Sep 10, 2009

Role of the fixer

The death of Sultan Munadi has drawn attention to the important role local "fixers" play in helping foreign journalists cover foreign wars.

Munadi, who worked with the New York Times in Afghanistan, was killed in a gun battle on Wednesday as British commandos attempted to rescue him and New York Times correspondent Stephen Farrell from their Taliban captors. Farrell survived.

New Yorker writer George Packer, who reported extensively on the Iraq war, shines some light on the work fixers do and how foreign bureaus rely upon their cultural, historical and linguistic knowledge.
The relationship between fixers and foreign correspondents can be very close. Shared dangers and successes will do that, especially when the work done together, the tie between you, is what puts you at risk. In Iraq and Afghanistan and a growing number of other places, the foreign correspondent would be a target with or without the fixer, but the fixer is a target because he or she is with the foreign correspondent. Both are considered spies, but one is only an infidel, while the other is something worse—an apostate, a traitor. In my experience, this mutually voluntary risk is rarely a source of resentment on the part of fixers. They are generally young, cosmopolitan, quick-witted, stoical, tinged with idealism, implacable foes of their countries’ extremists; and, after all, they understand better than anyone what they have signed up for. For the most part, the risk strengthens the bond. It becomes a cause of tension only when it’s borne by just one side.
New York Times reporter David Rohde knew Munadi and wrote a remembrance of him for the paper here. Rohde was also captured by the Taliban and later escaped along with his fixer:
The death of Mr. Munadi illustrated two grim truths of the war in Afghanistan: vastly more Afghans than foreigners have died battling the Taliban, and foreign journalists are only as good as the Afghan reporters who work with them.
Munadi wrote about some of his own experiences at the Times' War blog:
Being a journalist is not enough; it will not solve the problems of Afghanistan. I want to work for the education of the country, because the majority of people are illiterate. That is the main problem facing many Afghans. I am really committed to come back and work for my country.

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