Patrick Christys: War correspondents are heroes in the information war

Patrick Christys: War correspondents are heroes in the information war
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Patrick Christys

By Patrick Christys

Published: 08/03/2022

- 10:23

Updated: 08/03/2022

- 11:38

'The fact is that if these brave souls weren’t out there, anything could happen'

When the bullets are being fired and the bombs are being dropped and everyone is running away, there is a special group of people who run towards the danger. Towards the death and destruction. Towards the carnage and the inferno.

With what appears to be no regard for their own personal safety, armed only with a camera, a microphone and a fervent desire to expose the realities of conflict - I am, of course, talking about the war correspondents.

We are in the midst of a propaganda war, an information, or misinformation, war. Both Russia and Ukraine are trying to win that battle as well as the physical battle and, at times during conflict, both are equally important.

It looks exciting, doesn’t it. It looks like a rush. And I’m sure it is. But in war zones people do use real bullets, real bombs, people do commit real atrocities and journalists are now, these days, very real targets.

Gone are the days of white land rovers with PRESS written on the side being able to drive from one frontline to the other at least relatively safe in the knowledge that they would be respected and that they wouldn’t be the ones in the firing line.

Now, all too often, the opposite is true.

I’m sure we all recall the beheadings of various journalists and photographers in the Middle East by Isis, but recently, and much closer to home, a Sky crew was shot at and indeed hit.

The fact is that if these brave souls weren’t out there, anything could happen. Their very presence saves lives. If there was no coverage, no chance of accountability, then genocides and war crimes would be even more prolific than they already are.

Who would there be to tell the stories of the innocent women and children being massacred on the frontline. Who would speak up for the most vulnerable? Who would expose the true horrors of war?

But these people are just that - people. Many of them leave behind their own wives, husbands and children.

I imagine that’s a very difficult thing to come to terms with, possibly more so for their families than for those going out there as correspondents.

Can you imagine trying to justify to your wife and young child that you’re heading off to a war zone and you may never come home not because you’re conscripted into the army, but because that’s what you do for work - and, let’s be honest, possibly because you’ve got the bug - the war zone bug.

And once you’re out there you’re in the thick of it - you make your contacts, you run towards the gunfire and you realise that, when you’re on your way back, that the battle lines have changed and the ‘safe route’ you took there is no longer a safe route back.

I reported from the Syrian and Iraqi border. I have no shame in saying I was absolutely terrified for most of it and I had an armed guard. Goodness only knows what these people must feel. The proper war correspondents, not just some jumped up little chancer like me who wanted to prove to himself that he could go somewhere a little bit risky and get away with it.

No, this lot are the real deal. It puts it all into perspective. I didn’t do a monologue the other day because my train was late, on that very same day journalists were being shot at and shelled by Russian troops. They still managed to do their jobs.

It’s very easy for me to sit here and talk a good game - the jury’s out as to whether or not I do that most days, frankly.

It’s dead easy for the usual Westminster types to obsess about party-gate and cheese and wine and stand outside Downing Street and shout things like ‘are you going to resign Prime Minister’?! And they all pat themselves on the back and they all think they’re very worthy and important. They think what they do really matters.

I’m under no illusions as to where I stand in the grand scheme of things. Compared to the brave men and women who get shot at in the name of journalism. Get taken hostage. Get killed. Who put everything they hold dear to one side, in order to go to the frontline and report the facts, I am nothing.

I feel embarrassed even being bracketed in the same job description - journalist. Well, I might be a journalist, I might be a reporter, but those people are heroes. And I want to say thank you, and God speed.

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