Christiane Amanpour | 1994 Courage in Journalism Award
CNN, United States
Amanpour has been caught up in the drama of war since 1979 when the Iranian revolution forced her family to flee Tehran with few belongings. After graduating from the University of Rhode Island in 1983, Amanpour went to work as an assistant on the foreign desk at CNN in Atlanta. She subsequently became a correspondent in the network’s Frankfurt bureau and rose to prominence for her coverage of the Persian Gulf War.
Amanpour was verbally threatened and receive death threats from paramilitaries and governments that opposed her work.
Amanpour remains discouraged today, even after the spike in attention to overseas news after 9-11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Speaking in July after returning from Iraq after three weeks of reporting, the 1994 Courage in Journalism Award winner said she was not talking about anyone at CNN, but about bosses of colleagues who downplay international reporting.
?There?s still far too much trivia on American television ? trivial rubbish,? she said. ?Given the magnitude of what we?re facing in the world ? this Iraq adventure, terrorism, this clash of civilization between Muslims and the rest of the world ? I regret that TV news doesn?t pay more attention.?
Amanpour acknowledged that the trend away from international news began decades ago, but said ?now more than ever, it is dangerous to cut Americans off from foreign news.?
Many reporters thought the 9-11 attacks on New York would be a line in the sand, that foreign news coverage would assume new importance. That hasn?t proved long-lasting, she said.
Amanpour has been covering wars almost nonstop for decades. She is one of the few U.S. broadcast reporters with a wealth of experience in other parts of the world. Her country of birth is Iran; she is the daughter of a British mother and an Iranian airline pilot father. From the age of 11 she commuted between Iran and boarding schools in England. She was 20 in 1979 when the Iranian fundamentalists took charge of the country and she left for the University of Rhode Island. Her parents left the next year, losing everything in the revolution and starting over again in England.
Amanpour got a degree in journalism in 1983, took an internship at the NBC affiliate in Providence, Rhode Island, and that fall landed a gofer job at CNN in Atlanta. She told media audiences years later that she was assigned to the foreign desk only because she was foreign.
She flourished at CNN and worked her way up. Within the decade her long held dream of reporting overseas was fulfilled. She was part of CNN?s team in Iraq for the first Gulf War in 1990. The next year, she made her first trip back to Iran. After the Gulf War, she spent the bulk of her time in Bosnia until mid-1997. She filed at least one story every day of the year during 1991-1997. She was relentless in reporting on the genocide underway against Bosnian Muslims.
In 2003, when there was an outcry in many Muslim countries about the U.S. invasion of Iraq, former President Bill Clinton expressed disappointment that those countries gave the United States no credit for going to war to help protect the Muslims in Bosnia.
Amanpour declined to comment on Clinton?s remarks but agreed that, early on, ?many Muslim countries accused the United States of running roughshod over the Muslims in the world.? She agreed that ?the USA should have gotten credit for intervening in the Balkans ? there was no oil, it was not a strategic location, it was just to stop the wholesale slaughter of groups who happened to be Muslim. But I don?t couple that with Iraq,? she said. The surprise for her was ?the total lack of a realistic postwar plan for Iraq. That has affected everything since the war was begun.?
Amanpour covers conflicts in Iran and Afghanistan and in addition she keeps tabs on the role of women in these countries as enormous changes are put in place.
?Iraq was not Afghanistan. There always was a robust role for women, in public and private in Iraq ? women don?t necessarily have equal rights, but that is one of the platforms of the new Iraq government ? . You already can see that women are partaking in it ? . It is still hard. Women still have a long way to go.?
In Afghanistan, she said, ?it is much worse. They started with a much bigger deficit on women?s rights and it is taking much longer to give them equal rights.?
Amanpour is based in London and has a four-year-old son. She spends much time on the road, covering major stories whether in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan or the Middle East. She says the strain has increased along with the risks for reporters in Iraq and other trouble spots.
?It?s getting harder and harder to do what we do, so the courage and bravery level is getting higher and higher,? she said. ?In the last few years, the leading cause of death [of reporters], according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, is deliberate assassination, murder. This really is a frightening reality and it?s getting worse and worse every year. Each story seems to be getting more and more dangerous. Iraq is more dangerous than any [story] we have covered: there is hostage-taking, kidnapping, head-chopping. So those who are willing to go there are very, very brave people,? she said.
Her own definition of courage today ?is the ability and willingness of every individual journalist to not just go there but to stand up to people who want to silence us, whether it be any government in the world, including the USA, or whether it be terrorists.?
She said that international journalism plays a role in supporting local journalists, who are constantly on the front lines of danger. In the toughest countries today, she said, local journalists are targeted for assassination in an effort to silence their voices. ?We owe it to them to get their stories out. So I don?t knock parachute journalism. … In many countries, the first inkling that something goes wrong comes from foreign reporters who have gone there.?
Amanpour said that, as a reporter for a U.S.-based media outlet, winning the Courage in Journalism Award was like ?winning a medal for being in combat.? She said that she knows it has a different impact on journalists from countries where danger is an every day companion. ?For those people, it is not only an honor but protection as well. ? It means they?re recognized by the most important country in the world, and people in their home country know they have to take note.?
She is now the chief international correspondent for CNN and host of CNN International’s nightly interview program. Amanpour is also a Global Affairs Anchor of ABC News. Her philosophy about journalism is, “To tell the truth. To be objective, but not neutral, especially in cases of genocide. To try to tell serious, important stories in an age of increasing trivia. This is a noble and valuable profession. Done right it is a positive force and valuable contribution to society.”
Christiane Amanpour is the third Courage in Journalism Award winner from the United States, following Caryle Murphy(1990) and Donna Ferrato(1993). U.S. awardees after her are Corinne Dufka (1997), Elizabeth Neuffer (1998), Anne Garrels (2003) and Jill Carroll (2006).