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.