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Courage in journalism

Jessica Reed
31 October 2007

This week the International Women's Media Foundation awarded its "courage in journalism" awards to eight nominees: Lydia Cacho from Mexico, Serkalem Fasil from Ethiopia and six journalists from the McClatchy Bagdad Bureau in Iraq (NYT link).

This is Sahar Issa's speech, who accepted the award on behalf on her colleagues (via the IWMF'S site):

[quote]To me, this award means that my colleagues and I have succeeded in what we set out to do; and that our voices have carried, through war, through death and sorrow, through sleepless nights and fear driven days in an effort to reflect the picture of our country as we see it, and of out people as only we can truly know them.

To be a journalist in violence-ridden Iraq today, ladies and gentlemen, is not a matter lightly undertaken. Every path is strewn with danger, every checkpoint, every question a direct threat.

Every interview we conduct may be our last. So much is happening in Iraq. So much that is questionable. So much that we, as journalists, try to fathom and portray to the people who care to know.

In every society there is good and bad. Laws regulate the conduct of the society. My country is now lawless. Innocent blood is shed every day, seemingly without purpose. Hundreds of thousands have been killed for seemingly no reason. It is our responsibility as journalists to do our utmost to acquire the answers, to dig them up with our bare hands if we must.

But that knowledge comes at a dear price, for since the war started, four and a half years ago, an average of about one reporter and media assistant killed every week is something we have to live with.

We live double lives. None of our friends or relatives know what we do. My children must lie about my profession. They cannot under any circumstance boast of my accomplishments, and neither can I.

Every morning, as I leave my home, I look back with a heavy heart, for I may not see it again - today may be the day that the eyes of an enemy will see me for what I am, a journalist, rather than the appropriately bewildered elderly lady who goes to look after ailing parents, across the river every day. Not for a moment can I let down my guard.

I smile as I give my children hugs and send them off to school; it's only after they turn their backs to me that my eyes fill to overflowing with the knowledge that they are just as much at risk as I am.

So why continue? Why not put down my proverbial pen and sit back? It's because I'm tired of being branded a terrorist: tired that a human life lost in my country is no loss at all in the eyes of the world. This is not the future I envision for my children. They are not terrorists, and their lives are not valueless.

I have pledged my life - and much, much more, in an effort to open a window through which the good people in the international community may look in and see us for what we are, ordinary human beings with ordinary aspirations, and not what we have been portrayed to be.

Allow me, ladies and gentlemen, allow me to reach out. Help us to build bridges of understanding and acceptance. Even though the war has cast a dark shadow upon your nation and mine - it is not too late. I thank my bureau chief and our editors for retaining a high standard of balance and credibility, and I thank you all for being here today.

Good Day.[/quote]

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