Reporting from War
"Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result." That quotation is from Winston Churchill, reflecting on his time as a young war correspondent. That exhilaration and the romance attached to it still infuses the popular image of the war correspondent as a dashing figure living on the edge and in danger, all in pursuit of the truth.
The reality couldn't be further for war reporter, Janine di Giovanni. She approaches her work like an anthropologist by embedding herself in conflict zones.
As journalists we're meant to be objective but sometimes the truth isn't objective, as much as I tried to try to see it from all sides. The fact was that I was living with civilian people who were being exterminated and the world did nothing.- Janine di Giovanni
Janine di Giovanni's goal is to understand how war, disease, and poverty have impacted human lives in war torn communities.
In the 2018 Peter Stursberg Foreign Correspondents Lecture, she details her experiences covering disease outbreaks, genocides and sieges in the Balkans, Africa and the Middle East.
There are experiences of war that are universal and timeless: death, hunger, displacement, but reporting from war has changed drastically since World War II when CBC war correspondent, Peter Stursberg was reporting.
Janine di Giovanni never planned on being a war reporter. In the 1980s she travelled to Israel to profile Felicia Langer, a Jewish lawyer who controversially represented Palestinian political prisoners because she believed that everyone had a right to legal representation. Felicia took her to the West Bank and Gaza and what she witnessed changed her life forever.
"I spent basically the next two or three years talking to people from all stretches of life: Israelis, Israeli soldiers, Israeli settlers, Palestinian activists, Palestinian radicals, potential suicide bombers, people who had been imprisoned, people who'd been tortured. I lived in refugee camps for months. It really was a kind of my descent into something. It really was embedding before embedding was invented as a term for reporting."
She went to Sarajevo to cover the war in Bosnia, to Rwanda, then, to countries all over Africa, including Sierra Leone. Her most recent reporting has been from Syria.
While all of these wars share commonalities, there was something different about Syria.
"Syria is the most painful heartbreaking difficult story I've ever covered. Two reporters, Steve Satloff and Jim Foley were captured by the Islamic State in 2014 and beheaded.
So my son's horrible fear that I would have my head cut off by a sword didn't come from nowhere. Syria was the first time really where reporters were kidnapped, were beheaded, were killed. And this is a new thing.
We were always shot at in Bosnia. You know there was a price tag on our head by the Serbs, 50 deutschmarks, which isn't very much so it was kind of insulting. Now it's 'you're kidnapped and if your country doesn't pay for you...' Which Canada does not pay, the UK does not pay, and the U.S. does not pay."
Janine has recently returned to America after 30 years of reporting from war and she is alarmed to see the breakdown of the free press, the broken rule of law, and diminishing of human rights in her own country.
The Peter Stursberg Foreign Correspondents Lecture series is offered annually by Carleton University's Journalism program in collaboration with the Canadian War Museum.
**This episode was produced by Margaret Reid.