"The Journalist kit of notebook and bottle of brandy may have given way to the laptop, satellite phone and flak jacket. But the essentials of our work remain the same. Someone has to go and see what is happening."
- Mary Fitzgerald
"One of the fundamentals of our craft as journalists is the simple act of being there, of bearing witness”, explained journalist Mary Fitzgerald as she delivered a presentation sponsored by Sam Houston State's Global Center for Journalism and Democracy.
Fitzgerald, who is the foreign correspondent for the Irish Times, shared her recent experiences in Libya and Syria. She expressed great dismay that many news organizations have decided Syria is too dangerous for journalists. "If we give up on Syria, how will the world know what is happening there?"
The loss of so many journalists over the past two years has prompted much soul searching, according to Fitzgerald, but she believes the profession owes it to those who lost their lives to keep the faith. "We always have to ask ourselves whether the risk is worth the story and whether it makes a difference. I continue to believe it does."
Fitzgerald offered a somber account of what she and other journalists have witnessed in Syria after crossing into the country illegally. "I have come under sniper and artillery fire, as well as aerial bombardment. I have been tear-gassed at protests, interrogated by security services and militias in the Middle East, Africa and south Asia. I have covered wars and conflicts in Lebanon, Libya, Congo, Darfur, Afghanistan, and northern Mali. As many colleagues will attest, Syria has been the most dangerous of all."
Before Syria, Fitzgerald spent a lot of time reporting from Libya. "Libyans, who for 42 years could not tell their story to reporters, all of a sudden could do that. Some were horrific-some terribly sad about life under Gadaffi. I didn't want to stop listening."
“Mary embodies the type of journalism we want to support and represents the very best of her generation”, said Kelli Arena, the executive director of the GCJD.
When asked about whether she suffers from a disadvantage being female in conflict zones, Fitzgerald said she believes the reverse is true. “I would argue that being a woman in many societies is actually an advantage." She explained that in places like Afghanistan[,] where gender roles are strictly defined, she does not fit the mold and almost exists as a "third gender". She can interview both men and women, while a male colleague would not have the same access to female-only quarters. She laughed when talking about a new action figure doll depicting a so-called war correspondent, "it was male, with pristine clothes, so far from the reality."
Fitzgerald met with students during her stay on campus, and had a chance to socialize with SHSU supporters at a reception in her honor. "I feel indebted to men and women like Mary Fitzgerald. For me, she joins the ranks of those who jeopardize their safety and wellbeing to accomplish a task most of us take for granted", offered Matthew Bennett, a graduate student majoring in English. Roberautrice Eddie, a Mass Communications senior said "I thought I knew what it meant to be an international journalist, but now I realize I had no idea!"
Fitzgerald praised the GCJD saying its work is vitally important. "As somebody who works, and reports in countries where media is severely restricted, where freedom of the press is a myth, where journalists struggle a lot to report accurately what’s happening in their own countries, I think the work the center does in terms of training journalists, raising awareness of these issues is incredibly valuable."
The GCJD brings internationally known journalists to campus at least twice a year. In the Fall, it hosted Shahira Amin, an Egyptian journalist and activist, to talk about the dramatic changes occurring in her country.
Global Center for Journalism and Democracy
Dan Rather Communications Building, Room 201, Huntsville, TX 77340
Phone: (936) 294-4399