Thursday, January 13, 2011

Who Will Mourn This Journalist's Death?

Who Will Mourn This Journalist's Death?
Captured by Taliban, Beverley Giesbrecht got little press because she was no simple story.
By Claude Adams, Yesterday, J-Source

Giesbrecht: Propagandist or independent reporter?


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I've never been impressed with the convoluted definitions of what makes a journalist. I think it's pretty simple: someone who collects and presents information to you and me. I'd only make one proviso: the journalist needs to experience something on our behalf, to act as a kind of proxy for us, in doing something that we can’t (or choose not to) do -- climb a mountain, confront a prime minister, eat a live insect, join an army unit at war -- and then tell us, or show us, what it was like and broaden our sense of the world and how it works.

Journalism, thus, is an experiential thing: you experience and you tell. You can argue that this definition is overly democratic, that it degrades and dilutes "professionalism," that it makes us all journalists and, in so doing, renders an entire profession superfluous. That may be so, but as a consumer of news, I am still free to make a choice between "good" and "bad" journalism as I see it, to separate the wheat from the chaff, to read some people and ignore others. The gatekeepers are dead. I am my own filter.

All this is a long-winded way of presenting the story of Beverley Giesbrecht, a dead Canadian journalist whom most of us have probably not heard about. We don"t know her, I suspect, because the people who decide such things have decided that she was NOT a credentialed journalist (or a marginal one at best), that she did something reckless, that she was probably crazy to begin with, and that, as a result, she doesn't deserve our compassion.

Giesbrecht spent two years as a hostage of the Taliban. In that time, she suffered illness, and torture, and she begged for her life in two videos that you can find on YouTube. The videos are painful to watch, especially for those who knew her as a tough-minded, outspoken and resolute British Columbia businesswoman. Her time with the Taliban had reduced her to a shrunken emotional wreck, toothless, her voice breaking, clearly terrified that she might be beheaded at any moment.

A few months ago, it was reported in an Indian newspaper that she had died of a "prolonged illness." No source was quoted, but the people who care about Giesbrecht in Canada accept the fact that she is almost certainly dead because no one has heard a word from her or her captors since September 2009. The silence is ominous because of geography -- she was being held in one of the most dangerous places on earth -- and because of the flurry of communication that preceded it.

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