Whoever said that journalism should be safe?
The spirit of FNTV was captured in the first image we saw of Rory Peck and Peter standing next to a shattered helicopter before a backdrop of the Afghan mountains. When asked if that was the helicopter that flew them in, Peter replied deadpan: “No, we actually walked across the border from Tajikistan.”
Such determination and innovation characterised the agency, which adapted to compete in an industry that often treated freelances as outsiders.
“We were the first group to start using these small cameras. We responded to the available technology, like the computer editing system and satellites. We were early adopters because that’s where the opportunity was to get into the news industry.” — Vaughan Smith
This resourcefulness resulted in one of FNTV’s central successes when Vaughan impersonated a British officer to circumvent the ‘grotesque news management’ of the reporter-embedding system during the Gulf War in 1991. This masquerade produced the only footage of rockets heading for Iraq, and in John Simpson’s words: “The best piece of combat footage I’ve ever seen.”
Peter’s recount of filming the civil war in Liberia touched on the humour of being chased down a street by gangs fresh from looting bridal and lighting shops – wearing full wedding gowns and lampshades on their heads – and the horror of witnessing the murder of a mother and child and the ethics of reporting in conflict.
“I tend to film things that sometimes are not very palatable, but I see it as my job to record these events…. It’s very important to stay neutral. My job it to witness it and film it…. It’s a very difficult position to be in and quite dangerous. The Afghans always kill for a purpose which you can figure out and avoid those situations, but in the case of Liberia, they would kill for no reason.” — Peter Jouvenal
Of course it’s a dangerous job. Vaughan maintains that he’s been shot more times than he’s been credited by the BBC, and not all of the FNTV cameramen survived – founding members Rory Peck and Nick della Casa both died in conflict – and absent friends were remembered last night.
“It’s not a safe job, but then, as Tira Shubart said to me, whoever said that journalism should be safe? Safe journalism is the kind of journalism you don’t want to be a part of.” — John Simpson