Our job is more dangerous, but more important: Colvin

Journalism has become both more dangerous and more important, Sunday Times foreign correspondent Marie Colvin told a conference in London marking World Press Freedom Day.

Colvin’s comments were based on her experience covering the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

She told the conference on journalism and terrorism that she had been among a group of reporters who were targeted with stun grenades and rubber bullets by Israeli troops.

She also accused the Israeli Government of telling journalists "blatant lies" about what happened at the Jenin refugee camp.

"The only way you can contradict this is by going to dangerous places," she said.

Colvin told the conference she was more and more worried about the use of the word "terrorism" since September 11 as it had been seized upon by governments to describe their enemies.

She said: "I think we should describe what is going on and not use a term like terrorism for every act of evil."

The treatment of the press by the Israelis was a theme of the conference. Naim Toubassi, president of the Palestine Journalists Association, gave a bleak report of journalists being killed, jailed and beaten by Israeli soldiers and of papers being closed and broadcasting outlets destroyed. He said hundreds of journalists were out of work and were unable to tell the world what was happening.

His claims were backed up by Veronica Forwood, the British representative of Reporters Sans Fronti?res, who accused the Israelis of "deliberate violations" of press freedom in order to hide the truth. But she added "freedom of the press" also didn’t flourish under the Palestinian Authority.

The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland described the actions of Israel as "extra shocking" because it had a free press within its own borders.

Philip Knightley, the former Sunday Times journalist and author, claimed a dearth of experienced foreign correspondents and the axeing of factual television programmes on international affairs led to the US being taken by surprise by the terrorist attacks on New York.

"What happened to all the foreign correspondents who could have explained what was happening?" he asked. "They were sacked to make way for lifestyle, showbiz and all the other trivia. Budget cuts mean foreign correspondents run from one conflict to another."

There was criticism of the US media for being too partisan and afraid to report views that would upset their readers and viewers.

Forwood said the adoption of the so-called "patriot" anti-terrorist law in the US, which allows the FBI to inspect e-mails without going to a judge, curbed the free flow of information on the internet.

Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, argued: "The British media had a good war." He praised The Sun for its stand on urging its readers not to stereotype Muslims.

Ahmad Fawzi, UK director of the United Nations, read from a statement issued to mark the day which highlighted the dangers facing journalists worldwide.

He said: "In each of the past two years, more than 50 journalists have been killed while covering violent conflicts. Increasingly, such deaths are not the result of war accidents but the outcome of a deliberate targeting of journalists by those seeking to prevent media exposure of their criminal, corrupt or terrorist activities. The cruel fate of Daniel Pearl, to cite just one tragic case, illustrates how dangerous the profession of journalism can be."

The conference unanimously supported a resolution saluting journalists around the world who stand "in the frontline of freedom" and welcomed the award by UNESCO of the World Press Freedom Prize to Geoffrey Nyarota, editor of Zimbabwe’s Daily News. The resolution noted with concern that, in the aftermath of September 11, governments have taken steps to curtail civil liberties and restrict journalists’ rights to report.

It added: "It reminds all those in authority that the the main weapon of the terrorist is fear – and that the essential antidote to such fear is honest information, independently gathered and disseminated."

 

By Jon Slattery

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