Inside Out – May 06
Those of you who have climbed the final flight of stairs to our Frontline Forum will have seen three photographs of journalists on display. It’s an undeclared wall of honour recognising three outstanding journalists among the terrible toll that Richard Sambrook writes about this month.
Kurt Schork was an exemplary American journalist admired not only for the quality of his reporting for Reuters, but also for his humanity. Schork was killed in Sierra Leone on 24 May 2000 along with Miguel Gil of the Associated Press. Like Schork, he had come late to journalism and was universally admired. The killers of Schork and Gil at that crossroads outside Freetown have never been brought to justice and likely never will be. It is, as Sambrook and INSI document, an all too familiar story. And yes, I am wondering as I write, why we don’t we have a picture of Miguel Gil on the wall. I am going to find one and put it up.
The second picture is of Veronica Guerin, the Irish investigative journalist made famous by two films documenting her brave efforts to expose Dublin’s drug barons. She was to have spoken in London at the inaugural conference of my European Centre of The Freedom Forum as part of a panel I had titled “Dying to Tell the Story: Journalists at Risk.” On 26 June 1996, she was shot dead at midday outside Dublin, just two days before the conference was held.
The third picture is of an African I believe is the most courageous journalist I have ever met – Mark Chavunduka from Zimbabwe. If you look carefully at that picture, you will notice that his face was badly disfigured. It was the result of savage beatings and grotesque torture that he and fellow reporter Ray Choto received at the hands of Robert Mugabe’s henchmen in January 1999 – a punishment for their front-page exclusive report on the failed coup against Mugabe’s regime published in The Standard. Despite 11 days of hellish torture – that should send the perpetrators to the International Criminal Court – Mark and Ray never named their sources.
As if nearly killing them wasn’t enough, and despite international appeals for their release, they were then charged with publishing false information. Both had been allowed by a high court ruling to leave Zimbabwe, and Mark had been selected as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard. Mark chose to return to Zimbabwe to stand trial even though he knew that at any time he could be murdered or once again arrested and tortured. I shall never forget what he told me standing in the bright sunlight on a street overlooking Hyde Park when I implored him not to go back to Zimbabwe. He said “I weigh my fear of Mugabe against my responsibility not to let him destroy my reputation and frighten me away, and I must return.”
Mark did go back to stand trial, and the courts did rule that the law under which he was arrested was unconstitutional. But that battering in Harare in 1999 had taken a terrible toll and Mark died in 2002 from a long illness.When we gather, as we did in too few numbers recently, on World Press Freedom Day, I am reminded of what the American reporter Pete Hamill said so beautifully in his sparkling little book News is a Verb: “I can’t believe that these good men and women died for nothing. I know they didn’t.
They died because they were the people chosen by the tribe to carry the torch to the back of the cave and tell the others what is there in the darkness.”