A GROUP OF ANOINTED PEOPLE
According to Reporters without frontiers twenty
journalists have died since the beginning of this year in various conflicts
around the world
09:00 on the 19th of November, a convoy of eight rough shod vehicles carrying
a group of International correspondents covering the Afghan war, left
Jalalabad en route towards Kabul. They had been wining and dining the
night before in the broken down hotel Spin Ghar, exchanging anecdotes
like most of their profession would, prior to embarking on one of the
climaxes of their assignments. It was to be a fateful journey that would
mark them for the rest of their lives.
Three of the vehicles had overtaken a bus and managed to speed ahead of
the rest. Suddenly, a group of armed men appeared from nowhere and stopped
the approaching vans. The first was able to accelerate away from the control
leaving the other two to the mercy of the highwaymen. They were forced
off the road and whilst the drivers fled, the remaining occupants were
ordered out of the vehicles. Without warning, they were beaten and shot
and left by the wayside.
Maria Grazia Cutuli of the Corrieri della Sera, Australian cameraman Harry
Burton, photographer Azizula Haidari and Julio Fuentes, the Spanish reporter
from the El Mundo were lying in a pool of blood in the middle of nowhere.
It was Spains first correspondent casualty in the War against
War correspondents are a special breed of journalists second to none.
A combination of inbuilt intuition, writing skills and courage coupled
with a constant urge to divulge information on whatever conflict is the
flavour-of-the-day; they are a unique group of anointed people.
From quilt pens to typewriters, from telegraphic access to modern day
mobile phones and videoconferencing they have, throughout the ages, managed
to open the eyes of the complacent public to the everyday horror of mans
inhumanity to man. They maintain a special camaraderie and bond, and seem
to be a cut above the rest of the media world that is in constant competition
for the first and best headline of the daily news. They are also mad!
Did you ever eat fish heads and rice, or try to keep warm in a C54
at 15000 feet, 20 degrees below zero? Did you ever get shot at, run over
or sandbagged at night because somebody got unfavourable publicity from
your camera? Try and find a raincoat in Brazil even when it isnt
sometimes, the food you eat is made from things you
couldnt even look at when theyre alive! was James Stewarts
answer to Grace Kelly in the film classic Rear Window. Apart
from being confined to a wheelchair and uncovering a murder, his character,
war photographer L.B. Jeffries, couldnt wait to get back to the
But there are other war correspondents that went on to fame and immortality.
Rudyard Kipling, the famous novelist and Nobel Prize winner, who wrote
umpteen eternal classics, was a journalist in India for seven years. Sir
Winston Churchill started his correspondent career in Cuba at the end
of the nineteenth century, ironically reporting for the Daily Graphic
on the Cuban/Spanish war. He continued his writing exploits on the northwest
frontier in India as well as part of Kitchners expeditionary force
up the Nile not to forget his brilliant coverage for the Morning Post
of the Boer war in South Africa. We all know about his later achievements!
But todays world is different. Regardless of heroics, war continues
to claim the lives of those who try to keep us informed. According to
Reporters without frontiers twenty journalists have died since
the beginning of this year in various conflicts around the world. From
the Philippines to Paraguay, from Algeria to Northern Ireland, a cameraman,
photographer or writer has been caught in the crossfire of the warring
factions. Despite precautions such as bulletproof vests and guarded escorts,
somewhere, someone will continue to meet a bullet or a bomb with his name
on it. Why do they do it? Why do they continue to risk their lives in
lieu of a plush office job in the newspapers headquarters?
Julio Fuentess colleagues may have the answer.
Were not heroes or war punks! Were not crazy. We hate
war because we know it. We believe that with our work we could even end
it, said Gervasio Sanchez, co-author of the book The eyes
of war and a close friend of Julio. War is invisible until
its made cruelly visible by a tribe of correspondents, added
Manuel Leguineche, another Spanish expert on the Afghanistan conflict.
The journalist is always an uncomfortable witness, he concluded.
Despite the tragedies, the civilised world recognises the importance of
war correspondents. Spain is no exemption. Still plagued by terrorism
in the Basque country, it pays special tribute to those who fight and
die with the pen. Julios body, together with those of his dead colleagues
were taken by road from Jalalabad to Islamabad, Pakistan. From there his
and that of Italian correspondent Maria Grazia Cutuli were flown to Rome
in an Italian air force plane. His wife Monica, another journalist and
the Director of El Mundo were with him on his return to Madrid, Spain.
Back home, he was received by a multitude of dignitaries ranging from
the Spanish media to members of the government. His casket was taken from
the craft and carried among others, by his own father. Minister Pio Cabanillas,
said at the press conference: He died for a value that is key to
our democracy. That of the freedom of expression. A strange fate
awaited Julio on his return as a dead hero. He was posthumously awarded
the 2001 Godo Prize for Journalism. The jurys verdict was simple:
In our view, Julio Fuentes has represented, in his professional
career and the circumstances of his death, the efforts and sacrifices
needed to serve his readers.
International reporting as a whole is being transformed. Ever since the
11th of September, the American public in particular has recognised the
need to be better informed about world events. An embryonic organisation
known as The Centre for War, Peace, and the News Media has
appeared on the Internet. Their objective is a program that will work
within the journalism profession to promote the rethinking of international
coverage in the post-Cold War era. Their message is straight to the point:
Citizens are often left uniformed about forces impacting their lives,
not ready to follow or contribute to national debates about fundamental
international issues and ill-prepared to deal with the consequences when
the world impinges on their lives, as it did on September 11th.
Their ultimate aim sums it up: A coordinated program to work with
journalists interested in addressing the problems presented by a world
increasingly characterized by cross-border flows of capital, people, information,
ideas and terror.
Julios ultimate sacrifice may not have been in vane after all.
© James Skinner. 2001
Previously from James : Assault
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