Broken bodies lay scattered among the charred remnants of blown up vehicles. Dusty brown school bags and brightly coloured scarves are soaked with blood amid the acrid stench of burnt flesh, in a ghastly, stomach-turning scene. In the distance gunfire punctuates the still air, with the deep throb of a helicopter snapping stunned survivors back to the immediate reality.
This scene is brought to you … not from the comfort of an air-conditioned studio in Sydney, not from the safety of a private car surrounded by security officials, or the cramped, windowless office in a city skyrise.
If this scene was real, it would not come from lazily typed words on a luminescent screen; they would be hastily scribed by the shaking hand of an international journalist.
For as long as journalism has existed, daring men and women have departed the shores of their own lands and hurried abroad, keen to explore and document another world. In past times, the careful notes and detailed descriptions of foreign cultures, fascinating societies and disastrous events meandered slowly back to “civilisation” by foot, horseback or boat, to be considered, pondered and wondered about by fascinated audiences.
As the world shrank and technological advances developed, far away countries became more accessible. Ordinary folk left their homes for adventure, holidays and recreational travel. Yet the most dangerous destinations, most challenging locations and most confronting of situations were reserved for the most inquisitive, the most bold and the bravest.
Communication through telling stories is as old as the world itself. Journalism is the professional incarnation of storytelling. International journalists go where others dare not.
The Walkley Awards recognise Excellence in Australian Journalism. In the last few days, the Walkley Awards Advisory Board has decided to abolish the award category for International Journalism. It has done this on the basis of a lengthy review, where it made “evolutionary” changes to the program. The Board considered the changing nature of journalism, and after consultation with the industry, chose to honour international journalists through other categories, rather than alone.
Yet international journalists stand alone in the risks they take, the challenges they face, and the physical and mental stamina required to produce the stories they share. International journalists, particularly those who venture outside of other western nations, go beyond what is expected or required of their domestic peers, not because their writing requires greater skill, but because the circumstances under which they operate simply to do the job may be unpredictable, ever-changing and fraught with dangers not encountered in contemporary Australian society.
International journalists do what ordinary people do not. They travel to war zones, disaster zones and in areas of civil unrest to uncover, expose and report on important matters of social, political and cultural interest. They may face the threat of death – and sometimes death itself – torture and imprisonment, often sanctioned by foreign governments or ruling powers, simply for doing their job.
They witness brutality, poverty, devastation and carnage. They put aside human emotion, temporarily, to document these events in intricate and graphic detail in order to provide accountability, prompt for humanitarian aid and intervention or justice. They pay a huge price when they allow their human emotions to return in the “down time”.
International journalists travel to places no “sane” person would venture, risking their own lives and mental health to ensure atrocities, human rights abuse and the consequences of famine, fire and flood are captured in compelling detail. They play a crucial role in uncovering corruption, crime, health emergencies and other matters of public interest.
Without the efforts and sacrifices of these journalists, reporting of international events would be nothing more than shallow, disjointed accounts. The depth of feeling, immediacy and presence can only be provided by those journalists, right in the middle of the action.
Their stories connect us with other lives away from our own insular experience, broadening our knowledge, exposure and empathy of other people whose reality is so far removed from our own.
It is no small decision to remove an award which recognises the importance of international journalism. It is no small thing to abolish the formal acknowledgement of the fundamental role international journalists play in the communication and dissemination of information on complex issues, events and times.
The Walkley Awards cannot genuinely promote excellence in Australian journalism while excluding the unique contribution international journalists provide to the rich and diverse narrative of the modern world. Australians with political and social conscience appreciate the value of the daring men and women who step outside the comfort of this relatively safe and peaceful country.
The award category for International Journalism should, and must be, reinstated.
*If you have the time and inclination, please consider respectfully emailing the Walkley Awards Committee with your thoughts on why you believe international journalists should be honoured in a category of their own.
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