Western journalists in Syria and Indians in Maoists country: a comparisonby Saeed Naqvi
LAST month, a conversation with journalists in London centred on Marie Colvin, the war correspondent, with a Moshe Dayan eyepatch, working for the Sunday Times, who was killed in Baba Amro, Homs, in Syria. The paper she worked for is owned by Rupert Murdoch.
Does she qualify to be described a hero?
Ironically, just when hundreds of Colvin’s friends, relatives and colleagues were paying tributes to her at the Church of St Martin-in-the Field on Trafalgar Square, another employee of Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks along with her husband and colleagues was being charged with conspiring to pervert the course of justice. Brooks, of course, is much higher in the Murdoch hierarchy being the former chief executive of the News International.
When Colvin was being remembered in London, nearer home, in New Delhi, the managing editor of Tehelka magazine, Shoma Chaudhury, was writing an anxious editorial column about two of her journalists battling for life because of the disease they contracted while trying to demystify the forbidding forest area called Abujhmarh, natural refuge for rebellious Adivasis and their Maoists supporters, where a conflict between the Adivasis-Maoists combination, mining interests and the security forces makes the region worthy of journalistic enquiry.
This is what Tusha Mittal, 27, and Tarun Sehrawat, 22, set out to unearth, armed with their notebooks, pens and cameras
and equipped with bottles of water and
The conditions in which people live in the area are a startling story we must wait for. There is fear that we may not get the stories because the two, having spent days and nights in the world’s most inhospitable conditions and having drunk water from streams where buffaloes bathe, have contracted the strain of malaria which can be fatal.
Let us now compare the two expeditions — Marie Colvin’s and Tusha and Sehrawat’s.
Colvin was in the sovereign territory of Syria, without having a Syrian visa. She was part of the free-for-all, a sort of melee in which foreigners with Arabic speaking ‘fixers’ are being into Syria. Would Arab journalists have been justified in entering Ulster with IRA support when it was illegal to use Gerry Adams’ voice on BBC?
The Libyan war was fought with the help of a managed media. The idea was to turn the Syrian tide by cunning use of communications, flashing images of the conflict provided by rebel groups without any authentication. For enhanced credibility, accompanying commentary generally admitted the amateur origins of the footage. Scandal of Houla massacres is yet to be revealed. In true style of jihad, throats of Alawi children were slit with swords. Why would the Alawi army not use guns? And, footage from Iraq in 2003 is foisted on unsuspecting viewers as Assad’s brutality in May 2012! Really, if Goebbels had access to modern communication tricks, Hitler may have won.
Had Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, along with his intelligence colleagues who know Syria in great detail from Soviet days, not visited Damascus in February and furnished President Assad with details of the build-up of foreign assets, Baba Amro would have remained a safe haven, tunnels to Lebanon et al.
The crux of the matter is this: the Colvins of this world are part of the western war effort. Only non western, non Arab journalists, who are not in the conflict from any side, can be objective.
On the eve of Operation Desert Storm, when I decided to stay in Baghdad, the correspondent of London’s daily Telegraph received word from his editor that he would not like ‘our man to be behind the enemy lines’. For me, there was no enemy line.
This brought home to me my naiveté. I was nursing notions of objectivity about a conflict in which my western colleagues already had an ‘enemy’ in sharp focus. Unfortunately countries like ours, generally content with being passive recipients of Western media, do not realise that it is the west which always ends up choosing the enemy (or friend) for us. We are the perpetual Sancho Panza to Don Quixote!
Colvin’s death is a tragedy, of course, resulting from an audacious high wire act. But there is a touch of journalistic heroism in the effort of Tusha and Sehrawat, Shoma Chaudhury has written about.
Saeed Naqvi is a senior Indian journalist and distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation.
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