Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Mourning the loss of Marie Colvin

Marie Colvin, who has died today under the Syrian onslaught on Homs, epitomised why we need a free press. Over recent weeks we have been forced to look at the gutter into which so much of the press has fallen that we might have forgotten what the press is really for.

When I was a journalist - a humble financial hack - the war correspondent was seen as the pinnacle of our profession. They were the people who embodied the key value that all journalists must strive for: to be a witness to the truth, to see and to tell others what they are seeing, to tell the story that is happening on the ground and its effect on the innocent and non-combatant.

Colvin was the best of this breed of fearless reporters, spending time in almost every war zone of the past 30 years, shedding light in the heat and fog of propaganda put out by both sides. She lost an eye reporting the war in Sri Lanka in 2001, a war that was almost invisible in the west as the media paid it very little attention. Colvin brought out the story of the horror of this inter-ethnic conflict unfolding on a scrap of land in the North East of the island.

At its best the press is about being a witness to the truth. We need a free and fearless press because governments and vested interests do not want the truth told about their activities, only their version of events.

So in the midst of the entirely justified outcry over press tactics now being investigated by the Leveson Commission, we need to remember what the press is at its best. It is tragic that it takes the death of a talented, fearless and clear-sighted reporter like Marie Colvin to remind us of this.

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