A true press hero

Japanese photojournalist Mika Yamamoto fought for free journalism her entire career. She was killed while working in Syria on Aug. 20 in the city of Aleppo, at the age of 45. On May 20, she was posthumously awarded the 2013 World Press Freedom Hero Award by the International Press Institute, founded at Columbia University in New York City. Her award is a testament to her accomplishments and the importance of her work.

According to witnesses, Yamamoto was targeted by Syrian government soldiers during clashes between rebel and regime forces while she was carrying out her work as a war correspondent for The Japan Press, an independent TV news provider that specializes in conflict zones.

Although Yamamoto well knew the dangers of the conflict in Syria, she continued her reporting. She had to weigh the dangers of Syria against the importance of reporting, and chose to follow her duty as a journalist.

Yamamoto was no stranger to areas with deep and dangerous conflict. She had also reported on the Taliban rule in Afghanistan from 1996 as well as the war there from 2001 to the fall of Kabul. She also worked in Iraq as a special correspondent for NTV during the American invasion in 2003. She specialized in reporting on the lives of women and children in Iraq and the oppression they suffered.

Those of us lucky enough to live in countries with press freedom depend heavily on people like Yamamoto for their courage to go to difficult areas and find out what is really happening. Yamamoto sent videos, photos and articles on these conflicts that helped others to understand those conflicts, which is the purpose of a free press.

Last year, 39 other journalists were also killed covering the Syrian conflict, including American reporter Marie Colvin, who also received the award. Those journalists who were killed included local reporters whose names are not as likely to become well known. Already, Colvin’s story is set to become a feature film. Yamamoto’s story would make an excellent and inspiring film as well.

Yamamoto’s award was announced on World Press Freedom Day, which comes around every May 3 to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom and pay tribute to those journalists who have lost their lives in support of that freedom. Yamamoto was a true hero whose life and work should remain for journalists the world over a model for the fearless pursuit of the truth.

  • Spudator

    Those of us lucky enough to live in countries with press freedom depend heavily on people like Yamamoto for their courage to go to difficult areas and find out what is really happening.

    This is rich coming from The Japan Times, a newspaper that I know for a fact has no real understanding of what press freedom is about, much less the responsibilities that go with such freedom and the courage that it demands.

    Years ago, a Japanese friend of mine was trying to start his own business selling C-band satellite equipment that would allow Japanese users to watch international TV broadcasting and so escape the parochialism and general dumbed-down God-awfulness of Japanese TV. I wrote a simple classified ad for him explaining that the systems he was selling would allow customers to escape the stranglehold on choice represented by such broadcasters as Fuji TV and NHK. The ad was supposed to run in The Japan Times for several weeks, but got pulled after a single insertion.

    Apparently, some pipsqueak at NHK, taking offence at the ad for daring to suggest that Japanese viewers would now have even greater freedom not to watch NHK, which was of course the simple truth, complained to The Japan Times about the ad. The result was that the newspaper, in a crass and craven display of snivelling cowardice, immediately kowtowed to NHK’s demand to drop the ad. So my friend, an ordinary guy merely trying to provide for his family by showing the enterprise to start his own business, got royally shafted by the newspaper.

    My friend’s ad was truthful and non-libellous; and NHK, as far as I know, doesn’t advertise in The Japan Times and so has no commercial hold over the newspaper. Yet fearing the repercussions of offending part of the Japanese establishment, The Japan Times chose to betray my friend, revealing its contempt for the hopes and dreams—and human rights—of the little guy and its abject surrender to the demands and threats of the big guy.

    Incidentally, if you’ve been following Roger Dahl’s cartoons over the years, you’ll possibly recall an incident a few years ago—I forget the details—where a big Japanese organisation was offended by one of his cartoons and demanded in a letter to the editor that The Japan Times apologise for publishing it. True to form, the newspaper issued a grovelling retraction and apology right there on the letters page under the complaint, obsequiously assuring the complainant that The Japan Times didn’t support Dahl’s opinion and that, because he was a freelancer (this is the part that really disgusted me), there was absolutely no official connection between him and the newspaper. In other words: “We don’t know this guy. He’s not with us.” Talk about treachery and hanging someone out to dry.

    The Japan Times: All the News Without Fear or Favor. Pah!

    • Graham Tsuno

      This is even richer coming from you, Mr. Spud, one of the top commenters on this site. Do you visit and comment out of boredom, or do you just seek out journalism that reeks of repression?

      Sorry for getting personal but are you paying the moderators to let your comments through? Or maybe you think the paper fears the repercussions of not giving you a voice?

      As for your hard working friend, he has my sympathies but were his “human rights” infringed upon? Seriously? And have you not read stories or commentaries in JT that have been critical of the broadcaster, and a host of other government-related entities? Do you need examples?

      As for Roger Dahl … I never heard of this incident, but don’t you think it’s odd that these so-called freedom-hating editors have not muzzled him since then? To this day, he is still drawing cartoons that tell it like it is, no? You know the answer, right?

      Call me crazy but I personally think the Japan Times does a decent job of covering topics that other local media shy away from. Granted, I never was a fan of the pages that celebrate local embassies (does anyone read these?), nor do I care for the space given to certain hotheads and blowhards, but I’ll take what I can get. And it’s pretty damn good.

      So shall we show some respect for the journalist whom this editorial is praising and the media organization that chose to honor her. Your imagined treachery is out of place.

      • Spudator

        This is even richer coming from you, Mr. Spud, one of the top commenters on this site.

        Even richer? How so? Do you mean my comment is hypocritical? In what way?

        Do you visit and comment out of boredom, or do you just seek out journalism that reeks of repression?

        And if I did comment out of boredom, what of it? Surely the only thing that matters is what I have to say. Are you suggesting that because you disapprove of what you believe to be the motivation behind my comments, I have no right to post anything? Crikey! Talk about a God complex. Who put you in charge of the community after just a couple of posts?

        As for seeking out journalism that reeks of repression, I’m afraid you’ve lost me. Try using a little more logic and a little less snideness when making points. I read articles and posts that interest me; some of them I comment on. That’s how this Web 2.0 thingy works, isn’t it? Why do you find my doing something I’m allowed to do so upsetting? Does free speech bother you?

        Sorry for getting personal but are you paying the moderators to let your comments through?

        Oh, for heaven’s sake, give it a rest. Your carping attacks on me are tedious and puerile; stop being so silly.

        Or maybe you think the paper fears the repercussions of not giving you a voice?

        The Japan Times fearful of little me? Don’t make me laugh. I believe I’m what’s commonly referred to as “some anonymous guy on the Internet”, and as such, I’m sure the paper’s management and editorial staff couldn’t care less about whether I’m given a voice or not.

        And have you not read stories or commentaries in JT that have been critical of [NHK], and a host of other government-related entities?

        You’re missing the point, which is that The Japan Times’ critical stance only lasts until it’s given warning by one of its targets that it’s gone too far. Then the newspaper crumples up like a cheap suit, recanting on whatever it said that overstepped the mark and issuing an unequivocal apology for it.

        As for Roger Dahl … I never heard of this incident, but don’t you think it’s odd that these so-called freedom-hating editors have not muzzled him since then? To this day, he is still drawing cartoons that tell it like it is, no?

        Trust me, it happened. Yes, Dahl’s still producing great work for The Japan Times. (God only knows why; after such cavalier treatment at the hands of the newspaper, I’m astonished he didn’t dump the miserable ingrates and take his talents to a journal that would value his contributions.) However, I suspect the newspaper’s continued support for him is only conditional: if he produces anything that, by daring to tell the truth, draws the wrath of another individual or organisation, he’ll get the same treatment as before. The editors or managers will hang him out to dry again, placing all the blame squarely on his shoulders so that they can once more save their own cowardly skins. No doubt the same betrayal lies in store for any Japan Times journalist who does their job so well they get the newspaper into hot water. No need to muzzle someone when you intend to use them as a scapegoat if needs be.

        One has to wonder how, say, The Guardian would behave if it received a letter from some organisation demanding that it disown and apologise for a cartoon by Steve Bell. I’m sure the newspaper would leap to the defence of its top cartoonist. But then The Guardian truly stands for the noble principle of freedom of the press instead of just paying lip-service to that principle like The Japan Times does.

        I [don't] care for the space given [in The Japan Times] to certain hotheads and blowhards. . . .

        Why doesn’t that surprise me? It sounds to me like you don’t care for anyone who has an opinion, especially if it differs from your own and is forthrightly expressed.

        So shall we show some respect for the journalist whom this editorial is praising and the media organization that chose to honor her.

        Yes, let’s. Someone who can put themselves in harm’s way and risk—indeed, lose—their life for press freedom is incredibly courageous and worthy of the greatest respect. That’s why The Japan Times, a newspaper that doesn’t even have the testicular fortitude to stand up for that freedom when merely confronted with a blustering letter of complaint from some tin-pot official, angers me so much by trying to ride on the coat-tails of a journalist as heroic as Mika Yamamoto.