02/23/2012

Marie Colvin : Death of a reporter


This blog is not about aviation, even though war and aviation go together and Marie Colvin's death came down from the air. Instead, it is about how we react to her death: do we say that it is her fault for going to a dangerous place or do we laud her for her courage in reporting back to us what is actually happening?

War reporting has its origins in the dispatches sent back to the Times newspaper from the Crimea by William Howard Russell. Then, as now, military commanders did not like the true horrors of war getting known to the world at large: it is said that the British Commander, Lord Raglan, told his officers not to speak to Russell.

The news that did get back is supposed to have inspired Alfred, Lord Tennyson, to write one of the most famous English poems "The charge of the light brigade". It also inspired that most famous nurse, Florence Nightingale (the lady with the lamp), to train a group of volunteer nurses and then go out to the region. She was so shocked by the poor facilities and lack of treatment for wounded soldiers that she wrote to the Times asking for help.

One result of this plea was that the British Government asked Isambard Kingdom Brunel, famous for his building of bridges and railways, to build a prefabricated hospital that could be sent out in pieces and reassembled there: it became known as the Renkioi Hospital. (in those long gone days Britain was famous for manufacturing goods, not for making fortunes in stocks, shares and money changing!).

In my opinion, Marie Colvin was of the ilk of Florence Nightingale: she wanted people to know what was really happening. Already, when in Afghanistan, she met a reporter who later stepped on a mine and lost two legs to the knees. She also famously rejected the advances of Colonel Gaddafi, who rather fancied her (that was probably as dangerous as being in a war zone). She later lost an eye in Sri Lanka in a grenade attack, but she still continued her work, despite knowing that reporters are becoming prime targets for oppressive regimes who do not want the truth to be known. She did this because, as she said in an address that she gave during a service to commemmorate war reporters who have died since 2000

Our mission is to speak the truth to power. We send home that first rough draft of history.

The real difficulty is having enough faith in humanity to believe that enough people be they government, military or the man on the street, will care when your file reaches the printed page, the website or the TV screen.

The region of Baba Amr in Syria, where she died, was described by her as worse than anything else that she had seen (and she had seen a lot). Will her death help to change anything there: we can only hope so.

So what about us, having the immense good fortune to live in a peaceful and prosperous country. Should we pressure our financial institutions not to take money from the very many other currupt regimes around the world; our politicians to denounce them; our armaments factories not to sell them ways to kill people? Many people would say yes.

As individuals, however, we can also make ourselves known. How about resisting going on holidays to places where only the ruling elite benefit from what we pay? After all, that leaves plenty of choice fairly locally, with the extra benefit of producing less greenhouse gases.

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