Why media management has to be held accountable (young journalists and freelancers also take note):
Much has been made about the life and death of Marie Colvin over the years. There’s a film out about her, a book and many articles in newspapers and magazines. Now she’s in the news cycle once again, as a US court seeks compensation from the Syrian regime deemed as responsible for her death.
I’m not writing this piece to get into her personal or professional life, her ambitions or any other side of her character (that’s all been done). I’m writing this piece because I see media management in general, as a huge failing for far too many media deployments gone badly in conflict areas around the world. And I’m using Marie’s death as an example of just one of those failings.
I’m still angered every time I see a write up about the sad death of this journalist, and here’s my reasons why:
I knew Marie for years, first meeting her in Jerusalem during the Second Intifada between the Israelis and Palestinians back in the early noughties.
The first thing that struck me was why her bosses were sending a person wearing an eye patch to cover a dangerous conflict? She wore a patch over one eye like a badge of honour (having had an eye severely damaged during the Sri Lanka conflict). You cannot effectively move around a war zone or hostile environment with 50% vision, when really you need eyes in your arse.
I had lunch in London with her once. We chatted about working in war zones. I mentioned that no story is worth dying for…she disagreed. I then mentioned that if you’re willing to die for a story, what about the team around you? That could simply include a local fixer and a driver. Most of the time these individuals are basically working solely in order to feed their families. And what about individuals willing to go that extra mile to extricate you, should you get yourself into a seriously dangerous scenario? She said it was their choice, they could walk away any time.
On the occasion of her death, she and others around her, and indeed her bosses back home all knew what she was getting into. This part of the city of Homs in Syria was being bombarded on a daily basis by artillery, mortars and other weapons for days. And continuing as she was in there. There was plenty of footage from social media through citizen journalism, getting out there to show the dangers…all the warning signs were there. As a security adviser to journalists, I would never have escorted a small team into that area of Homs at that point. It was absolute madness in my mind.
Given however, that she was a warm body willing to go, the plan for survival along with the plan for their news gathering, should have been to go in…get their story…and get back out to safety. Only then, should they get onto their sat phones/computers and send back their story or give live reports.
For years now, in different conflicts around the world, journalists have known that they can be targeted by all sides. These conflicts have no rules, and no longer are they seen as travelling down the middle of the road with freedom to report the news, that all ended a very long time ago, if indeed it ever existed? They should know that they are being followed, watched and listened to by many means. Management and individuals on the ground, ignore those facts at your peril!
Therefore, to go live on her sat phone or computer, and be taken by CNN, the BBC and others while in the “safe house” on the ground, makes those networks and their management, as well as herself and her own management from her own newspaper, completely complicit in her death…in my view.
Those just mentioned are well aware of the pitfalls, if you cut corners on journalists safety versus an early story for their viewer’ and/or readership’ ratings!
Simply put, it’s nothing short of corporate manslaughter.
In my time working in conflict areas with the media, I’m not aware of one single manager from top to bottom of any media outlet who has been sent on a management course. I find that shocking given that those same individuals are responsible for sending people to news gather in war zones and other hostile environments!
I have no doubt whatsoever, that with a combination of managers attending management courses, and of course being held accountable for their failings, journalists’ deployments to hostile environments around the world would have a much better outcome in the future.
However, as it stands right now, I’m aware of far too many individuals being killed, wounded or kidnapped simply through a combination of their management’s and their own failings. It’s too easy for individuals on the ground and hungry for a news story to get clouded in their vision of how to move forward. That’s why it takes good sound managers to help share that responsibility and see clarity through common sense.
Had Marie Colvin been better managed, and of course way more switched on to the situation, I’m sure she’d still be out there somewhere (but not in hostile environments), writing her great stories and continuing to hold truth to power.