Think of the footage you see on the news from conflict zones around the world: the footage last winter of the fighting in the heart of Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, at a time when there were almost no journalists there; or the horrifying footage of more than eighty Albanians, many of them women and children, who had been scorched to death by NATO missiles in Kosovo; the image of the American soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia; yhe video footage of US-backed Indonesian militias as they rampaged through East Timor’s capital Dili. [includes rush transcript]
Often when we see this footage and pictures, we don’t connect it to the journalist on the other side of the lens. We don’t think of the reporter huddled over a laptop computer with a candle in a remote location in the midst of a war.
These images and stories often come from a small group of war journalists who travel from conflict to conflict as they attempt to broadcast these images to the rest of the world. It is for this reason that journalists often become targets themselves.
That was the case this week, just two days ago when two journalists were killed by rebels in an ambush in Sierra Leone. The journalists were thirty-two-year-old Miguel Gil Moreno de Mora, a Spanish-born cameraman for Associated Press Television Network. The final footage Gil shot was of the site of what is believed to be a massacre of about half-a-dozen UN peacekeepers from Zambia. The other journalist killed was fifty-three-year-old veteran Reuters reporter Kurt Schork from the United States.
Escorted by at least ten government soldiers, the journalists were traveling in two vehicles near an area hotly contested in recent days by pro-government forces and rebels of the Revolutionary United Front. They were ambushed about fifty miles east of the capital, Freetown.
We are joined now by two journalists who themselves are war correspondents and worked in the trenches with the two journalists killed.
- Paul Watson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. He has reported from conflict zones around the world. He is currently the Balkans bureau chief for the Times, most recently covering Yugoslavia.
- Serif Turgut, a reporter for ATV, a private satellite TV network in Istanbul, Turkey. She was a close friend of Miguel Gil Moreno and worked closely with him in Bosnia, Kosovo and elsewhere.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
Think of the footage you see in the news from conflict zones around the world, footage last winter of the fighting in the heart of Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, at a time when there were almost no journalists there; or the horrifying footage of more than eighty Albanians, many of them women and children, who had been scorched to death by NATO missiles in Kosovo; the image of the American soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia; the video footage of US-backed Indonesian militias as they rampaged through East Timor’s capital of Dili.
Often when we see these pictures, we don’t connect it to a journalist on the other side of the lens. We don’t think of the reporter huddled over a laptop computer with a candle in a remote location in the midst of a war. These images and stories often come from a small group of war journalists who travel from conflict to conflict as they attempt to broadcast these images to the rest of the world. It’s for this reason that reporters often become targets themselves.
Well, that was the case this week, just two days ago, when two journalists were killed by rebels in an ambush in Sierra Leone. The journalists were thirty-two-year-old Miguel Gil Moreno de Mora, a Spanish-born cameraman for Associated Press Television Network. The final footage Gil shot was of the site of what is believed to be a massacre of about a half-a-dozen UN peacekeepers from Zambia. The other journalist killed was a veteran Reuters reporter, Kurt Schork, fifty-three years old, from the United States. Escorted by at least ten government soldiers, the journalists were traveling in two vehicles near an area hotly contested in recent days in Sierra Leone by pro-government forces and rebels of the Revolutionary United Front. They were ambushed about fifty miles east of the capital Freetown.
We’re joined now by two journalists who themselves are war correspondents and worked in the trenches with the two reporters killed. Serif Turgut is with us. She’s a reporter for ATV, a private satellite TV network in Istanbul, Turkey. She was a close friend of Miguel Gil Moreno and worked closely with him in Bosnia, Kosovo, as well as other places. Paul Watson is also with us. He’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. He’s reported from conflict zones around the world, and he’s currently the Balkans bureau chief for the LA Times, most recently covering Yugoslavia.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now!
Paul Watson, can you tell us who Miguel Gil Moreno was?
I met Miguel only, unfortunately, in the latter stage of his life but came to respect him very, very highly. When I came back into Kosovo at the start of the NATO bombing, after being briefly expelled for the first night. I met Miguel, who had managed to stay with Serif in Kosovo when the rest of us were expelled. And I have to say that in this business you come across a lot of people — in this small group of journalists who tend to pop up in the different war zones that you referred to — you come across a lot people who can only be described as war junkies, people who, in my mind, do it because they get a buzz from it, rather than because they have a higher calling, if I can put it that way. Miguel was not one of those people. He was a deeply intelligent and respectful and peaceful man. And it just rips my heart out that somebody like that has been lost.
Serif Turgut, you knew Miguel extremely well. Can you talk about how he got his start?
Actually, I met with Miguel early '94 in Sarajevo, and we had really exact same situation with him. We were both speaking poor or little English, and we were the first journalists in the region. We were under siege. Everything was crazy and expensive, and we never had this experience. He was a lawyer before. And I came across, first time in war, I spend life in Bosnia, and we were sharing our sandwiches and our cigarettes, everything.
And he was not only journalist; he was extraordinary human being in this world. I was crazy from yesterday when I heard this news, because he saved hundreds of lives in Bosnia and hundreds of lives in Kosovo. When everybody gets scared to jump to help people, he was the only one, the first moment, taking a risk for the other lives, and carrying the wounded bodies from the streets, and save all of us, and I don't know. What can I say? I just loved the man. It’s difficult time for me. I know him for six, seven years. And we always shared the worst and the best times, not as only journalists, as human beings would try to help these people, but Miguel was — we lost someone in this world, not only the journalist — how I feel now.
Miguel Gil Moreno started as a corporate lawyer, is that right? In Spain?
He — yes, he was a lawyer when he saw the pictures on the screen about the Bosnian concentration camp, and he tried to come to Bosnia and tried to help people. And he came with his motorbike to Mostar first. He was one of the two person who was delivering the food for the East Mostar during the war in Mostar, and he — when he need to survive, he said, “OK, the best journalists are now shooting from the people [inaudible] outside of the war. And — but he needed ID card. He took his ID card from the motorbike magazine. He was driving the motorbike around Bosnia. And then he improved after that, and he became really professional journalist. But always, for him, the first to help people, how he feel and how he think and how he work all over this earth.
Can you tell us about some of the places where he worked and, Serif Turgut, where you worked with him?
I worked with him in Bosnia and Kosovo. The other regions, we work in separate time, for example, in Chechnya. But, during the course of a period, for example, the last part of [inaudible] we were three of us there in the beginning. And the first — when they expelled us, I decided to stay with other colleagues. And the few others, they left. And when Miguel saw me, he was only swearing and he get crazy, and he was asking to me why I’m staying, [inaudible] we should leave. And I told him, “Come on, we should stay, and we should work.” We came from Bosnia. And after all, he was the only person who returned back. And then, after two days, Paul Watson, our — the other colleague show up. We were only three, and Miguel and me were actually in the same room to escape in this time.
And I remember, for example, one of the craziest story. We were on the fourth floor in the same room. It’s scary, dark. And this hotel was Grand Hotel was full of the guards with the guns, and one missile, we never had this missile explained before, passed our window and had a crazy explosion. We had only the [inaudible] gun had experienced before with Miguel. And the second one, third one, and we had to choose with him which way to die. From the NATO missiles? Maybe they were bombing hotel? It was really huge. Or the Serbian police would permit it if we tried to escape from our [inaudible]. Now, after the fourth missile, we tried to escape. We had this choice. And this guy with a gun put a gun to our heads. And he took us downstairs.
Anyway, after one of the waiters saved our lives from the Grand Hotel — they helped us, some people there — but we were talking after that about the kind of jobs we were doing, and, I mean, we love our jobs, but we were making up funny stories and the jokes about that which way to die. And he survived from all this life with guns and missiles and everything, and now somebody came to shoot him, and it’s unbelievable. I don’t know. It’s difficult to think now for me.
I know that the funeral for Miguel Gil Moreno will be held in Barcelona. Serif Turgut, will you be going there?
Yes, I just thank for the Spanish embassy, they give me visa. It’s difficult to take visa for Turkish citizens in that quick time. Now, yes, I will be there tomorrow. We all old friends is coming. And we are going to be in Barcelona tomorrow, all together to pray for him. I hope all the good and nice angels reach him now.
Paul Watson, those beginning days in Kosovo, you and Serif Turgut and Miguel Gil Moreno were among the only reporters there.
That’s right. We were the only Western reporters there. There were, you know, from time to time, a couple of Russian reporters came through or Serbs working for foreign agencies. But we were the only Western reporters there.
What about you yourself, Paul Watson? You won the Pulitzer Prize for your photograph in Mogadishu that people saw around the world of a US soldier being dragged around. Can you talk about the kinds of risks you take and, of course, the kinds of risks a foreigner takes in another country, especially if you’re from one of the world’s superpowers? Usually, you have a kind of shield that native journalists or people from that country, for example, in Sierra Leone and the terrible conflict there, do not have.
No, you raised several important points now, and I’d like to answer this one first and then get to the Somalia matter. The way the West is intervening in conflicts now, especially in Kosovo, purely from the air, the only Westerners who are available to be attacked, by way of revenge, are journalists.
In Kosovo, when I decided to go back, I had a brief conversation with my wife, and I made it clear to her what the risks were, and she, I think, understood them before I phoned. But I knew and expected that I would be killed. But I made the judgment that it wasn’t morally right that if I had the opportunity to be there and witness — to simply remove myself, too, so that the — that everyone in the West would be safe, and only the people, first of all, who we were there to save, and, secondly, the people we were accusing of war crimes would be left to suffer, that just doesn’t strike me as right. And I know that people like Miguel and others felt the same way. They needed to be there to witness, so that the powerbrokers, the diplomats, the people who get the Nobel Prizes and all of the praise in sort of their cynical manipulations of diplomacy and war, so that those people would have to face certain facts.
In Somalia, the only reason that I was alone to take the photograph that won that Pulitzer Prize is that four journalists were killed the previous July. Again, they came from Reuters and Associated Press — one Dan Eldon, Hos Maina, Hansi Krauss, and Anthony Macharia. They were killed by an enraged Somali mob. After they went to photograph and record what can only be called a United States war crime, which was an aerial helicopter assault on a three-story villa filled with religious leaders, clan elders and others, who were trying to work out some way of reaching a peace agreement. This building was pummeled with target on wire rockets for about twenty minutes to a half-an-hour, if not longer. At least sixty, according to the Red Cross — seventy-plus according to the Somalis — were effectively massacred — I can’t think of a better word for it — in this attack. When those journalists went there to record what, again, by any definition, would be a war crime, they became the news. The Somalis turned on them. They were the only people they could find to retaliate against, and they murdered them.
To this day, the story that those people were trying to cover has not really been recorded anywhere. You’ll find it in a couple of books, maybe some magazine articles, but no one was brought to justice for that. And it — I kept that with me every day since then. And I feel a responsibility to people like Dan Eldon and the others who were killed on that July day, the people like Miguel, to keep going and to keep trying to what they were trying to do.
Paul Watson and Serif Turgut, please stay with us. Paul Watson, Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent. He is the Balkans bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times. We are speaking to him in Vienna right now. He’s just come from Yugoslavia. And Serif Turgut, a very close friend of Miguel Gil Moreno, the Spanish cameraman who died along with another reporter, an American reporter, in the last two days in Sierra Leone. The American reporter was fifty-three-year-old Kurt Schork of Reuters.
You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.
We continue this discussion about two journalists who were killed in Sierra Leone, but the dangers that war journalists face. And, of course, the greatest danger is faced by people on the ground, civilians from the countries they are in.
Our guests are Paul Watson of the Los Angeles Times, has done stellar reporting from Yugoslavia and Kosovo; Serif Turgut is a reporter for ATV, a private satellite TV network, speaking to us from Istanbul, Turkey, was the best friend of Miguel Gil Moreno, one of the two reporters killed in Sierra Leone. I want to continue the discussion with you, but before we do, I wanted to play a brief interview comment of a Colombian journalist.
Journalists are killed around the world simply for doing their jobs. Miguel Moreno and Kurt Schork, foreign journalists covering a war abroad. But the risks on the job increase greatly for reporters covering their own countries, as in Colombia, which has the highest rate of murders of reporters in the world.
Democracy Now! producer Maria Carrion just returned from Bogota. She spoke there with Ignacio Gomez, who for fourteen years has headed the investigations unit at Bogota’s daily newspaper, El Espectador. He is also executive director of the Foundation for Freedom of the Press in Colombia. Gomez had to leave Colombia for almost a year in the early ’90s after he published a list of properties owned by the late Pablo Escobar, chief of the Medellin cartel. After the list was published, Gomez said Escobar threatened to have him killed. He will be translated by Democracy Now! producer David Love. And this is Maria asking him a question in Bogota:
MARIA CARRION: Ignacio Gomez, as well as being the editor of investigations for Bogota’s daily newspaper, El Espectador, you’re also — you also head the Foundation for Freedom of the Press here in Colombia, and I wanted to ask you what freedom of the press means in Colombia. What does that term mean here?
IGNACIO GOMEZ: [translated] For the past three years, we have been trying to come up with the number of journalists who have been killed here. So far, we have come up with a report that says that 152 journalists have been murdered in the past twenty years. From that first analysis, you could also say that if you looked from the number of, say, bakers who have been murdered, or hairdressers, we would also come up with a very large number of them, because Colombia is the third country in the world with the highest rate of violent deaths. So it is logical that people of all professions are killed at a higher rate here.
But if you look at these numbers more carefully, you will find that despite the general violence here in this country, and although some journalists may have been killed during robberies or in crimes of passion or because they were involved in some form of corruption, there is a huge number of journalists who have been murdered year after year in order to silence them. And these murders are just the tip of the iceberg, because journalists here have also been silenced through other means: some with exile, others by fear, others through blackmail. And so, the number of silenced journalists, on top of murdered journalists, continues to multiply.
Many more journalists have been threatened than have been killed. And many more have been intimidated, even if not directly threatened, so that they wouldn’t publish a particular story. And many, many of them have been co-opted and manipulated through other means, not only through fear and direct threats. There are many who have been kidnapped. They have kidnapped more and more journalists in the last four years. Just in the past year, over 100 journalists were kidnapped. They were all kidnapped in order to be pressured to change their reporting.
But Colombia is a country full of contradictions. And so, despite all of these limitations, it has a law that deals with the freedom of information that is even older than that of the Freedom of Information Act in the United States. It allows journalists to sue in order to obtain information for the public. And despite over 180 years of internal war, Colombia has a long tradition of good media. And its journalism is somewhat prestigious within Latin America.
So what do I, as a journalist, think of freedom of the press? Well, I have been with El Espectador for fourteen years. And since I arrived, eleven of my colleagues have been murdered. And at the same time, the newspaper’s faced bankruptcy. And it went from being owned by a family that practiced a type of unique independent journalism, free from any type of interests, to now belonging to one of the most powerful financial groups in the country. The newspaper was also bombed, and the drug traffickers threatened any businesses that advertised in El Espectador. My newspaper survives like the majority of Colombians, by sheer miracle.
Maria then asks Gomez if he personally has received the types of threats that he speaks of. He says:
IGNACIO GOMEZ: [translated] I would rather not talk about this, because when you talk a lot about death threats in Colombia, you start to court death. People begin to smell death around you.
Ignacio Gomez recently broke a story about US ties to the 1997 Mapiripan Massacre, when forty-nine civilians in southwest Colombia were killed by paramilitary forces aided by Colombian soldiers who had been trained by US Special Forces. We’ll be bringing you that story next week. And that interview done by Maria Carrion, Democracy Now! producer, who just returned from Colombia. Ignacio Gomez is head of investigations at Bogota’s daily newspaper, El Espectador, and executive director of the Foundation for the Freedom of the Press in Colombia.
As we go back now to our guests, Paul Watson and Serif Turgut — as you listen to that, Paul Watson, of the Los Angeles Times, covering Yugoslavia, covering Somalia, what is your response?
Well, it makes me think of a very clear and important point. And that is, we shouldn’t forget when we talk about the tragic deaths of journalists, as we are now, we shouldn’t forget the stories that they’re risking their lives to cover. There are reasons behind the conflict in Sierra Leone, beyond some predisposition for fighting each other. If people will remember, there was a conflict which was resolved with a peace agreement. And that peace agreement was flawed deeply, because Britain, along with the United States, insisted that all sides must reconcile and form a government of national unity and effectively just get beyond their problems and get along together, as opposed to the solution which was used elsewhere in the world of war crimes tribunals.
I don’t think anyone, at this point, could argue that Foday Sankoh, the leader of the rebels who probably killed those two journalists, is a war criminal. And to think that he was allowed to participate in government and to maintain control of the diamond mines through which he earned money to buy weapons, the same weapons that killed those two men, it irks me to think that these things go on day after day after day, and people die trying to tell the story again and again and again. And it simply does not appear on the national agenda. Colombia is a fine example. When will somebody, in a political campaign or on some national level, start to debate the mistakes that are being made in Western foreign policy?
I wanted to go to some basics, the issue of how a journalist goes into a country that you haven’t been in before. You know, there’s a lot of criticism about journalists who sort of parachute into places, have no context, and they begin doing reports almost immediately, and that contributes to the kind of superficial or Western bias reporting, just coming from your own experiences, as opposed to the experience on the ground. Serif Turgut, what is your response to that, speaking to us from Istanbul?
Yes, actually, the journalists were coming to conflict, to the war zones and jumping for stories and making some mistakes. I agree with this. But this is the one side of our problem. The other side, we all got forced to have manipulation in our stories. For example, again, me and Miguel, I can give you an example. We were the two journalists with the locals there who found Rugova, Ibrahim Rugova, who was Albanian leader during this NATO bombardment in Kosovo, and NATO spokesman was saying he’s dead or wounded, all Albanian leaders. And we found him. And Miguel filmed this. And what’s happened next day from outside of the world, including our colleagues, what they were writing and saying: no, it’s a false information; there’s archive pictures, and he’s dead. Everybody — all of them is dead.
And, OK, we have, I think, two types of problems. One is journalists who have no experience and jumping — only thinking about the story or having some money or credit, first money. Other side also manipulating everything. And we have big responsibility in the conflicts for the people’s lives. And we lie more, more people will lose lives. But still, I think, compared with these diplomats or international organizations, the people who are working there, we are still more clean, or we still have better people, because we are the only people sometimes jumping the region and giving information for outside. We are the witness for the massacres. But on outside of the world, they are changing our stories and saying we are lying and because they don’t want to do good things for people. Bosnia was a great example. All of us, all the work [inaudible], for example, [inaudible] story of journalists’ work there and how was international injustice.
And I don’t know how to change, but, of course, we have to have more criticize each other, but I think we are still doing our best. If —- I always believe, for example, for Sarajevo and Bosnia, if there was no world media, there was no chance to survive for these people. I mean, we all -— if Sarajevo survived today, because of world media, the journalists who took risks for their lives, and they report every day, and we lost seventy-three colleagues in Bosnian war. It’s a huge number to push international community to do something after four years.
Paul Watson, in your quite incredible reporting from Kosovo — one of the only reporters there at certain times — for the Los Angeles Times, you were not painting a black-and-white picture of just Albanians who were being repressed or expelled, but you were looking at a very complicated picture on the ground. What kind of pressures did you face from here in the United States, where your newspaper was based?
Well, I have to say the editors at the Los Angeles Times backed me up 100 percent. And it surprises me, to be honest with you, that the amount of pressure that must have been on them, even doubting themselves, how my reports could, in many cases, contradict so diametrically those reports coming out of Washington and Brussels and elsewhere, but they stood by me. So I’m extremely fortunate in that regard. However —
Did one of your — yes, go ahead.
I was just going to say, briefly, that there are a lot of journalists who I once thought were my friends, who, I can tell you, look at me in a strange way and think that I’m some kind of traitor, because there’s something about living through a war where you’re forced to see things from all perspectives, because in a conflict, in the end, everyone’s at risk. You sort of get down to basic problems. How do you feed yourself? How do you survive? Will you see the next day? Certain realities come into very clear focus.
One that came into very clear focus for me in Kosovo during that experience was that the problem was extremists. So often we as journalists portray conflicts as inter-ethnic or racial. The problem in Kosovo is not a problem between Serbs and Albanians. It’s a problem between extremists. And the foreign policy that the West pursued in Kosovo gave victory to extremists. It has done nothing to promote democracy or multi-ethnic togetherness. It’s ridiculous to even think of that in the aftermath of that conflict.
Did one of your translators get shot, Paul Watson, in Kosovo?
Yes, he’s a Serb journalist with Agence France Presse. He was with my driver, somebody we had hired with his car, because both of my vehicles were stolen by the Serb police. They were driving to pick me up and were ambushed. We believe it was the KLA, because it was near a police checkpoint, and if the police were shooting at their own checkpoint, it would have been odd. In this case, fortunately, there was only one round fired, and it penetrated the door, went through the driver’s two legs and threw up some fragments into the rest of the car. In the end, nobody was killed in that incident, but only barely did they get through that.
I’m going to give Serif Turgut the last word, as you head off to Barcelona for Miguel Gil Moreno’s funeral, again the Spanish cameraman who was killed two days ago in Sierra Leone, along with the Reuters reporter, Kurt Schork. What do you take away from Gil’s — Miguel Gil Moreno’s life?
Sorry. I think I had a little bit of technical problem with the phone.
As we wrap up now — we only have a minute — what do you take away, as you go to the funeral of your friend Miguel in Barcelona, from the way he lived his life?
I think — I don’t know. I don’t know how to answer your question. I think I have nothing to take anymore, and I lost half of my psychology or body and everything. And we lost — we lost — I lost someone, and I don’t know. Everything has changed from yesterday in my life. And I don’t know what to take, and I don’t know what to say now. And I don’t know how to continue my trip also. And the only thing, again, I want to repeat: I hope all good and nice angels with him now. And I hope we never lose other colleagues and our friends and our people anymore. I hope it’s the last one. I hope Miguel is the last.
Well, I thank you both very much for being with us. Serif Turgut, reporter with ATV, a private satellite TV network in Istanbul, Turkey. She worked very closely with, was roommates with Miguel Gil Moreno in Bosnia and Kosovo, and they were headed off to Chechnya after he was going to come back from Sierra Leone. But he didn’t, because he and the Reuters reporter, Kurt Schork, were gunned two days ago. Paul Watson has also been our guest, Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, currently the Balkans bureau chief for the Times. I thank you both for being with us.
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