Saturday 15 December 2018

Galizia joins long list of female journalists killed in the line of duty

Journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was murdered in Malta on Monday. Picture: AP
Journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was murdered in Malta on Monday. Picture: AP
Lara Logan
Marie Colvin
Anna Politkovskaya

Judith Woods

As news emerged that a female investigative journalist had been killed in a car bomb on Malta, the shock waves were felt across a continent.

Daphne Caruana Galizia (53) was a fearless reporter who had accused the island's top politicians of corruption. Her voice was silenced with horrifying finality this week when her hire car was blown to smithereens; a killing calculated to serve as both punishment and warning.

Meanwhile, no one yet knows why Mexican broadcast journalist Cecilia Mendez was murdered in a hail of bullets the same day, as she drove her car through Guadalajara.

These two assassinations bring to mind the words of former Reuters correspondent Anne Sebba, who wrote in her book on female war reporters, 'Battling For News', that in this day and age "women are targets". Sebba was speaking of conflicts in the Middle East, where a Western woman who enters the theatre of war is often regarded with hostility.

"Women are targeted more, because a lot of these conflicts are now in Muslim countries," she says. "They see Western women wearing provocative - that's their word, not mine - clothes, and therefore, they feel, the West has to be taught a lesson, that they're fair game."

Sexual assault and intimidation are commonplace; CBS war correspondent Lara Logan was beaten, sexually assaulted and, in her words, "raped with hands" in 2011 while covering the Egyptian revolution in Tahrir Square. She spoke out in order to try to remove the stigma, but her experience is not unique.

Read More: Slain journalist's sons urge PM to go

In 2013, the UK-based International News Safety Institute and US-based International Women's Media Foundation published a report which found nearly two-thirds reported some form of harassment or violence on the job; six had been raped. Meanwhile, Mexico's National Network of Journalists has documented the murder of 19 female journalists. Could it be their instinct to dig for personal stories puts them in more danger?

Phoebe Greenwood, a freelance reporter based in Israel, says women often make the majority of correspondents first on the ground in the Middle East.

"Obviously there were the superstars who paved the way such as Kate Adie, Marie Colvin and Orla Guerin but now we are on a total equal footing to the men when it comes to reporting in conflict zone," she says.

Contrary to Sebba's experience, she believes they "sort of become a third gender and in some ways are safer because we are women. The Muslim men treat us with a kind of deference and actually talk to us about the war, their strategy and their weapons - which they wouldn't do with the women of their country. It's very difficult for the male journalists in Muslim countries to talk to the women and children. As a result, women can often get more colour about a conflict or the latest situation with greater ease."

She mentions the late, great Colvin whose loss, five years ago, is still mourned. Her life had been spent in dogged pursuit of the truth; undaunted by losing her left eye while covering the Sri Lankan conflict in 2001, she was singularly unfazed by Colonel Gaddafi's efforts to seduce her whenever she interviewed him. But in 2012 Colvin was tracked down and murdered by the Syrian government, seeking to silence her reporting on civilian casualties in the besieged city of Homs, according to a lawsuit filed by her family against Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Social media has made it easier to report, but easier to be tracked. Russian journ-alist Anna Politkovskaya was unflinching in her coverage of state atrocities carried out in Chechnya; the authorities relentless in their pursuit of her. She endured violence, intimidation, was subjected to a mock execution and poisoned on a plane when she went to cover the 2004 Beslan school hostage crisis. Two years later she was murdered at the flats where she lived.

The roll call of female reporters in hostile situations reveals any number of household names, from Lyse Doucet at the BBC to US-based Janine di Giovanni, who received the Courage in Journalism Award last year for her reports from war zones.

But Daphne Caruana Galizia was slain in peacetime on her own soil. She was killed moreover not because she was a woman reporter, but because she wanted justice. She paid the ultimate price for her crusade.

Irish Independent

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