Monday, October 12, 2009
Corsets, cameras and camouflage: Meeting Kate Adie
by Tolu Ogunlesi
She was the only woman on the frontlines during Gulf War 1, surrounded by 43,000 men. So how did she cope with doing that thing that men can do in public but women can’t? “Nudity is tolerable, using the loo in front of other people isn’t,” she explained to a wine-sipping group of us gathered around her at a Nairobi house in August; as we awaited the start of a dinner party to end the 2009 Storymoja Hay Festival.
No war without Kate
In 2001 Britain’s Independent newspaper described Kate Adie OBE as “the best-known, most respected woman reporter in the UK.” She came to national prominence in 1980, reporting – from behind a car door – the siege of the Iranian embassy in London, in May 1980. In 1986 she covered the American bombing of Tripoli, and in 1989, in Tiananmen Square she was hit in the arm by a bullet which went on to kill a young man. During the first Gulf War a British newspaper published a cartoon showing two soldiers preparing to go into battle. “We can’t start yet, Kate Adie isn't here,” one says to the other.
A day before the dinner party I had the privilege, alongside Ugandan journalist David Kaiza, of interviewing Adie in a packed tent on the grounds of Nairobi’s Impala Club. After four decades of reporting – which saw her rise from studio technician at a local BBC radio station in Durham to become the BBC’s Chief News Correspondent in 1989, covering wars everywhere from Armenia to Bosnia to Rwanda to the Middle East – she is eminently qualified to lecture on grand concepts like “news” and “war”.
“Ninety percent of wars are about land,” she said. “In the future it will be [about] land with water, land you can build on; live on.” She also hinted at the capacity of 'war' to feed the human predilection for euphemism – which would explain Kenya’s “post-election violence”, and Northern Ireland’s “troubles”.
The making of a journalist
But “international media” is one concept that doesn’t deserve an explanation. "There is no such thing as the international media," she said."You are all paid by somebody, you are all working for somebody... there is no such thing as international journalism reporting for the world. CNN’s target audience is middle America; it just happens that other people are subjected to it.” The BBC is “British in origin, and in orientation.” And for her “there really isn’t any kind of war that sees journalists as neutral. Whose side are you on – that’s the first question. Are you for us or against us?”
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