100 Years of War Reporting

It says a lot about the twentieth century that there is a museum devoted entirely to the wars of that century. It’s called the Imperial War Museum North, and it’s in London. One of the permanent exhibits in the museum covers the people who cover the wars: war correspondents. One of the most interesting points in this New York Times article about the museum is that, although the technology of war reporting has changed vastly, the issues that come up for reporters covering wars remain the same:

Indeed, what is most striking as you walk around the exhibition is the permanency of the themes. Ms. [Martha] Gellhorn from 1937 Spain and her successors during the 1990s war in the Balkans made very similar observations about their drive for morality and truth rather than striving endlessly, and perhaps fruitlessly, for the appearance of absolute objectivity.

“We knew, we just knew, that Spain was the place to stop Fascism. That was it. It was one of those moments in history when there was no doubt,” says another of Ms. Gellhorn’s quoted remarks on the walls. And the many television screens embedded in the walls feature interviews with correspondents of a more recent era: Vaughan Smith of the Frontline news agency giving his assessment that “objective journalism isn’t wrong, it just needs to be identified and clearly packaged and labeled,” and Maggie O’Kane of The Guardian on her refusal while reporting from Sarajevo to equate documented human rights abuses on one side with unverifiable claims by spin doctors on the other.
… the issues and problems remain constant: the struggle with censorship, the difficulty of balancing access to military commanders with control by them, the problem of identifying with the soldiers around you, the guilt of wearing helmets and bulletproof jackets while reporting from among civilians who do not have them, the struggle not to become inured to suffering and cynical in the face of abuses of power, the debate over whether to show graphic images of suffering, and perennial struggle to assess, minimize and justify the dangers involved in reporting from the front lines.

“A long career of risk-taking has taught me that gambles tend to come off: it’s the failure to take the plunge which you usually regret later,” opines John Simpson, the BBC’s world affairs editor. “You can’t take no risks,” is the blunter conclusion from one of his television colleagues.


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Filed under International, Media, Society, War

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