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Journalism in the danger zone

Like many other journalists, war correspondent Marie Colvin was killed in Syria as she tried to report back home on the atrocities. Ny Tid has spoken to the photographer who was involved in what was to be her last assignment.


In 2012, US war correspondent Marie Colvin decided to sneak into Syria, after her visa application to cover the conflict in the country had been rejected. Together with her regular photographer Paul Conroy, she went to Homs to report on the Syrian army's siege of the city, in what was to be her last mission. documentary Under the wire is based on Conroy's book of the same name, and reproduces with archival footage and interviews the dramatic days before and after the bombing that killed the American correspondent.

No revolution

During Dokufest in Kosovo, Colvin's photographer colleague takes the time to talk to Ny Tid. Paul Conroy is eager to tell, not least to honor Marie Colvin's memory. The photographer, who is himself a former soldier, praises the deceased correspondent for her courage. Together, the two reported from places no one else dared to go. "When we covered the storm of Tripoli, we slept under a tree so as not to miss anything. After nine days we retired to the hotel and were greeted by a stiffly decorated international press corps. We ourselves were so dirty that we had problems getting a room, "he says.

As some of the first international journalists in the war-torn Homs, Conroy and Colvin saw with their own eyes what happened in the start phase of the Syria war. And Conroy has no illusions about the regime's intentions: "There was no revolution or rebellion, but ordinary people who took to the streets in protest after five children were executed because of a graffiti. People talk about the good guys og the bad guys, which is just nonsense. Assad killed his own population, neither more nor less, »

Conroy remembers meeting a soldier who was at the forefront when the army opened fire on the protesters. "He was still in military service – none of them professional. The soldiers were ordered to shoot the protesters, and those who deliberately aimed too high to avoid hitting civilians were themselves shot by the secret police who hid in buildings behind them, ”he says.

Journalists attack targets

An improvised media center served as a base while Conroy and Colvin told the outside world how the Homs siege hit the civilian population – about the widows who had lived in a basement and had not seen daylight since the war started, about the doctors who desperately worked around the clock at the makeshift medical clinic. But such news was not popular with the regime. The media center became a separate attack target, and reporters realized they were in danger. "We had no time to lose and called the BBC, CNN and Channel 4 to report to them directly. We didn't think we were going to survive, ”the photographer says.

The day after these dramatic events, the media center was also bombed. Marie Colvin was killed and Paul Conroy was about to lose one leg. "The worst was the time afterwards. Marie was dead – and the rest of us were injured and couldn't escape. For five days we were just waiting to be killed, ”he says.

The West rounds

Under the wire describes the stubborn journey when Conroy was finally evacuated from Homs and smuggled back into safety. Then it would take six months in hospital and just as many months of rehabilitation before the photographer could go again. Meanwhile, many people wanted to talk to him – both the UN, the then Prime Minister David Cameron and the British security service M16 came to him for advice. "I explained how Assad had the plan ready to use a Syrian" rebellion "to play on the sectarian lines in the country, thus securing power over the vast Sunni majority. IS was the perfect excuse for his brutality against the people to look like a reaction to an insurgency led by outside terrorists. And the West went right on the glue stick and tragically believed that it was IS that was the problem, ”he says.

The war in Syria has been characterized by allegations of fake news. Depending on the interests at stake, the reports from there may be diametrically different. According to Conroy, this warlords fit perfectly: "Those in power prefer to work in the dark – therefore all means are used to undermine journalists who direct the light into their shadow world," he says. Colvin and Conroy's history shows the conditions of journalism today – that the reporters themselves have become the target. Many will prevent the truth from coming forward, and for repressive regimes, journalists are therefore the number one enemy. Turkey's President Erdogan has even stated that this profession is worse than terrorists. Conroy has no doubt that Assad is of the same opinion. "The Syrian regime has a list of journalists who are too busy. Colvin's and my name was on that list, "he says.

truth Witness

How do we manage to orient ourselves in a world where you can't trust the media – the fourth state power – to tell us what's true? Is journalism a dying business? Conroy believes it is still an honorable profession: “None of us are motivated by money – you won't get rich in this job. The night before Marie died, she asked me if I would still be here if I had not been paid. And of course I wanted to. I didn't even have to ask her. Journalists who risk their lives at work do so for the right reasons, ”says the photographer.

The mission of the war correspondent is to be truthful – to tell the world what is actually happening. Youtube videos and social media can increase access to information, but never replace professional, source-critical journalism. Colvin was relentless when it came to her sources, says Colvin: "She always had to get to the bottom of what had happened – she dug up corpses if needed."

Marie Colvin died at work, driven by a desire to uncover the truth about the war. And Conroy carries the flag on. 'I was there, I saw what happened. My job is to rewrite history. I have no choice. It was the only thing the people of Homs asked us to do – to tell the world what happened. "

Under the Wire premiered in the UK with 7. September. In November, an American feature film based on the same story, called A Private War.


Emma Bakkevik
Emma Bakkevik
International freelance writer for Ny Tid

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