I've often written about the bad side of journalism, and especially that of the Murdoch owned press, but just breaking is some shocking news of the noble sacrifices many journalists make in their attempts to report reality. A civil war which is rapidly becoming one of the bloodiest conflicts has claimed the life of the great Sunday Times journalist Marie Colvin. She was killed along with a photographer Remi Ochlik when the building she was staying in was shelled by Syrian government forces. The people who tried to escape were then targeted by rockets. Two other journalist were severely injured in the attack.
American born Colvin was the only journalist from a British paper in Syria, and has been described as the Martha Gellhorn of her generation. Witty, acerbic and fearless, only yesterday she filed reports for theBBC and CNN on the carnage in Homs.
“I watched a little baby die today,” she said. “Absolutely horrific.Last year, at a special ceremony in London at St Bride's Church for the 49 British journalists and media workers killed in war reporting over the last decade, Marie, who lost an eye due to shrap covering the Sri Lankan conflict, explained why she took the risks she did.
“There is just shells, rockets and tank fire pouring into civilian areas of this city and it is just unrelenting.”
In a report published in the Sunday Times over the weekend, Colvin spoke of the citizens of Homs "waiting for a massacre".
"The scale of human tragedy in the city is immense. The inhabitants are living in terror. Almost every family seems to have suffered the death or injury of a loved one," she wrote.
"Covering a war means going to places torn by chaos, destruction, and death... and trying to bear witness. It means trying to find the truth in a sandstorm of propaganda when armies, tribes or terrorists clash.Of course, the death of one journalist is nothing compared to the thousands of innocent civilians who have been slaughtered by the Syrian regime. Think of a citizen journalist like 26 year old Rami Ahmad Alsayed, killed in the streets of BabrAmr with three of his friends. He maintained a live video stream to provide graphic details of the kind of indiscriminate military terror Assad's forces had unleashed on Homs. Below is moving tribute by his brother of over Rami's body, detailing his wounds. WARNING: upsetting images.
And yes, it means taking risks, not just for yourself but often for the people who work closely with you.
Despite all the videos you see from the Ministry of Defence or the Pentagon, and all the sanitised language describing smart bombs and pinpoint strikes... the scene on the ground has remained remarkably the same for hundreds of years.
Craters. Burned houses. Mutilated bodies. Women weeping for children and husbands. Men for their wives, mothers children.
Our mission is to report these horrors of war with accuracy and without prejudice.
We always have to ask ourselves whether the level of risk is worth the story. What is bravery, and what is bravado?"
Marie Colvin, who described the situation in Homs as one of the bloodiest and most dangerous she'd ever seen, lost her life reporting how others were losing theirs. Her death brings home to us how lethal the situation is for most Syrians.
"Someone has to go there and see what is happening. You can't get that information without going to places where people are being shot at, and others are shooting at you.Let's hope that her death, like her life, keeps on making a difference, and this shocking news will shake the international community out of its indifference to the sufferings of Syria.
The real difficulty is having enough faith in humanity to believe that enough people be they government, military or the man on the street, will care when your file reaches the printed page, the website or the TV screen.
We do have that faith because we believe we do make a difference."
Marie Colvin emailed me on Mon from #Homs. said her report previous day in Sunday Times 'was one of those we got in to journalism for'
Here's the link to that heart rending report from the ruins of Homs
6:10 AM PT: And here's Remi Ochlik's Prize Winning Photo from Ras Lanouf in Libya last year
6:32 AM PT: It now appears that Colvin was deliberately targeted by the Syrian military because of the emotive nature of her reports from Homs
Jean-Pierre Perin, a journalist for the Paris-based Liberation newspaper who was with Colvin in Homs last week, claimed they had been told that the Syrian Army was "deliberately" going to shell their centre.
Mr Perin said: "A few days ago we were advised to leave the city urgently and we were told: 'If they (the Syrian Army) find you they will kill you'.
"I then left the city with the journalist from the Sunday Times but then she wanted to go back when she saw that the major offensive had not yet taken place."
Mr Perin, who headed to Beirut from Homs, said the Syrians were "fully aware" that the press centre was broadcasting direct evidence of crimes against humanity, including the murdering of women and children.
"The Syrian Army issued orders to 'kill any journalist that set foot on Syrian soil'."
It was in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, that Mr Perin received news of the intercepted Syrian Army radio traffic.
The Syrians knew that if they destroyed the press centre, then there would be "no more information coming out of Homs", said Mr Perin.