Marie Colvin (1956-2012)
About a year ago, I was having a drink in a bar in Coromandel, New Zealand with some fellow travellers. When the conversation turned to me and what I do for a living, one of my companions asked me what sort of photography I admired the most. Without hesitation I responded 'photojournalism'. The fantastic images that are produced in the direst of circumstances by people driven to tell the world what's happening leaves me breathless.
About the same time, Marie Colvin was reporting on the deaths of a group of civilians in the Syrian city of Homs. It was one of the last reports she filed.
On 22 February 2012 Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik were killed in Homs, Syria. Their deaths weren't unfortunate incidents encountered in the terror and confusion of conflict. Eye witness evidence, including that from Sunday Times photographer Paul Conroy, suggests that the make-shift press centre was deliberately targeted by Syrian government troops. Colvin had never been a journalist who pulled her punches, and the implication is that her coverage of the deaths those civilians, including a young boy, at the hands of government forces, had been a step too far for the Syrian regime.
Colvin's and Ochlik's deaths weren't the only losses to the journalistic community last year. In fact, 2012 was the most dangerous year on record to be a journalist: 90 of them were killed whilst on assignment. In addition, there were those injured and those held captive or missing.
For seven members of the journalistic community this brings the prospect of a day without news too close. Aidan Sullivan, David Friend, Lynsey Adarrio, Tom Stoddart, John Moore, Sir Daniel Bethlehem QC, and Sara Sofanelli are the key players behind the A Day Without News? campaign, launched today, on the first anniversary of Colvin's and Ochlik's deaths, with the ultimate aim of bringing about the prosecution of those who deliberately target or threaten journalists.
Contrary to what many people believe, the majority of journalists who cover conflict and disaster aren't thrill-seekers or adrenaline junkies. They're people who passionately believe that stories need to be told; that knowledge trumps ignorance. Their work is inherently dangerous, Colvin admitted that she was forced to weigh 'bravery against bravado', but it should not make them direct targets and their deaths should not pass with impunity.
In early February this year, Westminster Coroner's Court ruled that photojournalist Tim Hetherington had been unlawfully killed when he and a group of other journalists were mortared in Misrata, Libya, on 20 April 2011. It was the same attack that killed American photojournalist Chris Hondros. This ruling, that Hetherington's death cannot be attributed to the ghastly phrase 'collateral damage', re-inforces the fact that to deliberately target a journalist is to perpetrate a war crime.
For A Day Without News?, the aim is to successfully prosecute the perpetrators of war crimes against journalists. When reporters and photographers are no longer considered legitimate targets or expendable and foolhardy it might help to ensure their safety, and the continued reportage from conflict zones, that little bit more. If we're to avoid a day without news, journalists need to be able to do their job, to report the news. This is becoming increasingly difficult with the risks too great for freelances and retained staff alike. Since 1992, 971 journalists have been killed and there are now fewer journalists covering the conflict in Syria than there were in Libya.
A Day Without News? is asking that you show your support for the journalists who report on events across the globe, through your tweets, likes, blogs, and the campaign's own website as they seek the prosecution of those alleged to have committed war crimes against those who report the news. So that we can all continue to read, watch, listen to, and indeed, write, the news.
Back to school - If you'd like to learn more about taking photos, why not try the Photocritic Photography School? Regular lessons and feedback on your photos from Haje and me - go on, sign up, you'll love it!