They represent journalism at its most exciting, influential but also lethal. Top journalists who have covered a wide spectrum of issues from the repressive life in North Korea, to brutal Islamist terrorism, to the plight of the Rohingya refugees, admit that “frontline” reporting is now undergoing a paradigm shift due to various factors, especially the communications revolution which allows everyone to tell their story without intermediaries.
And equally important is the enhanced powers and techniques available with authorities who only want their version to go out, contended five acclaimed global journalists at a session entitled “The Frontline Club” at the “Jaipur Literature Festival 2018” here on Friday.
Kicking off the discussion with her experiences of reporting from North Korea, South Korean-American writer Suki Kim highlighted the failure of traditional journalism in North Korea in the face of pervasive state propaganda, and lack of access to and for foreign journalists.
This, Kim said, had made her to go undercover in an attempt to bring out the actual position in the world’s most closed and conforming society. This ensured she was the first to have ever covered North Korea through “immersive journalism”, since this was the “only way to bring out stories of generations of people who suffered unimaginable violence that would otherwise be buried in history”.
It was by no means easy – for over a decade she had to store what she managed to find on the smallest USB device and run the risk of prosecution or worse if found out. Kim said that the threats that followed the publication of her account were nothing compared to the fear of living in the country where lies had become “a matter of survival”.
On how frontline journalism has changed after 9/11, Peter Bergen, who is currently CNN’s national security analyst and has authored books on the manhunt for Al Qaeda supremo Osama Bin Laden and the “war” that followed the attack on the US – and shows no signs of ending soon, felt that for one, the new patterns of global terrorism have erased the distinction between its domestic and foreign manifestations.
Furthermore, social media has changed the face of terrorism, with terrorist and insurgent organisations “using the most cutting-edge technology as their own effective channel of distribution, no longer depending on mainstream broadcast media interviews”, he said.
On the success of frontline journalism in discovering the truth, he quipped: “We’re in the business of trying to solve puzzles, and most often we don’t solve them: there may be no answers to the lies.”
Adrian Levy, of the Guardian and famous in India for his in-depth works on the Kashmir insurgency, the 26/11 attack and the role of David Coleman Headley, and the long search for Bin Laden and the fate of his family and close adherents between 9/11 and the Abbottabad raid, feels the search for truth involves numerous people and has a positive side too – the privilege of the “intimacy of being welcomed despite being different”.
Recounting his experiences of covering the arrival of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, Jeffrey Gettleman, of The New York Times and a Pulitzer winner, said that a journalist’s job is to “take the information from the people in as dignified a way as possible, and then expose the injustice – a parasitic role, but with a higher purpose” in giving a voice to people who have suffered and resisted.
Swiss-born journalist Carlo Pizzati emphasised the need to make these stories “beautiful and meaningful,” so readers could connect to them, whilst remaining faithful to the facts.
Levy also said that this objective is increasingly important in what is the “golden age of investigative fiction”, and also the best and the worst of times to be a journalist.