Stories of war, fear and not a little prejudice

The death, on Tuesday, of two cameramen and the severe injuries to three other journalists at the Palestine Hotel in the center of Baghdad was the latest reminder – in case anyone needs reminding – that being a war correspondent is a deadly business. Danger lurks all the time and, as the recent war in Iraq has shown, «friendly fire» provides no comfort; on the contrary, it has proven, so far, to be the deadliest enemy. Whether «embedded» (the neologism of this war) in armed forces or sitting in their hotel, war correspondents are even more vulnerable than civilians who, in some cases, have the choice to run for their lives or hide somewhere and not emerge until the carnage is over; the journalist has to seek the action, be as close to it as possible, often in the thick of things. With visual media playing an increasingly prominent role, this is even more true of photographers, cameramen and sound technicians. Indeed, danger defines the true war correspondent’s job, unless you take the view of the African newspaperman who preferred to stay at home while phoning in vivid dispatches supposedly from Baghdad and his predecessor, the Cypriot journalist who did the same in the first Gulf War, in 1991. In these circumstances, the publication of a book on «War News and the War Against the News» by A.A. Livanis publishers (in Greek) comes just in time. The book contains 20 accounts from one or several fronts by the tome’s 17 print or TV journalists and three cameramen, most of whom are quite familiar to the Greek public after a decade of covering events such as the first Gulf War in 1991, the long series of civil wars in Yugoslavia, the Palestinian intifada and the war in Afghanistan. The accounts are presented in alphabetical order. The book also contains 135 pictures taken by seven photographers, as well as 19 cartoons from well-known local cartoonists. At the end, there are several appendices, including the International Federation of Journalists’ code for the safe practice of journalism and several reports affirming the danger of depleted uranium. The book has been compiled by the Marangopoulos Foundation on Human Rights, whose president, Professor Emeritus of Law Alice Yotopoulos-Marangopoulos, a former rector of Panteion University, is a well-known public figure, as one of the first women to achieve a prominent position in academic circles and, in her mid-80s, still an active crusader for human rights. The crusaders Many of the narratives are interesting: After all, these are people who have been in unusual, tense situations and feel passionately about their work. But the overall quality is quite uneven, because many of the journalists prefer to ruminate on the nature of their job, rather than let the events illustrate the points they want to make. The best of the narratives are by those who portray the ambivalence of relations in war, without neglecting to mention its devastating effects on civilians. Thus, Stratis Angelis’s account of the Palestinian conflict («There Are No Angels in the Holy Land»), a piece by cameraman Stamos Proussalis («Before you sleep, think of whom you have been unfair to…») – which is much better than many of his writing colleagues’ – Tassos Telloglou’s «The war is starting soon…» are among the best pieces. Also, the last piece by Panos Haritos («Zaire: The Oblivion of Civilization») is a rare account from a front not often visited by Greek correspondents, perhaps because it neither concerns Greece directly or indirectly, nor does it provide a pretext for US-bashing. Speaking of which, US-bashing – along with Israeli-bashing – is unfortunately all too prominent in this volume. Intentionally, this is a crusading volume as part of its title («the War Against the News») says. Contributors who stray from strict objectivity declare, like TV reporter Eleni Kalogeropoulou: «I have been asked several times if I am objective… To be honest, certainly not: I believe it is a matter of culture to side with the weak and the wronged, with the victim and not the aggressor, even though the latter may invoke humanitarian reasons.» There is no doubt in the eyes of these people who the «victims» are: They are the Palestinians, the Serbs, the Afghans (even the Taleban). The aggressors are the Americans (who else?), the Israelis, the Albanians. Bias is, of course, displayed by Western media, while the Greek media, as Yotopoulos-Marangopoulos herself writes in her prologue, are balanced and objective. Without overlooking instances of manipulation by Western media, such blanket condemnations simply play to Greek prejudices. The worst example is Yiannis Diakoyiannis, a reporter with Ta Nea newspaper, who regurgitates the vilest anti-American propaganda («there was something suspicious about September 11»). For readers, the moral relativism of these oh-so-very-righteous people is often so infuriating, they might be tempted to put the book down.