On journalism

October 18, 2007

Lady of the Barricade

As exciting and glamorous a companion as you could hope for while travelling down a deserted road toward a smoking horizon, in many respects Alexandra Boulat epitomised the image of the woman photojournalist. French, tall, straight-backed, graceful, striking; she never conducted herself with anything less than poise and style. Brave and funny, her legendary moods […]

October 16, 2007

In Memoriam: Alex Boulat

So we hugged and kissed and promised one anotherWe’d meet up in some shit-hole soon.She came out into the chill night to say how much she’d appreciated the number who had turned out, that I’d been able to come.I touched her hand and we parted – Forever it would seem…. Never again, that joyous smile, […]

September 21, 2007

Leaving the Palace

The soldiers lead a semi-nocturnal existence between guard shifts and operations. Reveille is usually a salvo of incoming mortar fire. Almost every man smokes and few could tell me what day it is, let alone the date. They have already suffered the worst casualty rate of any British unit in Iraq, and yet are not […]

September 20, 2007

Owning up to war

Since leaving them 20 years ago I have always wanted to film my old army regiment, the Grenadier Guards, on operations and I have just returned from staying with them in Helmand, in southern Afghanistan, where they have been involved in intense fighting. It was not my first attempt at filming the Grenadiers in action. […]

August 22, 2007

Sarko’s Struggles

The French are famous for their long holidays – never more so than in August, the sleepiest month of the year. It’s a month when the tumbleweed all but blows down the Champs Elysees. The cafes and shops that are still open here in August contain weary waiters and shop assistants, whose surly replies and unsmiling […]

August 21, 2007

In Roddy Scott’s Memory

Roddy Scott was one of a rare breed of journalist adventurers – able to take physical hardship, utterly dedicated to finding stories about real people, and working throughout as a genuine freelance – the kind of person the Frontline club was set up to support. His picture is one of eight in the frame next […]

August 8, 2007

Saving Storyville

Over the last decade I have made half a dozen films for Storyville. That simple statement doesn’t begin to convey how crucial the BBC documentary strand has been for me – and, I know, for documentary-makers round the world. Many of us who ply the documentary trade have, I fancy, some fellow feeling with those […]

July 20, 2007

Fleeing Darfur

We had been sitting in the tiny, twin-engined aircraft for three hours when I first caught sight of the rugged green peaks of the Nuba Mountains. The plane fell abruptly through a hole in the black sky.  Mike the pilot jabbed a finger through the left-hand window. ‘It’s your lucky day! There’s cloud all around, […]

July 20, 2007

Behind the Release

The call came on March 12th. “I don’t want to worry you, but Alan Johnston has not been heard from for a couple of hours.” He had not conformed to his regular daily routine of calling his colleagues after he arrived home from leaving work. It was a routine which had been implemented after the […]

July 19, 2007

Man with four lungs

The Serbs have a particular way of describing someone who lives life to the full. They say: “He moves with four lungs.” Tom certainly moved with four lungs in Serbia, where he did a lot of his best work – but also had plenty of fun along the way. Milena, his wife, asked me to […]

July 12, 2007

Fighting the Militants

The recent attempted bombings in London and Glasgow have highlighted the fact that Britain remains a prime target for al-Qaeda. Outside Iraq and Afghanistan, Britain is al-Qaeda’s most popular target, having faced more attempted attacks than any other country. Leaving aside various ineffectual plots, fundraising and propaganda efforts, the so-called Doctors’ Plot was at least […]

June 22, 2007

Bosnia’s Reckoning

There exists that constituency of people for whom the advent of July is less an occasion to relish summer than to cast the mind’s eye back to what Judge Fouad Riyad at the war crimes tribunal in The Hague called some of the ‘darkest pages in human history’- the bloodiest massacre on European soil since […]

June 19, 2007

Reporter’s diary

Lungi International Airport is a sight better than it was. It’s not long since livestock wandered across the runway. Now it has its international airlines back: BA three times a week. An independent called Astraeus operates an excellent service out of Gatwick and has understood something important about its market: its baggage allowance is a […]

May 25, 2007

Ukraine unravels

Just over two years ago it seemed Ukraine was firmly headed on a democratic path after its bloodless “Orange Revolution”. But for the last several months the country has been in political crisis and opposing demonstrators have crowded onto its streets. The crisis has revealed the ugly and deep-seated problems which endanger Ukraine’s very existence […]

May 19, 2007

Dying to get the news

Last year was undoubtedly one of the worst on record for deaths in our profession. Figures from the International News Safety Institute (INSI) show that the shocking total reached 167 and this enabled the organization to remind us that so many of our colleagues and those who worked with them had perished doing their jobs. […]

May 3, 2007

Frontline’s future

I have just come back from New York where the Frontline Club has put on its maiden US event. I was also looking into the possibility of opening a sister club along the lines of the London club. The event we held focused on our duty, as journalists, to cover the other point of view in […]

May 1, 2007

The death of Ajmal Naqshbandi

Ever since his videotaped beheading by the Taliban on the afternoon of Sunday, April 8, Ajmal Naqshbandi has become a household name in Afghanistan. No death in recent years has so galvanized public opinion here. Like the murder of Margaret Hassan in Iraq a few years ago, Ajmal’s has come to epitomize the horror of […]

March 19, 2007

Fires of Helmand

I had often wondered what it would be like to be pitched from the warm, sleep inducing sightless world of an armoured personnel carrier straight out the door into a fire fight. The moment arrived on the west bank of the River Helmand in early March with almost no warning. “Fucking hell,” a Marine corporal’s […]

March 6, 2007

The US press bites back

The recent Washington Post exposé by Dana Priest and Anne Hull of the egregious treatment of wounded troops at the military showcase Walter Reed hospital brought back memories of the aggressive watchdog coverage of the past for many. The subsequent efforts by the Pentagon to belittle or even deny the facts led to the removal […]

March 4, 2007

Afghanistan diary

In a ten day combat reconnaissance mission last week the Royal Marines of ‘J’ Company, 42 Commando, pushed into the Pashtun heartland of northern Helmand, the traditional bastion of the Taliban insurgency. Weaving between the towns of Sangin, Naw Zad and Musa Qala the marines conducted operations on a mobile patrol that covered more than […]

March 1, 2007

In Memoriam: Danny McGrory (1952 – 2007)

The Coroner said Danny McGrory had an unusually big heart. All his friends knew that – he was one of the most generous of colleagues, someone you were always pleased to be away with, reassuring personally and professionally. To those at The Times he was known as “McGrory the Story”, a reporter who could write, […]

March 1, 2007

Economical with the truth

At the end of an IMF assessment mission to Zimbabwe last month, the IMF team leader remarked on the parlous state of Zimbabwe’s economy. He noted that inflation is the highest in the world, at 1600 percent, that 80 percent of the workforce is unemployed, that commercial agriculture has been ravaged, that a majority of […]

January 28, 2007

Breaking China

A few weeks before moving to Beijing I bumped into Frontline colleague Fergal Keane.”China will be fascinating” he said, “but your problem will be to turn history into the news.” His words have echoed around my head throughout my first five months here. The explosion of capitalism in China is like nothing any of us […]

January 25, 2007

In memoriam: Juliet Crawley Peck (1961 – 2007)

Juliet Crawley Peck was beautiful, refreshing, inspiring, and exasperating in turns, a force of nature cast from some empire-building mould left over from another age. She faced with brisk equanimity the shooting of both of her husbands, the loss of an eye, and then latterly the cancer that returned to kill her. From her early […]

December 2, 2006

Covering Iraq

I always have a sense of dread when I drive through Baghdad. I don’t really want it to go away because it keeps me worried and alert. I see everything in terms of potential threat. Who is manning the next checkpoint? Is it the army or police? Or are the men in uniform I see […]

November 30, 2006

Al-Jazeera English (1)

Bad news is often good news for journalists. The assassination of Lebanese opposition leader Pierre Gemayel may have been exactly that for Al-Jazeera English, the Westernized cousin of the channel the Bush administration loves to hate. It wasn’t so much that AJE triumphed in its coverage of the Lebanese event but it did show signs […]

November 5, 2006

Al-Jazeera English (2)

Let’s start with the good things. The graphics (bought in from the same company that supplied CNN International’s new makeover) looked sprightly. In the first week, two of the flagship programmes did well.  David Frost managed to get an uncharacteristic slip out of Tony Blair on Iraq (he seemed to admit that the Iraq adventure […]

November 3, 2006

Death of a critic

It was an early morning phone call that let me know of the attack. Issa, a friend in Chechnya, his usually steady voice betraying just a tremor of fear, said unknown gunmen had opened fire on the car he had sent to collect me.  Of the two men inside, one was badly wounded. He said […]

September 26, 2006

On Release

You just know when the Head of News for the company your husband freelances for tracks you down at a Damascus hotel late in the evening that he’s not ringing to offer you a job. You know as the unfamiliar TV executive hastily introduces himself that he’s calling you with extremely bad news. Probably to […]

September 4, 2006

Feet in both camps (1)

In the July war in Lebanon we could never see the danger coming from the Israeli warplanes or know when they might suddenly strike. It made for apprehension, moments of  terror and lots of black humour. There was the constant roar overhead day and night. Then there was the constant buzz of the drones. Like […]