In a seminar organized by the Department of Political Science, titled “Conflict Reporting” on Sept. 21, 2011, renowned journalist, Suhasini Haidar, talked about the dangers in conflict reporting and the space it has captured in the minds across the world.
Suhasini Haidar is the prime time anchor for CNN-IBN. She worked as a producer and correspondent for CNN in New Delhi before moving to CNN-IBN in 2005. Her regular coverage areas include most parts of the sub-continent including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and her recent gambles were on the conflict-ridden lands of Libya and Syria.
Suhasini Haidar started her lecture by giving a glimpse into the kind of world conflict reporters live in. “The age old saying of ‘don’t shoot the messenger’ is very apt. But the danger we face today has changed.” She said that journalists are not the target often. They are there only to cover the story.
After having spent seventeen years covering Kashmir, and then the Gujarat riots, Lebanon bombings and the recent stories on Libya and Syria, she said that the greatest danger that a journalist faces is perhaps the deadline for the story among other things. “I also fear getting into a car accident on the way to cover a story.” On a more serious note, she explicated that out of the ninety-seven journalists killed in the year 2010; only ten were killed in an international conflict. “Most journalists are killed in peace time,” she stated.
Ms. Haidar talked about the recently killed Pakistani journalist, Syed Saleem Shahzad, and his ability to go into conflicts he wasn’t invited to. “He often said that he felt safer in a sense in places like Waziristan,” she said.
She went on further to say, “Many believe it was the people inside the Pakistan army or the ISI who picked up Shahzad, and his dead body was found later. What happened to him doesn’t happen everyday but the message is going home to many journalists.”
She said that in most countries if you go against the government or the sensitive institutions, it is unlikely that people will look into your rights. She further cited statistics about the 173 journalists killed in 2003 and the many that live in exile, away from conflicts.
Ms. Haidar moved on to noting the dangers journalists face in conflict reporting. The first and foremost danger she talked about were the threats from government officials and militant groups.
“There have been cases where journalists had been kidnapped because they were journalists,” she said.
She then discussed the danger of being an embedded journalist who make themselves a potential target. They travel with the armed forces and “no where can they cross over. It is difficult to cross the line. You come out alive only when your army does.”
Later, Ms. Haidar explained the concept of identity journalism. “A journalist is no longer a person who only bringing home a story.” There is more identity than that. There is a complete change in the picture the world now sees of a journalist, she explained.
“Of course, there is the identity of nationality. For instance, in the Kargil war, the journalists stood behind the flag. It was about nationalism then,” she stated.
The problems of religion and region were her next focus. She explained how regional issues, in particular, influence the telling of the story by the journalists. She talked about Telengana and Gujarat riots.
“But in essence, journalists are secular,” she claimed.
Despite all the dangers, journalists want to be covering the story and not become a part of it. “Ninety-nine percent of journalists do not want to be protected,” she declared. There is a need for not recognizing the power of a journalist but of “using” that power.
Later in her presentation, she shared her experience while covering the crisis in Libya. “It was not about religion or region,” she said, “but it was a clash of two worlds there. When we landed there, the aura was that Gadaffi was evil. He had to go. Gadaffi was a dictator for thirty years, of course. Benghazi was in danger, possibly. But nobody had documentend Gadaffi’s forces’ ‘perpetual mass genocide’.”
After her talk, she took questions on the status of Indian journalists, Naxalists and the US control on information and reports across the world.
Her advice to the people present there was to become smarter viewers and interpreters of the news, and to understand that not everything that manages to get on camera is the ultimate truth.
In this era of globalization and high speed technology, “there is no excuse for not knowing the other side of the story,” she proclaimed.