Media: The survivor who didn't: More and more journalists are being murdered, and they're not all raw recruits, says Robert Fisk

I met Alexandra Tuttle in Sarajevo this summer. A bubbling Francophile American, she travelled with the French press, flak jacket dangling nonchalantly from her shoulder as she set off from the Holiday Inn each morning for the familiar, dangerous routine of reporting on the front lines and hospitals.

Gregarious would be the word that comes to mind. Alexandra was a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, for whom she had written more than 70 first-rate, analytical stories. We had a silly row one night when she claimed that Iran was a threat to 'Saudi democracy', and I tried to convince her that, for all its sins, Iran at least had a parliament while Saudi Arabia, for all its money, had none.

But she was generous enough to take my English cynicism in good heart. She wanted to know about my own home base of Beirut, about why I thought the Gulf war was a tragedy. My answer - that all wars are a tragedy because wars are primarily about death - met with her total agreement. Then I left for northern Bosnia and she returned to her home in Paris, where she kept a much-talked about dog called George.

A survivor, I thought. We journalists judge people like that these days. Alexandra Tuttle would survive.

So when I flew into Beirut from Cairo a few weeks ago, it was hard to believe the lonely little paragraph I read in the Lebanese papers. Alexandra Tuttle had been killed in Sukhumi, burnt to death in a military aircraft that had been hit by a ground-to-air missile.

Impossible. Survivors don't get killed. But true. Alexandra, one of her close friends told me, had boarded the flight in Tbilisi on 22 September, anxious to conduct a second interview with Eduard Shevardnadze who was still holding out in Sukhumi. A German photographer on the flight had second thoughts and disembarked before take-off, urging Alexandra to do the same. She refused.

She had not even told her news desk of her plans; so she lay for five days in a grave near Sukhumi airport before her employers, and her parents in Maryland, realised she was missing. The plane had broken in two when the Abkhazian missile hit it. Everyone in the front half died; Alexandra was in the cockpit.

The airport was under artillery fire at the time, but someone found her shredded US passport and a crumpled photograph of her dog, George. With permission from the victorious Abkhazians, her family and friends are still hoping to repatriate her remains, if they can find her grave.

Even if we have never met those of our colleagues who pay so terrible a price for their vocation, the statistics of journalistic fatalities are now truly shocking. In 1992, 61 of all nationalities were shot, bombed or knifed to death - the largest number in Turkey, which always heads Index on Censorship's monthly list of countries in which journalists are murdered.

In the past 21 months, 37 journalists have died in the former Yugoslavia alone, many killed deliberately by snipers. David Kaplan, of ABC News, was shot dead near Sarajevo airport on 13 August 1992. The bullet entered his car between the T and V of the 'TV' sign pasted on the side; he was not wearing a flak jacket - which is why we all now clank around in 10kg vests and helmets.

Time was, we fondly believed, when we could claim some immunity: neutral observers of the truth, respected by all sides. Death would be generous and pass us by.

Maybe it started going wrong in Lebanon when journalists became the prey of kidnappers, who did not care about the press. Eighteen journalists died there, many of whom I knew. Clark Todd of Canadian Television, killed in the Chouf mountain war in 1983, wrote a last message of love to his family on a pillow case as he lay dying in the village of Kfar Matta. Robert Pfeffer, a German magazine reporter, was shot dead in front of his wife by Palestinian gunmen in Beirut. Toufiq Ghazawi and Bahij Metni, a CBS Lebanese crew, were torn to pieces by an Israeli tank shell near Kfar Melki after surviving 10 years of war.

Survivors do die, which is why many of us have developed weird habits. Martin Bell of the BBC wears mismatching socks in Bosnia. I try to avoid leaving for a dangerous location with any remark that could be remembered as 'last words'. Never, never leave for a battle with comments such as 'Don't worry, I'll be OK,' or 'I hope the desk knows the risks we're taking'. We all know we may not be OK, and we all suspect (sometimes rightly) that our news desks do not know the risks.

The younger we are, the more exposed we are. The first time I drove into Israeli tank fire in southern Lebanon in 1978 - in those days we had no flak jackets - I was so frightened that I started saying crazy things to myself like 'Death can't be that bad', or 'Well, at least if I die, I'll have another story tomorrow which won't be so risky'.

I have often wondered whether the first journalists to die in Croatia, then in Bosnia, did so largely because they were young and inexperienced; because many of them knew only the Hollywood variety of war, where the stars always survive the death of their characters. There is a little Somme waiting for all innocent journalists.

In northern Kurdistan, a young American freelance on his very first war assignment was murdered by Iraqi soldiers. Gad Gross was a driven, brave young man who turned up briefly in Beirut before the Gulf war embraced the slaughter of the Kurds, then set off for the killing fields of northern Iraq in the hope of selling his pictures to an American news magazine. He was shot dead after screaming in rage at the Iraqi soldiers who had just murdered his Kurdish guide.

How should editors react? After three Reuters and an Associated Press journalist were killed by mobs in Mogadishu, most reporters pulled out of Somalia. A few weeks ago the last American journalist left, to the relief of the blundering US forces. In some news rooms, thankfully not all, there are those who question the worth of sending reporters to Bosnia.

But if we journalists have any reasons for our existence, the least must be our ability to report history as it happens. And history is dangerous. Beirut, Bosnia, Georgia. And Moscow: the siege of the White House killed Rory Peck, a British cameraman working for German television. I remember years ago how Sean McBride suggested that journalists must have special status, special protection. The Red Cross once mooted a white badge for war correspondents.

Yet we are not, and should not be, a special breed. Journalists have been dying for decades. One of the first foreign correspondents on the Times was hacked to death on the banks of the Nile by followers of the Mahdi, while trying to carry to Cairo a scoop on General Gordon's defiance upstream. In the Second World War, journalists accepted the deaths of their colleagues with sadness but inevitability: an AP reporter who dropped into the Balkans with the US Special Forces was put in front of

a German firing squad with the American soldiers, despite pleas for clemency.

As our lives become steadily more dangerous - and the wars of Eastern Europe become ever more savage - we should rage against the deaths of our colleagues. And we should demand every protection. But the necessity of recording human suffering on an epic scale is worth the risk. And if editors came to feel otherwise, they would be providing a miserable memorial to those who have died.

Put painfully, we've just got to go on covering wars. And those are not last words.

'From Beirut to Bosnia', a series of three films on Robert Fisk's reporting for the 'Independent' in the Middle East and the Balkans, will be shown by Channel 4 on 7, 14 and 21 December.

(Photograph omitted)

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
Ricky Gervais performs stand-up
people
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

£20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

Trend Writer / Copywriter

£25 - 30k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Trend Writer / Copywriter: Retail, Design and...

Business Development Manager / Media Sales Exec

£28 - 32k + Uncapped Commission: Guru Careers: A Business Development Manager ...

Digital Marketing Assistant

£17 - 27k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Digital Marketing Assistant to join ...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering