and colleague:
“Marie Colvin believed in was bearing witness. The journalist must be the eyes and ears of the readers or viewers. Marie’s legacy lies in her commitment to story telling and doing it the right way. It’s in believing in the people she was reporting on. She shone a spotlight on and gave a voice to those people who have no voice.”
Activists said Rami al-Sayed was fatally wounded when shells struck the opposition stronghold of Baba Amr – 18 days into the siege. He had been trying to help a family flee in a car, witnesses said. Sayed was described as “one of the most important cameramen and one of our most important journalists in Baba Amr”.
Rami al-Sayed’s last message:
“Baba Amr is facing a genocide right now… I will never forgive you for your silence… You all have just given us your words but we need actions”
Sayed uploaded 800 videos documenting the situation in the Homs and used Bambuser to broadcast live footage while security forces attacked by firing rockets, mortars and shells as they tried to gain control of districts from the rebel Free Syrian Army .
Bambuser paid tribute Sayed, saying in a statement that he was “one of the bravest and forefront fighters in getting the world’s attention on what’s going on in Homs” “Those live pictures that Rami and his friends have brought to the world are the only live pictures that have come out of Baba Amr over the past two weeks. So I think it’s very important,” Bambuser’s chairman, Hans Eriksson, told the BBC. Syrian authorities have since blocked access to the site.
For now, the suffering of Homs and elsewhere in Syria continues unabated.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists keeps track of journalists killed while doing their jobs – 902 killed so far since 1992. It offers detailed analysis and categorizes the deaths by country, by male or female, by beat – politics, war, corruption, crime, human rights and so on – by medium of reporting, by type of death, in crossfire or in combat, on dangerous assignment, if murdered, whether motive has been confirmed, or remains unconfirmed.
Rémi Ochlik, Freelance, February 22 in Homs, Syria;
Marie Colvin, Sunday Times, February 22 in Homs, Syria;
Rami al-Sayed, Freelance, February 21 in Homs, Syria;
Mario Randolfo Marques Lopes, Vassouras na Net, February 9 in Barra do Piraí, Brazil;
Mazhar Tayyara, Freelance, February 4 in Homs, Syria;
Hassan Osman Abdi, Shabelle Media Network, January 28 in Mogadishu, Somalia;
Enenche Akogwu, Channels TV, January 20 in Kano, Nigeria;
Mukarram Khan Aatif, Freelance, January 17, in Shabqadar, Pakistan;
Wisut “Ae” Tangwittayaporn, Inside Phuket, January 12 in Phuket, Thailand;
Gilles Jacquier, France 2, January 11 in Homs, Syria.
These statistics were published in the Guardian article Shoot the journalists: Syria’s lesson from the Arab spring Feb. 25.
Sunday Times war correspondent Marie Colvin and French photographer Rémi Ochlik died in Homs last week, bringing the death toll of journalists in Syria this year alone to six.
In 2011, at least 66 journalists were killed around the world as a result of their work, a 16% rise on the previous year, with 17 deaths among reporters covering the Arab spring uprisings. Ten deaths in Pakistan marked the heaviest loss in a single country. Libya claimed five lives, including award-winning British photojournalist Tim Hetherington, and al-Jazeera cameraman Ali Hassan al-Jaber.
Putin’s Russia is an increasingly dangerous place for journalists with extreme limits on freedom of expression. Forty-nine have died since 1992, including Kremlin critic Anna Politkovskaya, shot dead in 2006.
The most deadly country for journalists in the past 10 years has been Iraq, where 151 have been killed since 1992. Coming a bloody second is the Philippines, where 72 have been murdered. Covering human rights as a journalist is more deadly than covering crime, war or corruption.
Street protests in other countries such as Greece, Belarus, Uganda, Chile and the US were responsible for a surge in arrests, from 535 in 2010 to 1,044 in 2011, according to Reporters Without Borders.
Ethiopia was criticized last year for jailing two Swedish journalists covering the insurgency on its border with Somalia. The country is causing increasing international concern with its harsh policies towards its own press.
Nine online journalists were killed for their work in 2011, including Mexican reporter MarÍa Elizabeth MacÍas Castro, whose decapitated body was found near Nuevo Laredo, with a note stating she had been murdered for reporting on social media websites. Mexico has at least 11 journalists reported missing, feared dead.
Other journalists will carry on with this necessary work and more will die while doing it – all the while knowing the risks. The world is poorer when we lose dedicated and committed journalists without whom we would not know the horrors that ordinary people suffer at the hands of brutal dictators or hardships and injustices they suffer because of corrupt governments.
Their voices have not been silenced. Their legacies will live on for the difference they made, and the voice they gave to those who otherwise would not have had one.