Where journalists have greatness thrust upon them
Peter Worthington has had an amazing life. And his obituary, which he wrote himself, certainly has an arresting opening line.
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By Alister Houghton - Posted on 09 August 2011
If anyone hasn't seen this then they should. Brilliant eye-witness journalism.
Journalists were once accorded a status that protected them against violence in some conflicts, Alister. But the notion of the independent, objective observer, standing apart from the fray, has never been absolute - as Knightley makes plain in 'The first Casualty.' To cross between Republican and Nationalist lines in the Spanish Civil War was nigh impossible. It was easier in Vietnam but impossible in the Falklands. I first saw journalists targeted for being journalists in Bosnia, Kosovo and Serbia. Nowadays it is beyond difficult for independent reporters to cover the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. That is among the reasons why embedding has become popular...See my essay, 'Compromising the First Draft' in Afghanistan, War and the Media http://eprints.lincoln.ac.uk/3357/1/Afghanistan_final.p There are hard copies in the library.
Have there been any other events where journalists were safer hiding their status as journalists though? I would imagine (though obviously you know far better than me) that it was still safer to call yourself a 'journalist' rather than an ordinary civilian in the Balkans (or at least it was no help in saying that you were a civilian instead of a journalist).
It is an excellent question, and very hard to answer. The circumstances tend to dictate the answer.In Serbia it was hard to be British or American and worse to be German. On the Bosnian side of the conflict British and American reporters were often well treated - but, when NATO failed to protect the safe areas, there was palpable tension. Reporting from Northern Ireland required immense sensitivity: Republicans tended to want publicity, Unionists often did not. Several international reporters have reported from Afghanistan by disguising themselves as local people, but the risk of discovery is high. In Iraq networks of local stringers who really are local residents is supplying news to international agencies and broadcasters - and there are hints that some of the stringers do not reveal who they are working for when they go out to gather information. I'd be delighted to talk about it. One final thought: as Alan Little told you in his masterclass, mobs are always the most terrifying. I have rarely been more frightened than by a 14 year old Romanian peasant boy with a Kalashnikov. Armies tend to obey their officers i.e. they only hurt you if they are ordered to. In a rioting mob there is no hierarchy of command, just brutal power.
That's my old High Street in Clapham Junction, all the places I used to visit - from my local ASDA where I got my groceries to the Pizza Express and my favourite pubs and bars were targeted last night. Scary.
I now live off Caledonian Road near Kings Cross and when me and my flatmates looked out the window around midnight, we saw youngsters on mopeds (all with L plates) dropping off carrierbags of lootings and a TV in the neighbouring building before heading out for more.
Agreed, Alister. I thought it was excellent reporting - the best I saw last night. Shows that with modern mobile phones you don't need expensive equipment to make compelling television. And interesting that Stone and his colleagues were having to deny that they were journalists for fear of reprisals from the looters.
It wasnt long ago that I was told by another professional journalist - like Stone - that to go undercover into an area of conflict was a no no and to always present yourself as a journo. Here is what happened to some of those who work under that philosophy.
Normally in war zones journalists are fairly well respected and probably slightly safer because of it than if they were just a 'civilian', whereas in our own "war-zone" they are being targeted.