Journalists in peril – then and now.
For as long as humans have been about, there has been war. Be it of two tribes fighting over food or the great wars that many brave soldiers have fought in. Be it for freedom, greed or just plain old nastiness, wars have been around. Yes, wars have always been around and there has always been someone there to record it all. Why? Because knowledge is power, because those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it… because, and this is my favourite, because Western Countries are famous for disregarding terrible crimes, genocides and exploitations if they are far enough away enough to not affect them directly, and sometimes if the name of the country in ruins is a bit too difficult to pronounce. So we take notes, photograph when we can and we do this to be a voice for the people who have had theirs taken away from them.
Due to the fact that the journalists reporting in the Boer and Sudan war had caused a few let’s say, complications with the British government and what they wanted their public to think was actually going on, saying that world war one was censored is an understatement. Journalists sent to the front line were forced to submit every single article for checking and censoring before the articles were ever allowed to reach London. If these journalists dared to get the truth out there they had tribunals and possible imprisonment to face. There were a handful of journalist’s that fought for this that we are spoilt with today, Philip Gibbs and Basil Clarke lived as fugitives in France to afford the public the truth. It was strongly believed that the public could not handle the truth of the blood, guts and horrors of the war. A nation that rallied behind their army and believed they were safe and winning was a successful nation, a united nation. In doing my research you read the horror stories of men slaughtered, in their hundreds and all that would be allowed to be reported was that the fighting was even and that Britain was doing well. The biggest fear was that the journalists were in it for the glory and would write any sensational stories, stories that would inadvertently give the enemy information and help.
World War II was the equivalent to a teenager turning eighteen and being allowed to buy alcohol. The countries still under dictatorships and strict regimes were still censored and limited to what they were allowed to air on radio and print and they were subjected to ample propaganda. Ever since there have been humans, just like war, there has always been propaganda around, the Romans were known for exactly that. The space between China and the offshore island of Quemoy were littered with thousands of fake leaflets of fake families reporting to their fake relatives in the war of the fake attacks and so forth. At one point a total of 1,700 guns faced Quemoy, not for destruction but for the firing of more fake leaflets. Freelancing started to become popular around this time and along with radio stations and stringers these were the methods used in the war to report what was going on. Journalists although given a bit more freedom were still required to send their work to be censored before it could be released to the public. It is only after the creation of the OWI (Office of War Information) that journalists had a bit more liberty with graphic imagery and stories. At the end of the day, each nation in a war wants to win the war, so to censor reports does make sense, but is it worth it? Families not knowing the truth about their sons, husbands and brothers? So that the enemy didn’t find out some secret information that they probably knew anyway? In the end of it all, we can say that the journalists had more freedom in the second war but when you look at the facts, the government released what they wanted to be seen of their concerted efforts in the war.
No better than what our journalists are subjected to today, they were given a uniform to separate themselves from soldiers, they weren’t given any firearms and were expected to catch rides to the frontline to interview those in the trenches and ultimately put their lives on the line for a story that would be changed to one ending anyway, “We are doing well, we need to stay in the war.”
‘Another essential perspective in the media coverage of World War II was afforded by radio. The major broadcast- ers, ABC, CBS, and NBC, all sent journalists to report the war. Some of the most famous of these reporters were Ed- ward R. Murrow, best known for his poignant broadcasts from London during the Nazi air raids; William L. Shirer, whose riveting reports from Berlin and Paris described the Battle of Britain and the fall of Paris in 1940; and others such as Eric Sevareid, Charles Collingwood, and Howard K. Smith, who would go on to have successful careers in television news. Live radio provided an immediacy in the living rooms of Americans back home that anticipated the “television war” of the Vietnam conflict in the 1960s and 1970s’ – N/A. (N/A). journalism in WW2 on the front with Bill Mauldin and Ernie Pyle. Available: http://j387mediahistory.weebly.com/uploads/6/4/2/2/6422481/25_mauldin-pyle-wwii.pdf. Last accessed 22 Apr 2016.
Photograph: Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images
When looking at these great wars and trying to spot the differences between then and now, journalists are treated no better. We may have the illusion that censorship does not happen but in it’s own way it does. Today, newspapers are left winged or right winged, representing their chosen political party and ensuring that every single article reflects said party in a good light and I mean a sparkly, bright white light. If you, as a journalist feel that you don’t wish to conform you do have independent publications as an option but their readerships aren’t as big as mainstream outlets, thus meaning your voice is not heard as loud and by as many. The way the cookie crumbles now days is that there is always someone willing to do what you won’t and for cheaper so keep your head down, get on with it and let all dreams and aspirations you have stay as just that, dreams.
Today, journalists are leaning toward free-lancing; full-time journalism is becoming a dying job option. Editor’s can no longer afford to pay for full-time war correspondents as these entail additional crew, security, hotels and all kinds of flights and insurances. In the end at the rates these journalists are being killed, it’s just not financially viable or worth it. War journalists are often seen as adventurous, brave and definitely the friend leading the conversation at every single social occasion. The glamourisation of this profession has led to a spike in the number of free-lancers heading off to war zones for both the glory, prospective money and foot in the door for that amazing columnist job you’ve always dreamed of that comes with starting ones career off as a brave, interesting journalist who got an amazing scoop in the middle of some dangerous gun fight. This trend has been allowed to continue with editors jumping at the opportunity to get their scoop without having to spend their budget on security, hotels or anything at all, just the standard $80 required to buy a story.
This wouldn’t be as scandalous if it wasn’t for the fact that since the Bosnia war in the nineties, journalists are as likely to be killed as your normal soldier with his grenades, guns, helmets and training. ‘Veterans say the Bosnia war in the 1990s changed the idea that journalists should be off-limits as targets.’ dashiell bennett. (2013). The Life of a War Correspondent Is Even Worse Than You Think. Available: http://www.thewire.com/global/2013/07/life-war-correspondent/67038/. Last accessed 22/04/2016.
So young journalists putting themselves out there and taking risks to make their way up the ladder, that’s a good thing right?
These journalists grab their phone and a plane ticket to Syria and believe that they will get their scoop and make it big to return home a strong and successful war journalist. This romance story does not exist. The reality is that these young people are going out there without the proper connections needed to find a safe and reliable story in safe and reliable locations. They are hitching rides with rebel forces that they don’t know and landing up in the middle of ambushes and are now the cause of 2012 bringing in the most journalist deaths in war zones. They’re captured and beheaded and there is no publication out there to take responsibility for them. The lucky few that do somehow survive and have a wicked story to tell with it, get to sell their stories to the highest bidder and because the journalist has a personal hero story to report with loads of gore and action, the story sells and the journalist has now made it for future stories. But what about those dismembered journalists that didn’t make it? The editor’s don’t care, it’s not “their” journalist, Francesca Borri knows this all too well. ‘After more than a year of freelancing for him, during which I contracted typhoid fever and was shot in the knee, my editor watched the news, thought I was among the Italian journalists who’d been kidnapped, and sent me an email that said: “Should you get a connection, could you tweet your detention?” ‘Francesca Borri. (N/A). WomansWork. Available: http://www.cjr.org/feature/womans_work.php. Last accessed 22/04/2016.
In reality nothing much has changed over the years, the journalists are still expected to spend time in the frontlines to get the stories for the public, they still have to sell or send these stories to an editor and they still have to put up with it being changed to fit in with the newspapers views or have to write in such a way it won’t need to be changed so as not to lose out on a story being published. The journalists are still putting their lives at risk every single day for a story. In the years the amount of equipment needed has severely decreased from carrying around bulky lighting, lenses, reels and other paraphernalia to everything being compacted into our thin smart phones that can fit into our pockets. We now live in a global community so travelling, once available only to the adventurers and elite – is now there for your average Joe to use, not to mention companies like Easy Jet and Ryan Air that have made flights both affordable and so easy to book. This means it takes nothing for aspiring journalists to go out there with no Intel on the area they’re headed for but enough to know they can become the next big thing if they get the story. There is just such a disregard for human life, the more danger the journalist has been put in, the better. Ed Caeser tells us about it in his article on war journalism ‘As a group of Libyan rebels entered Tripoli in August 2011, the 28-year old Sunday Times correspondent Miles Amoore was with them. As these fighters approached Gaddafi’s base, Amoore was shot in the head by a government sniper. He was wearing a Kevlar helmet and survived. In typically nonchalant fashion, he dusted himself down and continued his work. A few hours later, he became the first reporter to enter Gaddafi’s compound.
With his entry into the Libyan despot’s stronghold, Amoore had a world exclusive. But that scoop only made the inside pages of the Sunday newspaper. On the front page, the Sunday Times ran a first-person account of Amoore’s near-death experience.’ Ed Caeser. (2014). Shooting The Messengers. Available: http://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/article/war-reporting. Last accessed 22/04/2016.
No one blames the newspaper for publishing the article on his bravery, the story would obviously sell. The issue at hand is that it appears the publication’s seem to have the best of both worlds here; journalists that they have no responsibility for, both financially and security wise and then stories about their brave journalists and how they got their amazing stories that did luckily make it out alive. There wouldn’t be a story about the journalists journey through hell to get the story if the journalist dies because they put the journalist there.
The purpose of this essay was to explain the war journalists evolution over the past one hundred years and whilst people like Ed Caeser and Francesca Borri are out there reporting on the things that matter and haven’t made it about their glory, it has become evident that that is what so many other people are out there doing it for, maybe not just the glory, it could just be sheer desperation for some work and money or that they want to sound really cool the next time they try pick up a girl/boy. In this century that is filled with technology and rapid change, one thing is steadfast and will always ring true to me; there will always be people exploited and hurt and crying out for help. The people being exploited aren’t necessarily only in front of the camera. What I’m trying to get across is that even though I have researched into just how dangerous and thankless this job could be, I still want to go out there. I still want to be in the middle of it all. I still want to help. Because the people, the human beings, the innocent victims are being hurt, have had their rights and voices taken from them and they need someone to give it back to them! They need us more than ever to share their stories and to show someone does care, so to those war journalists out there with the people and for the people, to you telling their horror stories, I salute you.
Photograph: Jean-Marc Bouju/AP 2003