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Deadly Responsibility

Luckily, there aren’t a lot of jobs in which you can get other people killed. Sadly, reporting from war zones is one of them. Listening to the radio, I heard about four journalists from the New York Times who were captured by pro-Ghadafi troops in Libya. They were beaten; their Libyan driver has vanished and may well be dead. One of the journalists was Stephen Farrell. He and his Afghan helper Sultan Munadi were seized in Afghanistan back in 2009. A British soldier, Cpl. John Harrison, and Munadi were killed during Farrell’s rescue. I’d like to think Farrell’s just unlucky. Back in 2001 Yvonne Ridley sneaked herself into Afghanistan before the Taliban were outsted power there. She was caught and the two Afghans helping her were arrested. I’ve asked contacts in Afghanistan and Pakistan whether it is true that the two were executed. No-one has been able to tell me. I remember Ridley from her days at the Journal in Newcastle upon Tyne. I wouldn’t have put my life in her hands. One of the problems with journalism is that journalists increasingly tend to come more and more from privileged backgrounds. In the world they come from, people don’t get killed or murdered. I remember one journalist who was killed by gangsters. The thing is that she didn’t believe they would kill her. She didn’t carry on in spite of the death threats, she just didn’t take the threats seriously.  On the other hand, I took death threats seriously. It’s not clear to this day how many murderers I went to school with; because a lot people think one guy confessed to a killing he didn’t commit in exchange for the real killer not murdering him, his sister and his mother. I never backed away from a story because of death threats but I took them seriously and I took precautions. However, I did pull out of one story, only time I did so in my whole career as a reporter, which involved organised crime because it would have involved working with another reporter to tie up an important loose end. I just didn’t think she had the brains to take the precautions necessary to keep both of us alive –  too much of a glory hunter. I tried to get the information other ways but it turned out that the only way to get it would have involved bringing in someone I couldn’t trust. You can't file a story if you're dead. Glory hunters, both in the military and in journalism, all too often get other people killed.

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