Back from a morning in school, I switched on the 1pm news, and was saddened to hear of the death, in Syria, of the Sunday Times war correspondent, Marie Colvin. She was killed, along with a young French cameraman, Remi Ochlik, in the city of Homs, when their building was shelled. Marie was a journalist whose reports were well written, and I felt I could trust her to speak for the people who were powerless to speak for themselves.
In 2001 and 2010, she was named Foreign Reporter of the Year by the British Press Awards. Tributes paid by her colleagues bear testimony to the respect she earned, for her incisive, honest reporting. She wanted to make a difference.
Sunday Times Editor John Witherow said today
"Marie was an extraordinary figure in the life of The Sunday Times, driven by a passion to cover wars in the belief that what she did mattered.”
The BBC's Jim Muir said she believed profoundly that reporting could curtail the excesses of brutal regimes and make the international community take notice. He said she would be "missed sorely" by the paper and added:
"She was a woman with a tremendous joie de vivre, full of humour and mischief and surrounded by a large circle of friends, all of whom feared the consequences of her bravery."
Marie was incredibly brave -
She was decorated for her reporting from Chechnya, where she was pinned down by fire from Russian aircraft and troops. Finding her last line of retreat cut off by paratroopers, she escaped over an icy mountain path into Georgia, but after four perilous days' journey found herself stranded. Colleagues, realised she was in trouble and contacted the American embassy in Tblisi which duly sent a helicopter to rescue her.
In East Timor in 1999 she was credited with helping save the lives of 1,500 refugees stranded in a United Nations compound in Dili which was under siege by the Indonesian army in the wake of a referendum that chose independence from Jakarta’s rule.
In 2001, she lost the sight of her left eye from a shrapnel wound, whilst covering the conflict in Sri Lanka, yet she still sent in a 3500 word report to her editor, from her hospital bed.
In 2010, Colvin spoke, at a Fleet Street ceremony honouring fallen journalists, about the dangers of reporting on war zones. She said
Our mission is to speak the truth to power. We send home that first rough draft of history. We can and do make a difference in exposing the horrors of war and especially the atrocities that befall civilians…
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? Journalists covering combat shoulder great responsibilities and face difficult choices. Sometimes they pay the ultimate price.
Marie, and Remi made difficult choices in their commitment to speaking the truth about the situation in Syria. They have paid the price for that. Let us pray that their sacrifice will, in some way, help to change the conditions there for the better.
Out of the conflict zone now, may they rest in peace.