India: reporting beyond the frontline
Since 2005, the ICRC and the Press Institute of India (PII) have recognized journalists annually for their contribution to humanitarian reporting. This year, four Indian print journalists received the annual PII-ICRC award for their stories of human struggle and survival during and after conflict.
Siva and his family’s plight mirrored that of millions who had been caught in the crossfire in Sri Lanka during the war in 2009. The family members’ struggle to restore their lives and dignity long after the war found voice in Rohini Mohan’s article in The Caravan magazine. Fearing for the safety of Siva’s family and for her own access to victims, Rohini penned the story anonymously but believes the telling of the story is as important as the issues of safety and access.
"War is hard, peace is harder. As cameras leave the place and armies move out, lots of things unfold. It is important to understand how life unfolds when nobody is watching,” says Rohini, an independent journalist with nearly 10 years of reporting behind her.
In addition to Rahini, the other awardees were Mr. Ramachandra Patil (The Week), Soma Basu (The Statesman) and Supriya Sharma (The Times of India), who reported on the humanitarian situation in, respectively, Iraq; West Bengal, India; and Chhattisgarh, India.
Ramachandra Patil's Iraq chronicles, which won for him the second prize, relates the daily struggles of average Iraqis or even foreigners in the war-torn land. "I was there (Iraq) for a month and every five kilometres there was a checkpoint, no health facilities, no electricity. International organizations are doing good work but much more needs to be done there," appeals Ramachandra, who had attended one of the training sessions the ICRC offers to journalists on both conflict and humanitarian reporting.
For Supriya Sharma, the joint third-prize winner and an Oxford fellow, it is important to attract the attention of decision makers to the impact of conflict, an impact she fears is often reduced to simple headcounts. "Some of these areas where conflict takes place are very remote, and people in the urban areas have no idea what is going on. When you put a name to it, people are able to relate to it," Supriya explains. A distinguished panel of senior journalists and lawyers chose the winners of the PII-ICRC award. The panel was looking for much more than just words on a page. As jury member and senior journalist Amitabh Chaudhary explains, key elements were neutrality of the language and potential impact of the article on the humanitarian situation.
ICRC Hotline for Journalists
Further recognizing the role of journalists in situations of armed violence, the ICRC has set up mechanisms like the ICRC Hotline for Journalists, which allows the organization to react promptly when journalists are arrested, captured or detained. The Hotline played a role in August 2011, when the ICRC acted as a neutral intermediary and evacuated to safety 33 foreign journalists trapped in a Tripoli, Libya hotel.
ICRC and PII on Common Ground
Principles of neutrality and impartiality, as well as commitment to people caught in conflict situations, bring the ICRC and journalists together. In recognition of this special relationship, the ICRC's Head of Delegation in New Delhi, Mary Werntz, pledged to continue support for the PII-ICRC awards, which serve as meaningful recognition of reporters who risk their lives to pen stories of human suffering.