This article is taken from the January/February 2021 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering three issue for just £5.
Several claims in Janine di Giovanni’s article Lessons of Bosnian war and peace (December) reflect poorly on me professionally and need correcting.
I was the Sunday Times reporter working in Bosnia before her arrival there, and my peers will have little difficulty identifying me as the “unhappy” middle-aged male reporter she claims to have “displaced”. As I went on to spend a further nine months in country for the paper between late 1992 and January 1994, I am mystified by her use of that term.
More seriously, her claim that I gave her maps of the wrong roads is false. I have no recollection of giving her any maps — she wasn’t driving. Front lines in central Bosnia were shifting because of Croat attacks on Muslim communities, which may be the cause of her confusion. To provide deliberately misleading information to a colleague in a war zone would be criminally irresponsible.
To provide deliberately misleading information to a colleague in a war zone would be criminally irresponsible
Nor did I “threaten to sabotage” her trips into Sarajevo. By late 1992 it was clear that Christmas there was going to be a big story. I pitched to go but was told the decision had been made to send her. That was the end of the matter. I should add I barely knew the photographer who took her into the city despite her claim that I was his “mate”.
The only occasion I did become irate, and fire off an intemperate fax to the editor was when I was tasked with providing 1,500 words on the war in winter 1992. To file involved a 100-mile dash to Split across icy mountain tracks not knowing whether a gun-toting maniac might be lurking around the next corner. I was flabbergasted to learn that the following Sunday’s paper contained a piece of similar length by Janine di Giovanni, with not a word of my copy to be seen. She was not the target of my criticism.
What particularly rankles about her apparent desire to be seen as the “lady of the lamp” in the charnel house of Bosnia is that it occludes the work of other journalists who struggled hard to make the world take notice.
Probably half a dozen other Sunday Times correspondents covered the conflict at one time or another, including three other women. There was no acrimony between any of us.
The Bosnian war has sometimes been described as a “watershed” for women journalists as so many there performed with notable bravery and professionalism. The list includes Penny Marshall of ITN, who was among those who exposed the Serb murder camps; Maggie O’Kane of the Guardian, who travelled alone by bus through much of the Serb-held territory witnessing ethnic cleansing at first-hand; and Corinne Dufka, a Reuters photographer badly injured by a mine in Gornji Vakuf.
She obtained the first pictures of Croat paramilitaries ethnically cleansing Mostar and spent days, together with the late French photographer Alexandra Boulat, with the Muslim inhabitants of that city when they were under intense bombardment. They were the only Western journalists to do so.
Janine di Giovanni’s claim that few women in those days were working in reporting conflict doesn’t bear close scrutiny, any more than her suggestion that male reporters generally regarded their female counterparts as “decorative features”. I can’t speak for any of the women I have named, of course, but from a male perspective the suggestion is demeaning.
It’s a sexist trope, a bit like describing me as a “middle-aged male correspondent.” That bit really hurt. I hadn’t even turned 40!
Selsey, West Sussex
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