Echo Sierra

Thoughts on Conflicts, Peace and Defence policies

Posted by Olivier Jacquemet On October - 12 - 2012 0 Comment

On the 30 December 2009, French journalists Hervé Ghesquière and Stéphane Taponier were taken as hostages in Afghanistan. This triggered a series of reactions by the French presidency and the military (President Sarkozy and his team had blamed the journalists for being incautious and seeking a scoop “at all costs”, and the military had publicly explained how much did it cost to cordon the area were the journalist were held and later said that during their detention, 27 seven servicemen died in Afghanistan – forgetting to mention that 18 of them died in operations not related to the search and rescue of these hostages).

French operation in the Kapisa province, Afghanistan (credits: French MoD)

French operation in the Kapisa province, Afghanistan (credits: French MoD)

On the other hand, once freed, Hervé Ghesquière did not minced his words against the operations of French armed forces in Afghanistan, which was not really appreciated by the French soldiers who served in Afghanistan (and their relatives), as their mandate is backbreaking and that the French public opinion show little interest and support for their mission.

As Hervé Ghesquière has released a book about his detention, the argument between the “pro-Ghesquière” and the “pro-military” has just resumed and blog posts praising the former hostages or despising them are flourishing. The argument is bound to bounce in January 2013 as the former head of French military public relations in Afghanistan, Lieutenant-Colonel Fouquereau, is filing suit against Hervé Ghesquière for defamation…

Hervé Ghesquière

Hervé Ghesquière

For my part, I find this argument pointless.

I expect a journalist to do his job. In other words, I do not want him to rewrite or transcript the military public relations’ briefing. For this kind of articles, I have the website of the French Ministry of Defence. I want a reporter to provide me with an accurate and impartial view of what is going on. And for actual journalists, this often implies taking risks on a warzone. Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk said: “It’s a journalist’s job to be a witness to history. We’re not there to worry about ourselves. We’re there to try and get as near as we can, in an imperfect world, to the truth and get the truth out”. So I will not blame a journalist for being held as hostage if his intention to provide readers with an exhaustive and impartial view of a situation was genuine. In so far as Hervé Ghesquière and Stéphane Taponier wanted their report to include the local population’s opinion and not just the MoD’s briefing (which is not deceptive but for sure truncated), I find hard to blame them for doing their job…

On the other hand, 9 servicemen died in operation aiming at rescuing these hostages. I think everyone of us should pay tribute to them (as well as to their comrades who died in Afghanistan in other circumstances).

I remember a strip from the French comic “Quai d’Orsay” (that I strongly recommend to French readers, the comics describes in a funny way the actual administrative life of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) in which the Minister learns a journalist has just been abducted and reacts: “Oh, I can’t believe it! I can’t believe it! I  have other business to attend to! …  All right, this guy was doing his jobIt is our turn to do our to get him out of there”.

Of course it is sad these 9 men died. But I think it was their mission, the objective of which was to rescue French citizens (and their Afghan translator), even if these hostages ignored the warnings given by the army before they started their investigation on their own, outside the Army’s protection (which was justified, as I wrote in the previous paragraph). And let us not forget that, several times, in the past, French special forces had been assigned to the rescue of amateur sailors that decided to go on a cruise offshore Somalia and ended up taken as hostages by local pirates…

I also admit that the bashing by Hervé Ghesquière on the military was not the smartest thing for him to do…

French soldier and journalists in Kapisa (credits: French MoD)

French soldier and journalists in Kapisa (credits: French MoD)

I am neither asking for the crucifixion of Hervé Ghesquière, nor I wish the death of these servicemen being forgotten. I only hope the development  of mutual understanding. I would like reporters to understand that soldiers think different from them (security first). And I would also like soldiers to understand that journalists think different from them (information first). This mutual understanding will surely help to defuse these pointless arguments.

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