Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Front Line Is Not the Most Dangerous Place for a Reporter

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Front Line Is Not the Most Dangerous Place for a Reporter

Article excerpt


THE BEST advice I ever heard about being a war correspondent came not from a journalist but an admiral. Horatio Nelson once told his commanders that if they found themselves out in the ocean and not knowing what to do, they should simply find an enemy ship and attack.

That's the best maxim I know for reporting on wars: head for the action.

The nearer you are, the better.

And, in fact, the front lines are not the most dangerous places for war reporters.

Seven journalists have died in Afghanistan in the past week and all of them were killed not in conventional fighting across front lines, but in the helter-skelter chaos that has followed the sudden collapse of the Taliban.

Last week, three journalists were hitching a ride on top of an armoured vehicle - always a risky move, as these things attract shells - when it was attacked by a stray Taliban unit cut off by the assault forces. And earlier this week, in an incident that has knocked the stuffing out of the rest the press corps here, four journalists were executed after being stopped by roadside bandits on a supposedly safe road.

What is so hard about these latter deaths is how unnecessary they were - the bandits could simply have robbed them and fled. There was no reason for the killing beyond the casual brutality that haunts this country.

Of the seven wars I've covered for the Standard, this has been the hardest logistically. Afghanistan is country almost without electricity, which means finding generators, plus the fuel and the spare bits to keep them going. It is a country which has no running water, which means water-purification tablets and never touching the fruit. It has almost no roads.

And in these hard times, it has no cuisine beyond mutton, naan bread, green tea and rice that tastes of goats.

Luckily, one thing this country does have, even on the front lines, kiosks which sell toilet paper.

The loos are the worst. At the

press centre north of Kabul, the toilet was a hole cut in the floor of the outhouse, made of the same mud and straw as the rest of the building. And little by little, this floor began to dissolve, until there seemed the risk that some poor reporter would fall straight through to meet an unimaginable fate. Luckily, Kabul fell first.

One saving grace is the Afghans, who are hardy and goodhumoured.

Another is the people around you. Not all of them, of course. There are many towering egos, and all the stories about bitchiness are true. There are "star" reporters who write lies, and others who specialise in stabbing colleagues in the back.

But there are some good people around, and in fact in these past few days, when everyone has pulled a bit closer after the killings, you find out who they are. Special mention to CNN's Christiane Amanpour on this count - her generator is making this story possible. …

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