Ethics versus life

Carol Off reading at Blue Heron Books & Brunch event, Nov. 12, 2017.

Last Sunday morning, I watched a seasoned journalist get uncharacteristically emotional. Previously a foreign correspondent, a reporter who’d covered hostilities in the Middle East and a long-time current affairs radio host, Carol Off’s eyes welled up. She recalled, in 2002, convincing Asad Aryubwal, an Afghan father of five, to go on-camera to expose the warlords the U.S. military was courting to overthrow the Taliban.

“Asad’s courage in speaking out was rewarded only with the calamity when, in response to (my) documentary,” Off told Zoomer magazine, “Afghanistan’s most powerful warlord sent a death squad to kill him.”

Lost art of listening

Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, during the Arab Spring revolution, when a dictator had to listen or else. Photo

About a year ago, I was invited to speak to the Writers’ Community of York Region. As the date of the talk approached – last Sunday, Dec. 9 – I began to prepare my presentation. Normally, for these kinds of talks, I rely on my collection of personal anecdotes, remembrances and war stories – literally and figuratively – to get me through the event. Then, I remembered why I had been invited.

“This is a group of writers,” the speaking convenor had said. “So they’ll be interested in your research and writing… You might want to address the challenges of being a journalist and non-fiction writer.”

The price of these words

Cover image from "International Free Expression Review 2010," published by the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression.
Cover image from "International Free Expression Review 2010," published by the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression.

I hear it among my colleagues often – industry complaints. Some of my friends in newspaper journalism worry about the uncertainty of their jobs. Others in the magazine business object to their copy being squeezed by over-sized ads. Meanwhile, those of my associates in the electronic media whine about insufficient pensions to cover their expenses when they retire.

I wonder if any of them would ever complain again, if they knew the plight of Cameroon Express editor Bibi Ngota. Earlier this year, while imprisoned at Kondengui prison in Cameroon, he died of “abandonment (and) improper care,” according to official records.

Why was he in jail? According to a press release from the organization Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), “(He) was charged with ‘imitating the signature of a member of government,’” short for criticizing the Cameroonian government.