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Back to Stephen Brookes Column Index



War in Iraq - Women in News

By: Stephen Brookes MBE

IMAGES of war are rarely pleasant, but with the current back-to- back television coverage of the war in Iraq beaming images of bombings, gun battles and prisoners being paraded on our screens virtually 24 hours a day, what message is this sending to our children? Particularly with so many women reporters in the field of conflict.

Although we cannot ignore the significance of events currently unfolding in Iraq, very young children need to be protected from the violence being acted out in front of their eyes.

The live media coverage of catastrophe and extreme human suffering was epitomised by the TV footage of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre buildings in New York, and debate has raged on the suitability of this type of news for children ever since.

Our children should not be fed on a diet of war, war, war. This constant coverage presents a danger that they will become desensitised to it and form an acceptance. Parents need to keep an eye on their children, whatever their age, in case they become anxious or agitated by what they see on TV. War is horrible, but a woman reporting the news gives a serious message of semi-normality to children.

You can't have a discussion with a very young child and they should be protected from seeing horrible images on TV as they can't make sense of these themselves. Adults have been appalled at the images they have seen, so it is likely that children may become upset. But there is no point refusing to discuss it with older children as they are more exposed to it in their lives.

And the war can provide opportunities for parents to discuss strong issues with older children, such as the morality of war, for example: this gives parents the chance to put forward their own values, and ones which they hope will be adopted, or heard by their children, and it also gives an insight into where the young person is at in their thinking.

The most important factor for children is that they should not have to worry about the horror and gruesomeness of war, so how do they react to seeing women journalists in combat gear? Well probably like we all are doing.

Kate Adie was Britain's first high profile female war correspondent. She became famous not just because of her fearless reports from the most dangerous parts of the world, but because she was a woman.

But if she was reporting from the battlefield now she would be far from exceptional, as women have increasingly infiltrated the male-dominated world in recent years. They have witnessed genocide, bombings and assassination attempts and know they are lucky to be alive. But the UK's top female war correspondents seem to love their work.

As part of her job as a war correspondent, Lindsey Hilsum has seen horrific sights and suffered brushes with death that have changed her life. In 1996 she reported on the genocide in Rwanda. Soldiers held her in a house on her own for four days while civilians were being killed in the streets. And when she was eventually let out she endured the sights of mass slaughter. 'An experience like that changes your life in all sorts of little ways. But I don't have trouble sleeping any more.'

Hilsum is the most experienced war correspondent on UK television today. She has been reporting from Baghdad for the last month in spite of the dangers. 'But it's not glamorous,' she said on radio 4. 'I'm not a film star on the frontline. I can't magically repel bullets. And anyone who says they're not scared is lying or very stupid'

'I was the first correspondent to bring pictures and reports of the destruction in Jenin and for a moment felt proud. But the real story was of the houses and lives destroyed. So I felt terribly ashamed of myself.'

Sky News reporter Lisa Holland escaped death by a twist of fate and is someone I met at Coventry University when she came to talk on women reporters and war.

She told us that in 2001, she was in a convoy traveling from Jalalabad to Kabul when two journalists at the front of the line were ambushed and shot.

Holland's team had been the first to set off on the dangerous route. They had to travel in a bus big enough to carry their satellite dish, so other reporters in cars overtook them along the way. Had Holland remained at the front of the convoy, only a quarter of a mile away, she would probably have been killed.

'Everything seemed to go in slow motion, and we couldn't see what was happening at the front of the convoy because it was such a bendy road. But one of the Afghans who was with them escaped and drove past us shouting: 'Go back! Go back!'. 'We were in an ancient, creaky old bus being driven by someone who looked 100. Turning that bus on a narrow road seemed to take an eternity.'

Once safely back in Pakistan, Sky News offered Holland a ticket home, but she was determined to stay on. She reported from remote areas while people in the background threatened to kill her. And she went on to cover the Tora Bora siege, where she lived in a dusty shed that rattled with the sound of the B52 bombings.

'It was difficult to adjust once I got home,' she sighs. 'It was just before Christmas, so one minute I'd been living in a shed eating boil-in-the-bag veggie curry and not washing for days and the next I was confronted with the jingle jangle of Christmas. But the hardest thing was seeing the effect my absence had on my family.'

'So when my news desk calls to tell me I didn't look very pretty in my last few reports, I can say: 'Well - I haven't washed for five days' She added to the seminar: 'Overall, I've been chosen to cover the war because I can bring a new perspective to a male-dominated world. I just hope I can do so, and hope I can do so safely.'

'When people hear what I do for a living they think I'm mad.' she says. 'It's an odd profession. When a bomb goes off most people run away from it, but journalists run towards it. When you're there you think about deadlines and reports - you get scared when you think about it later.'

And so while I admire the concept of women in news, I worry about the message it gives to children.

‘Isn’t she like mummy?’

© Steve Brookes MBE
Copyright © - Stephen Brookes MBE 2002 - All rights reserved


Disclaimer
The article above is solely the written view of Stephen Brookes.

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