It was Santiago Lyon’s Facebook posting on Sunday that reminded us that 20 years ago two of the best and most respected international journalists, Miguel Gil of AP and Kurt Schork of Reuters, were both killed on the same day in the same place, caught in an ambush during the cvil war in Sierra Leone. Lyon- an award-winning photojournalist and editor for many years with the AP- said that they were ” amongst the finest journalists of their generation: driven, passionate, empathetic, and fair.”
Their deaths sent shockwaves through the news industry at a time when far too many journalists were losing their lives covering the bloody conflicts and civil wars in the Balkans, the Middle East, and Africa. Many thought to themselves: if Gil and Schork, two of the most experienced journalists couldn’t protect themselves, what were their own chances of surviving dangerous assignments? Many were also asking whether Gil and Schork took risks they wouldn’t have ordinarily taken because of the competition amongst the agencies and broadcasters.
I was at that time the Executive Director of the European Center of the American journalism and media foundation, the Freedom
Forum. We had focused many events and campaigned along with press rights groups and a few broadcasters, led by the BBC, for safer news practises that included or required training courses and first aid instruction.
After their deaths, many of Gil’s and Schork’s friends and colleagues refused to get back to business as usual. They wanted something done, something specific that put in place requirements and provisions that might- even in these most dangerous of times- help save lives and prevent another tragedy like that that resulted in their deaths.
Miguel Gil’s brother, Alvaro, asked that The Freedom Forum host a special event that paid tribute to Miguel and Kurt but also went beyond emotions and platitudes.
On September 20, 2000, we held an event- chaired by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour:
“Setting the Standard: A commitment to frontline journalism; an obligation to frontline journalism.
Christiane Amanpour.”
And it was Richard Sambrook, then the deputy head of news, who – as he did so often- took leadership and helped draft new guidelines that would serve as a reference point for a newly created crisis news group that would meet and discuss how to collaborate or share information if lives were at risk.
Below is the transcript that we produced of the event along with the Sambrook guidelines: