Friday, 22 August 2014

The Dreams and Nightmares of Foreign Corresponding

“What makes a hero? Courage, strength, morality, withstanding adversity? Are these the traits that truly show and create a hero? Is the light truly the source of darkness or vice versa? Is the soul a source of hope or despair? Who are these so called heroes and where do they come from? Are their origins in obscurity or in plain sight?”
Fyodor Dostoyevsky


As many of you know, I had my mind made up from a young age that I wanted to be a journalist. With the exception of a mini-meltdown at Christmas in my final year of college, I've never doubted my choice. It's a hard career; difficult to break into and tricky to navigate, but I love it.

Over the next few decades, as I progress through the media, there are a number of personal goals and aspirations I would like to fulfill. Some of these are new additions, others, long-held desires. In the latter category falls foreign corresponding, specifically, in a war zone.

If you think I'm nuts, don't worry, you're not the only one. My poor Mum has a conniption when I mention this particular dream of mine, responding the way any mother would. It's not something I'll be doing anytime soon, but she knows that it's something which, if I have my way, I will do .

So there was a very particular kind of sadness I felt on Wednesday morning when I learned of James Foley's death. When I got the notification on my phone alerting me to the video circulating of him being beheaded, it was still possible to easily access the footage. I chose not to. The written description of his murder was horrific enough. I did not believe it appropriate or necessary to watch it in a three minute video.

                                                         Photo: freejamesfoley.org

Many thoughts ran through my mind as I brooded over this horrific event, the first of which concerned his loved ones, whose son, brother, friend and colleague, had just been killed in the cruelest way possible. As if that trauma wasn't bad enough, his death had been manufactured and styled and broadcast in a propaganda video, to be viewed and circulated by extremists with an internet connection. Sometimes, words fail to properly convey the injustice and heartbreak of a tragedy.

In the aftermath of Foley's death, many questions have been raised - one of which is why did Foley, who had previously been taken captive in Libya in 2011, chose to once again, place himself directly in harms way?

I did not know Jimmy Foley, but I think I know a bit of what motivated him. I do not claim to speak on his behalf, but from one kindred spirit to another, I think I understand why he made the choices he did.

In a country torn apart by war, violence, poverty, deprivation, and in places often dependent on Western intervention for an end to conflict, the role of a journalist is imperative. Somebody needs to tell the story.

Foley, like many journalists who report from the frontline, do so because they believe in a cause greater than themselves. Reporters who place themselves in dangerous situations do so because they believe that the story they're trying to tell is worth the risk.

There are those who argue that in our digital age, with protests and military attacks being available online from citizens filming the events on their phones and tablets, that a foreign correspondent can do their job just as well from behind the safety of a desk.

But foreign corresponding takes the fundamentals of journalism - truth, accuracy and accountability - to another level. For many correspondents, they don't believe it's possible to cover the Syrian civil war, the violence in Gaza, the massacre of the Congo, without being a direct witness to the events. You need to be there; talking to the people, feeling the ground shake beneath you as air strikes litter the sky and ground, investigating the groups involved. If you doubt this, I would suggest reading this piece by Anjan Sundaram.

To craft a story that will make people hundreds of miles away react needs heart and guts. It needs details that can only be gathered with a physical presence. It asks for the potential sacrifice of your own safety in order to highlight the plight of others. It is not an easy choice to make.

I remember when Marie Colvin died in 2012. She was, and remains, a role model of mine. Her courage and dedication, her tenacity and talent, continue to inspire me. The day that her and Remi Ochlik were killed in Syria, the world of war corresponding was dealt a great blow.


                                                                  Photo: npg.org.uk

In the most fitting tribute, those who knew and admired James Foley honoured him by sharing personal photographs of him and memories, funny and insightful, of the wonderful man they loved. Not the hateful, evil video of his death.

Foley, Colvin and the many other brave journalists who risk their welfare and sometimes, sacrifice their lives, in order to try make the world a better place are heroes. Nothing less. They not only dreamed of a world where - if people only knew the suffering, the truth, the extent of the horror of the most dangerous, conflicted regions and people in the world, then good could prevail - they actively campaigned to bring that dream to reality. They will not live to see their legacies. They will never know the extent of their reach, how much their lives and work mean to so many people.

They paid the highest price for their honour and bravery. Their death's, a nightmare that will never cease to sting. But they did so with the courage of their convictions, selflessness, and an eternal compassion - this is how they should be remembered, this is the story that needs to be told.

Mucho Love,

Vicky xoxo
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