Maggie O’Kane /The Guardian – 2005-11-05 08:40:27
LONDON (September 29, 2005) — Boys, balls and wars are back in the news again. Currently at an employment tribunal is Richard Gizbert, a war reporter who claims he was sacked by the TV network ABC for refusing to to report on any more wars. His line is that he’s got the T-shirt. He’s done Bosnia, Rwanda etc and he’s had enough. ABC dispute this line and claim they have just run out of dosh.
As a retired war correspondent, who basically lost her nerve in Afghanistan in 2002 (three colleagues were taken out of their car and executed by the Taliban in roughly the same amount of time as it takes to boil a kettle), here’s a few thoughts, for what they are worth.
Martin Bell gave testimony for Gizbert this week and called for an end to “macho journalism”. When he says of the war correspondent that “courage is a finite source, rather like petrol”, he gets it almost right. I would not be so prosaic as to call it courage — more ambition, nerve, recklessness and, sometimes, even passion. But whatever it is, it runs out for most of us.
Recklessness and the News
The old nerve is probably best personified by John Simpson’s personal liberation of Kabul. (I continue to wonder why he is still at it.) Simpson, with no idea if the Taliban were still around and killing people like him, walked into the city with his team — leaving all the rest of us behind doing what we were told.
He was slagged off for it royally but as with most great scoops and great telly, everybody else was just jealous.
His recklessness has something of the feel of old days of reporting about it, and, hey, what a buzz it used to be. In the words of another foreign correspondent of my acquaintance:
“I get up this morning and my one task is to get to do the interview, get the pictures, keep us all alive and get back in time to feed the story. But electricity bills, whether my wife is really going to leave me; why my kid isn’t doing the better at school? Hey, I’m a war reporter — I don’t do all that normal really boring stuff called real life.”
Broken Spirits, Broken Marriages
Who knows how many marriages cracked up because the women back home got tired of doing all that normal really boring stuff called real life?
But as Gizbert now knows, I suspect, the old days are over. Good war reporting is dying. The hacks are coralled in a single hotel where huge egos bang off the wall and each other. After a week or two, the atmosphere becomes suffocating.
Who is planning what scam? Why has so and so been in his room for three hours? Have they got a line on Basra/Fallujah/Saddam’s trial? Panic. Since Al-Zarqawi’s people started cutting off heads it is too dangerous for foreigners to go out. So, instead, his poor Iraqi fixer is off to some hell hole to count the bodies and get the pictures (20 foreign journalists may have been killed so far in Iraq, but 37 Iraqis working with foreigners have died).
And that is the great tragedy for war reporting now. We no longer know what is going on but we are pretending we do. Any decent reporter knows that reporting from Baghdad now does a disservice to the truth.
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