By Glyn Bowerman
The Canadian journalism community is reeling, after the slaying of one embedded journalist and wounding of another in Afghanistan, Friday.
Associated Press reporter Kathy Gannon, a Timmins, Ont. native, and German photographer Anja Niedringhaus, were travelling under the protection of the Afghan National Army and Afghani police, when their vehicle was fired-upon.
The attacker, reportedly a member of the local police, shot and killed Niedringhaus and wounded Gannon, who is listed in stable condition.
“It’s obviously sad to hear when journalists are injured and killed while they’re doing their jobs,” said Hugo Rodrigues, national director of the Canadian Association of Journalists.
“We would hope that there’s a respect for journalists and the work that they do around the world, but when things like this happen it shows that there isn’t a universal respect for the people, for the journalists and the people out there in all corners of the world.”
Rodrigues said Gannon was honored in 2011 by the National Newspaper awards, with a special Governor’s Award for work she has done over a long career with AP, reporting from the Middle East. Gannon is recognized and respected for the quality of the work she has been doing, Rodrigues said.
Gannon has also participated in CAJ panels and, Rodrigues said his members have benefited from her experience and insight.
“Our thoughts are with her and her family, that she is able to have a quick recovery from the injuries that she sustained and is able to get back to work and do what she does best, as quickly as possible.”
Rodrigues said the AP has a longstanding history and experience sending journalists to cover conflict zones safely, but that the type of assignment Gannon and Niedringhaus undertook includes inherent risks.
“It takes a different breed of journalist to work successfully in that environment,” he said.
“Kathy’s been reporting from this part of the world for decades. She knows the lay of the land. If there’s a North American reporter working in that area who can equal Kathy’s knowledge of the area and knowledge of where it’s safe to be and where it’s less safe to be, I mean I don’t think you could find a reporter who would know that better than Kathy.”
“The fact that, despite all this, she has been injured, and a colleague of hers killed shows just how risky this kind of reporting can be,” said Rodrigues. “I don’t think it means that we should stop doing it.”
It has been reported that the shooter was part of the security detail charged with protecting the two journalists.
Cliff Lonsdale, president of the Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma, said a lot of progress has been made to train journalists to prepare for dangerous situations – being aware of surroundings, having an exit strategy – but it is impossible to predict every possible risk.
“This should not have been a risky situation,” said Lonsdale. “This should have been a routine situation requiring no special concern because they were in a safe area, being guarded.”
“I don’t think that there’s a lesson that you can learn from it.”
Lonsdale said journalists understand the risks they take everyday, but they do have to take some time to process the extreme situations of violence and trauma they sometimes are witness to.
“Journalists are a pretty resilient bunch,” said Lonsdale. “But still, the weight, the cumulative weight, does have an impact. And the best journalists realize that they have to sort of do their head-laundry from time to time.”
Lonsdale said when journalists are in the field; they have to put some fairly disturbing things out of mind for a time, for the sake of the job. But they do need to take some personal time to put the horrors into perspective.
“We’ve got to admit we’re human beings.”
Anja Niedringhaus was a critically acclaimed veteran photographer who covered conflict zones all over the world.
Journalists have taken to social media to share and celebrate Niedringhaus’ work.
— Christiane Amanpour (@camanpour) April 4, 2014
Praying for @Kathygannon who was shot in Afghanistan while covering the election there. A brave reporter and an incredible role model.
— Mercedes Stephenson (@CTVMercedes) April 4, 2014
Prayers for Canadian journalist @Kathygannon, shot today in Afghanistan, and for the family of a German photographer killed in same attack
— rick westhead (@rwesthead) April 4, 2014