Person of the Year - Frank Gardner

Left
for dead by gunmen while reporting from Saudi Arabia in 2004, BBC
security correspondent Frank Gardner vowed to return. His comeback, in
April this year, is a story of courage, determination and commitment to
press freedom throughout the world

IN A YEAR when journalists
have faced an unprecedented level of danger reporting conflicts around
the world, Frank Gardner’s recovery from an assassination attempt and
his return to work as the BBC’s security correspondent this year
inspired Press Gazette to name him as Person of the Year following
nominations from readers.

Gardner, who was injured in a gun
attack in Saudi Arabia that left cameraman Simon Cumbers dead, could be
said to symbolise the risks so many journalists take reporting on
conflicts around the world and the so-called war on terror.

The dangers of working in Iraq in particular have reached such a level that many news organisations have pulled out their staff.

Recently,
the Independent correspondent Robert Fisk said that most journalists
had been reduced to ‘mouse journalism’ because they can only stay in a
place for a very short amount of time before they have to scuttle away
to avoid attack.

When some fear the dangers are becoming so great
that journalists will be prevented from doing their job, Gardner’s
determination to return to the BBC and continue to work as a security
correspondent seems all the more remarkable.

After repeated
surgery, he returned to work in April – 10 months after the gunmen,
believed to have been Al Qaeda terrorists, mowed him and Cumbers down.

His
courage was described by some who nominated him as a source of light in
what has become an increasingly dark time for journalists.

Shot
six times at point blank range, Gardner had been left to die by his
attackers and was unconscious for eight days after he was finally taken
to hospital.

He is now paraplegic and had to endure numerous
operations to his stomach and intestines, but six months later, in his
first interview on Radio 4’s Today programme, he vowed that he would
return to work in 2005, declaring: “You can’t keep me off air.”

Gardner
insisted that he return to his old beat and remains the only television
journalist in the UK dedicated to reporting on the war on terror full
time.

The decision to give the accolade of Person of the Year to
Gardner is in recognition of the personal qualities of courage and
determination that he has shown, as well as his ongoing contribution to
journalism. In October he conducted an interview with Gill Hicks, who
lost both her legs in the Russell Square bomb on 7 July, for Radio 4,
which was remarkable for its sensitivity.

The accolade is also in recognition of the dangers that journalists face daily in reporting wars and conflicts around the world.

According
to the International News Safety Institute, 96 journalists and other
media workers have died covering the Iraq war alone. They include Terry
Lloyd, Fred Nerac and Hussein Osman in March 2003, in the early days of
the conflict, and Mazen Dana from Reuters who was fatally shot through
the chest in August of the same year when an American tank mistook his
camera for a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and opened fire.

In
October, the Guardian’s Rory Carroll was kidnapped by Shia militia
fighters in Baghdad. As Rodney Pinder, the director of the
International News Safety Institute, has said: “There is no greater
threat to world press freedom as a support pillar to free societies
everywhere than violence committed against journalists.”

Person of the Year
RUNNERS-UP

This was the year when the citizen journalist emerged as a significant force in the world of journalism.

When
terrorists struck in London on 7 July, it was footage supplied by
members of the public that gave us the haunting images of smoke-filled
tube carriages. Since then newspapers and broadcasters have become
increasingly aware of the potential of their listeners and viewers,
armed with nothing more than a mobile phone as a source of pictures.

Most
recently broadcasters used footage of the early stages of the blaze at
a Hemel Hempstead oil terminal captured by residents.

The Daily
Telegraph recently joined other newspapers and broadcasters in calling
on readers and viewers to send in pictures of major events.

There
are some in the industry who argue that claims about the role of the
citizen journalist have been exaggerated and their overall impact on
journalism limited. But others point to not only the practical dangers
of copyright, but also to long-term risks, such as falling standards in
newspaper and broadcast journalism if cash-strapped organisations rely
increasingly on amateur pictures and footage.

The Chartered
Institute of Journalists has called on the media to adopt a code of
usage that protects the quality of news output and the jobs of
professionals, as well as the people who supply the material.

Like
blogging, the rise of the citizen journalist raises many questions
about checking stories and sources, but it is also unlikely to go away.

A
number of editors, particularly those who have left Northcliffe since
the summer, were also considered worthy of mention in the Person of the
Year debate this year. They are:

Sean Dooley, known as a
“brilliant newspaper strategist” within Northcliffe, ended his 18-year
reign as editor of The Sentinel in Stoke-on-Trent this month, and with
it a career in journalism spanning more than 40 years. One voter
praised him for “fighting the corner of regional journalists and for
the great newspaper story that was and is Sentinel Sunday”, a paper he
also edited.

Mike Lowe, who resigned from
his role as editor of the Bristol Evening Post in June this year after
nine years. Lowe was “a real journalists’ journalist and a damned good
editor for Northcliffe over a number of years”, according to one reader.

Terry Manners,
former Western Daily Press editor, who also won praise for resigning
“on a matter of principle” over changes being implemented by
Northcliffe, for his continued belief in quality journalism and because
he is an expert at “drinking chardonnay”.

Barrie Williams,
who celebrated the Western Morning News winning the Newspaper of the
Year award a week after announcing he was taking early retirement from
the paper where he spent 10 years as editor, because of “a major change
of policy and structure within Northcliffe”. One voter praised him for
resigning with “honour and dignity”.

Keith Sutton, who is due to retire next year as editorial director of Cumbrian newspapers.

Sutton
has edited the News & Star and the Cumberland News. The latter was
twice named Regional Press Awards Newspaper of the Year.

Alan Rusbridger,
editor of the Guardian, for being prepared to stake the future of the
paper on an £80 million relaunch in the Berliner format, never used
before by a UK national. This month the paper heralded a 6.29 per cent
year-on-year circulation rise to 401,029 as proof of the new format’s
success.

Derek Brooks,
FoC of the Bristol Evening Post NUJ chapel, for his efforts in gaining
re-recognition of the union and for proving himself “a campaigner of
great strength and inspiration” during “exceedingly turbulent times” at
the paper.

Other figures in the media who received nominations
were: Martin Newland, former editor of the Daily Telegraph; David
Mannion, editor-in-chief of ITV News; Piers Morgan, former editor of
the Daily Mirror and co-owner of Press Gazette; Simon Kelner,
Independent editor-in-chief; David Parsley, editor of City AM; Lord
Rothermere, chairman of Daily Mail and General Trust, owner of
Northcliffe papers; Murdoch McLennan, chief executive of the Telegraph
Group.

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