February 27, 2012

Tribute to Marie Colvin - The Fearless Journalist

While the journalist fraternity mourns the inhuman killing of war journalist, Marie Colvin by the ruthless Syrian forces. Brutality in Syria has been met with outrage by the peaceniks.

As a concerned audience, we await the news of the latest updates on the war-affected zone. The brave escapades, the tragic civilian deaths, the brutality and ruthlessness of government forces and we have been witnesses to historic wars and conflicts through the live coverage of courageous journalists. And, Mary Colvin is one such grand veteran testimony of unabashed selfless grit and determination ensuring the world never missed out on her eyewitness accounts, which were broadcast on CNN or the BBC because though a staff reporter of more than 20 years’ standing for The Sunday Times, she was – as usual – the last journalist not to have fled.

But sadly the news from Homs, where brutality under a cruel dictatorship would not trickle down to us. We would not know how many people have been killed or what areas of the town are under bombardment, and that is because Marie Colvin, one of the bravest journalists, ever to report a story has been killed by shellfire in Homs while covering the current uprising in Syria.

The American-born reporter for the London Sunday Times, Marie Colvin, along with a young French photographer, Remi Ochlik, were killed in Syria on Feb 22nd. They were killed when the Syrian forces shelled the makeshift media center, where they were staying to cover the Homs battle. At least three other journalists, including Paul Conroy, a freelance photographer travelling with Colvin, were wounded.

56 year old Colvin dared to go where many brave journalists feared to tread. Marie Colvin said: 'Someone has to go there and see what’s happening … we believe we do make a difference.'

Colvin’s streak for adventure and audacity to bring hope to the war ravaged was undaunting when she disclosed, "I entered Homs on a smugglers' route, which I promised not to reveal, and climbing over walls in the dark and slipping into muddy trenches,"

Colvin wrote in an article published by the Sunday Times on Feb. 19. "Arriving in the darkened city in the early hours, I was met by a welcoming party keen for foreign journalists to reveal the city's plight to the world. So desperate were they that they bundled me into an open truck and drove at speed with the headlights on, everyone standing in the back shouting 'Allahu akbar'—God is the greatest. Inevitably, the Syrian army opened fire."

Ms Colvin, in her final dispatches had detailed the unfolding conflict in Homs, which has been the focus of unrest against the Syrian president.’ Colvin reported on shelling in Homs for the BBC and CNN, in which she described the bloodshed as “absolutely sickening”. The killing was not an accident, it was pre-planned to extinguish the presence of journalists from Syrian soil.

The killing came days after many journalists were asked to evacuate Syria. But the gutsy Colvin along with few other journalists decided to stay back and report the horrors and dangers boiling in Syria. According to Jean-Pierre Perrin, a journalist for the Paris-based Liberation newspaper who had been with Colvin in Homs last week, told London's Telegraph that Syrian forces had threatened to kill journalists there.

"A few days ago we were advised to leave the city urgently and we were told: 'If they find you they will kill you,'" Perrin said. "I then left the city with the journalist from the Sunday Times but then she wanted to stay back." Perrin said he was told the Syrian Army "issued orders to 'kill any journalist that set foot on Syrian soil.'"

In a message to a friend the night before she was killed, Colvin admitted that she was still baffled and angry that the world could simply stand by as Homs burned.

Marie wanted the world to wake up and solve the crisis. Disgusted by the horrors of the war and killing of civilians she had pointed, "Every civilian house on this street has been hit, the top floor of the building I'm in has been hit, in fact, totally destroyed".

She had added "It's a complete and utter lie they're only going after terrorists, they are targeting civilians as well." Her coverage was infused with emotion. In Syria, Colvin said government forces were committing “murder” and she described how she had witnessed a baby die from shrapnel wounds.

She was never mawkish, but nor was she minded to stand idly by and witness massacres. Colvin was a guest on Anderson Cooper’s show before she was killed, "There's been constant shelling in the city," Colvin said. "So, Anderson, I have to say, it's just one of many stories ... It's chaos here." Colvin made sure her stories of atrocities helped the world to learn the plight of the helpless.

Her reports were influential because she prioritized small human details as well as her passionate appeal to international governments to act. Later she told CNN of her hope that "that little baby will move more people to think why nobody is stopping this murder that is going on in Homs every day." It was her female, more empathetic approach to war journalism that made her such a stand-out.

Studies into the influence of female war reporters suggests that their increasing presence since the mid-70s encouraged a shift from an artillery and military-based focus to one more concerned with the impact of warfare on civilian victims.

She was known for sporting a black eye patch, after she lost an eye when she was ambushed by government soldiers in Sri Lanka, while reporting during an attack in 2011, an injury she later said unhesitatingly was 'worth it'. Writing in the Times following that incident, Colvin vowed to continue reporting in war zones despite the risks. What was striking about her was there complete absence of self-pity. Colvin has never been heard complaining about the hardships she endured or the effects of witnessing so much pain.

A peek into the Hero’s personal life

Marie Catherine Colvin was born on January 12 1956 in Oyster Bay, New York, to William and Rosemarie Colvin, both schoolteachers. Her father was a former US marine who had served in Korea, and he eventually gave up teaching to become a political activist for the Kennedy Democrats.

She studied American Literature at Yale, where she got her first taste of journalism by working for a university newspaper. Her urge above all, however, was to become a foreign correspondent. She swiftly convinced UPI to promote her to the Paris bureau, where her dash, good looks and dark curls soon won her a host of admirers. She spent most of her life going from one conflict to another, embedding herself in the eye of the storm in Chechnya, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka.

She married three times but never had children; her relentless drive not just to report the facts of war, but to urge the powers that be to respond was the beating heart of her existence. She wrote and produced documentaries, including Arafat: Behind the Myth for the BBC in 1990, and she featured in the 2005 documentary film Bearing Witness with four other female war reporters.

She was twice named foreign reporter of the year (2001 and 2010) in the British Press Awards. She was given an International Women's Media Foundation award for courage in journalism for her coverage of Kosovo and Chechnya. And the Foreign Press Association named her as journalist of the year in 2000.

Colvin constantly weighed “bravery against bravado”

In 1999, she scored her dramatic triumph in East Timor when Indonesian troops closed in on a United Nations compound in Dili, where 1,500 people had taken shelter, the UN wanted to pull out and leave the refugees to their fate. Marie Colvin and two other female journalists remained in place, defying the UN, and the world, to do nothing.

Eventually, shamed by the courage of the reporters, Indonesian forces allowed the refugees to leave and the international community stepped in. Marie Colvin’s presence had undoubtedly helped save many hundreds of lives. In another incident, based with Chechen rebels as Russian troops cut off all escape, she found that the only route out was a 12,000ft mountain pass to Georgia. During an eight-day midwinter journey she strode through chest-high snow and braved altitude sickness, hunger and exposure.

Colvin has been admired by her colleagues for being eloquent, passionate and courageous. She had a fearless zest for life, never hesitating to get straight to the heart of the story no matter how dangerous. She made sure she focused on the suffering of individuals and brought their stories to light. For most of her esteemed fraternity, she was a formidable competitor but also a good and generous colleague.

She was also incredibly glamorous, funny and exuberant. She sacrificed a lot for her work. She had two failed marriages, never raised a family and never had a conventional personal life. She lived for her work and died for it. She loved life, and brought an American energy to the countless parties she graced over many years. She could be found at the heart of the conversation, cigarette and brimming vodka martini in hand. Colvin’s enthralling character and her journalistic talent was that tyrants like Gaddafi were charmed by her, and sought her out, even as she eviscerated them in print.

Last year, she published an account of her encounters with the late Libyan leader over 25 years. It was entitled “Mad Dog and Me”.

Marie Colvin always maintained: 'Someone has to go there and see what’s happening people are being shot at, and others are shooting at you.. we believe we do make a difference.'

Colvin was a fearless and formidable woman, committed to telling the world the truth about its atrocities - and it’s shameful reluctance to combat them - her whole working life. Channel 4 News anchor Jon Snow called her "the most courageous journalist I ever knew."

Often compared to the ferocious spirited journalist, Gellhorn, Colvin displayed an extraordinary bravery that put her in a position to deliver the wartime stories of rebels, underdogs and ordinary citizens. She was doing precisely this when she was killed, telling the world of indiscriminate government shelling of “a city of cold, starving civilians”. Colvin’s life echoes bravado, strength, the undeterred courage and determination in facing risks in order to tell the world the truth, giving her life revealing man’s inhumanity.

Colvin wrote of the importance of telling people what really happens and about "humanity in extremis, pushed to the unendurable". She continued: "My job is to bear witness to history.” She wrote about people so that others might understand the truth. Colvin paid a price for telling truth to the world. But she did not put her life on the line to win acclaim. Instead it was by being in the line of fire, by sharing the risks of those she was writing about, that she was able to produce her immensely powerful coverage of conflict’s human toll.

Robert Fisk, once said, If we rely on Governments, official sources or the powerful, we are finished as journalists. A war journalist’s life is pretty tough; Colvin’s killing is an eerie reminder of the danger lurking in war zones, with bullets flying and of deadly atrocities taking place in Syria. When it comes to exposing a cruel dictatorship to the world, to add Peter Preston’s words, ‘there's no substitute for a war reporter’.

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