The risk of the witness

"It's a journalist's job to be a witness to history. We're not there to worry about ourselves. We're there to try and get as near as we can, in an imperfect world, to the truth and get the truth out."
Robert Fisk

The last few weeks have really been a stark reminder of the dangers faced by reporters. Last weekend, The Sunday Times paid tribute to Marie Colvin by republishing her dispatches from various war zones over the years. There were also tributes from colleagues and pictures of her before her trade-mark eye patch and after, diligently writing down what her interviewees were saying.

In the same issue of the Sunday Times, was an interesting piece by Christina Lamb; The Despot’s new rule: kill the messenger (£).  In it, she writes that “press jackets are now a dangerous item of clothing as regimes deliberately target war reporters in a bid to hide their brutality.” Framing the article is a gallery of reporters who were killed on the job: they include Nicholas Tomalin of the  Sunday Times killed by a rocket in 1973 covering the Arab- Israeli Yom Kippur war, David Holden, shot through the heart at Cairo airport in 1977 whilst writing a book about the Saudi royal family, Rupert Hamer defence editor of the Sunday Mirror, killed in 2010 in Helmand when his vehicle drove over a roadside bomb, and Tim Hetherington killed last year in Libya.

There are others, too. This week my inbox has been filled with Amnesty Urgent Actions and press releases with news about journalists held captive in Libya by militias, or held incommunicado in Damascus.

Abukar Hasan Mohamud Kadaf, the former director of private radio station Somaliweyn, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen on Tuesday evening in front of his home in Mogadishu. He was the third journalist to be killed in the Somali capital in just two months.

It’s hard not to feel that this is a particularly risky time to be a journalist. It is hard not to feel inadequate when gorging on the words and pictures of brave journalists who have deliberately put themselves in harm’s way in order to relay the truth, the horror and the human stories from various crevices of the world, back to us in the safety and comfort of our homes.

Our way of paying homage to journalists are our annual media awards, which recognise excellence in human rights reporting. We have been soliciting entries for a few months now, and the deadline is tonight. The awards will be presented at London’s BFI on 29th May and no doubt there will be some of the work from journalists who have put themselves at risk over this last year, amongst the winning entries.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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