Undated photo from Canadian Press.
This is Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout, recently released by Somali kidnappers after 15 months' captivity in that lawless country. The native of Sylvan Lake, Alberta was touring refugee camps outside Mogadishu with Australian photographer Nigel Brennan and a Somali intepreter when they were kidnapped Aug. 23, 2008.
The kidnappers had no political agenda, they just wanted money. Amid the squalor Lindhout and Brennan were documenting with the assistance of their translator, the bandits demanded $1 million for themselves from Lindhout's family alone, imagining that all Canadians have that kind of money. After an horrific ordeal in which she was kept isolated and beaten and tortured, Lindhout, along with Brennan, finally were released recently after an undisclosed financial settlement.
These are the front-line journalists bringing us news of the world, often our starting point in taking humanitarian action ourselves, through places of worship, NGOs and groups we organize, and pressuring our leaders that attention must be paid and collective action taken.
In annual rankings of admired professions, journalists always appear at or near the bottom of the list. That would include Lindhout, whose day for 15 months consisted of "sitting on a floor in a corner, 24 hours a day."
"The [ransom] money wasn't coming quickly enough for these men, and they seemed to think if they beat me enough, then when I was able to speak with my mother [by phone every couple of months] I would be able to say the right thing to convince her to pay the ransom."
We have, among others, Alberta MP Bob Mills, who represents Lindhout's riding, and groups such as Reporters Without Borders to thank for Lindhout's renewed freedom.
Our daily preoccupation in North American newsrooms is with the waves of layoffs of journalists, of outsourcing, of bureau closings - of retreat from our calling of reporting the news from City Hall, the coroner's office, the courts, the ratepayers' meetings, the rank corruption of public officials in Kabul and Harare, the slaughter of innocents in Darfur, the progress of the Olympic flame as it makes its way across Canada (it arrived yesterday in Fredericton).
Even journalists, with traditional print and network TV audiences in long-term decline, and certainly the larger public think only occasionally of the danger to which their kindred spirits routinely subject themselves in covering news in places no longer so remote in our increasingly interconnected world. Events that matter to us more than ever, and will figure still more significantly in our lives and economies as this new century evolves. It is a century brimming with promise of eradicating suffering and injustice, economic and violent, as we learn more about our global community through the eyes of people as intrepid and brave as Amanda Lindhout and Nigel Brennan.
Many journalists do not survive encounters with bandits, state police, corrupt officials, warlords.
Since 1992, 763 journalists have been killed while doing their jobs. It seemed we might never again experience the peak of the 84 journalists who died in 1994 when the Balkans and parts of Africa were in upheaval. But a new peak of 109 journalists were killed on duty in 2007. The death toll so far this year is 66.
You might be surprised by the "beats" covered by the fallen. War coverage claimed the lives of 36% of the journalists killed since 1992, but political coverage accounted for the same percentage of journalist deaths. Followed by corruption (21%), human rights (15%), crime (14%), culture (9%), business (5%) and sports (3%).
Amanda Lindhout kept her wits about her by imaging herself jogging the sea wall in Stanley Park. "That would keep me going," she said. When I'm next in Stanley Park, I'll think of Lindhout, with gratitude - of all those journalists whose curiosity enriches our knowledge and gives us the tools to act in forging a better world based on their first-hand witness to the facts on the ground.