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Friday, April 29, 2011

Journalists in the line of fire-1

We know that journalists sometimes pay a heavy price just for doing their job.

As the deaths in Libya earlier this month of Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros show, perhaps no journalist pays a heavier price than the war photographer.

In a moving tribute to both men in Newsweek, Joshua Hammer gives us an insight into the dangers journalists face in combat zones:

War correspondents — in particular, combat photographers — have always worked with their lives on the line. But in the last few decades the body count has risen dramatically. Since 1992, 861 journalists have been killed in the field, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

We also get a glimpse into the characters of Hetherington and Hondros:

James Brabazon, a documentary filmmaker who met Hetherington in Liberia in 2003, recalls the photographer’s steady nerves. “I’ve seen people witnessing combat for the first time soil their pants…run away, scream, melt down, have terrible and understandably normal visceral reactions to the prospect that they’re about to get killed,” Brabazon says. “He just kept working.” After days of being ambushed while filming close-range combat, Hetherington and Brabazon leapt from a vehicle that had come under machine-gun fire. Ducking behind a wall, Hetherington remembered he’d left videotapes in the car, containing all his footage. “He jumped over the wall and ran into an arc of fire,” Brabazon says. “As far as he was concerned, if we didn’t have the tapes, there was no point being there in the first place.”

TIM HETHERINGTON'S PORTRAIT OF A SOLDIER IN A BUNKER IN AFGHANISTAN.

Hondros, an American whose career spanned war zones from Kosovo to Baghdad, was also in Liberia during the 2003 meltdown. Known for his intimate, empathetic images of both victims and perpetrators, Hondros later wrote about being on a bridge with a platoon of “drugged-up…militiamen” who were firing on rebels on the opposite bank of the river. Hondros’s photo of a commander jumping for joy after shooting a rocket-propelled grenade catapulted him to the top ranks of combat photographers.

CHRIS HONDROS TOOK THIS HEARTBREAKING PICTURE AT A CHECKPOINT IN IRAQ AFTER AMERICAN TROOPS FIRED ON A VEHICLE BEARING DOWN ON THEM, ONLY TO DISCOVER THAT THEY HAD KILLED THE PARENTS OF THIS FIVE-YEAR-OLD GIRL, SAMAR HASSAN.

Read the tribute to Hetherington and Hondros in its entirety here: "The Last Witnesses".

In the magazine, there's an accompanying piece, To Walk With Ghosts, by former CNN correspondent Michael Ware. Here's an excerpt that illustrates the iniquities of war and the hazards of being a war journalist:

In the field, where, as the soldiers say, “the meat meets the metal,” I’ve found that I gravitate to photographers, the ones who come the closest to revealing the truth, even if we never get to the entire truth. In war, everyone lies; their government, our government, the rebels—even civilians lie through exaggeration or confusion. But what we can get is the shards of truth, like Tim’s photo of a wretchedly filthy, dog-tired American grunt in the Korengal Valley, holding his face in his hand, or Chris’s picture of a little girl with her parents’ blood splattered over her dress, after American soldiers killed them at a Tal Afar checkpoint. (See pictures above.)

War photographers and reporters, of course, are not immune to this pain. But when you’re in a conflict, you can’t afford to think about how you’re feeling. You’re trying to capture the tremendous hurt of the war, but at the same time, you can’t afford to feel it yourself. And unlike the soldiers, who live in an environment conditioned to deal with these things, war journalists often find themselves alone in the newsroom, with no one to share the experience with.

It's not only male journalists who put their lives in jeopardy in this fashion. In February, Lara Logan, a CBS reporter covering the protests against Hosni Mubarak, was assaulted in Cairo just a week after being arrested by Egyptian police. Other women journalists have paid a far deadlier price. Why do they take such terrible risks? In the case of Logan, Howie Kurtz explains in Newsweek that...

Lara Logan kept going back to war, even after coming under enemy fire, even after an antitank missile struck her Humvee in Iraq and the soldier next to her lost his leg. Having children, however, changed her.

When the South African native became a mother, for the first time her bosses sensed hesitation. “There’s an adrenaline rush in being in war zones, and there’s no doubt Lara thrived on it,” CBS News chairman Jeff Fager tells NEWSWEEK.

The magazine also provides brief sketches of ten female journalists who put themselves in harm's way. Watch the inspirational video feature on Lebanese television journalist May Chidiac, who lost an arm and lower leg and suffered severe burns in a 2005 assassination attempt.

"SOME OF MY BODY WAS CUT, BUT MAY CHIDIAC IS STILL MAY CHIDIAC. I HAVE AN ARTIFICIAL LEG BUT MY MIND IS STILL MY MIND. I HAVE AN ARTIFICIAL HAND BUT MY MIND IS STILL MY MIND." A DEFIANT SPEECH BY AN EXTRAORDINARILY BRAVE JOURNALIST.

Let's salute them all, these men and women who brave all kinds of dangers to get the world the truth.
PS: The May Chidiac feature on the Newsweek website was produced by the London-based Journeyman Pictures, an independent documentary and news channel that has uploaded more than 4,000 videos on YouTube. Watching some of these films will be a good learning experience for all those who are interested in journalism and a special treat for those who want to specialise in documentary film-making.