Afghan fixers under fire

The Taliban has reportedly begun to target “fixers,” the local assistants that are essential to functioning in Afghanistan. These reports come after the shooting of Javed “Jojo” Azamy in Kandahar. He was an Afghan freelance cameraman, reporter and “fixer” for the Canadian media.

“In a report released this month, the France-based group Reporters without Borders said that Afghan journalists generally are facing growing threats, attacks and kidnappings at the hands of the insurgents,” reports Canada’s National Post. “The Islamist fighters have long been eager to use the media to disseminate their message, but may be upset with the more skeptical tack being taken by many Afghan journalists of late, Vincent Brossel, the organization’s Asia director, said from Paris.”

If this is true, it is a blow to international journalism. The reality of life in many places is that without a fixer, life can be nasty, brutish and short. TV especially is heavily reliant on fixers: they organise logistics, find and conduct interviews, handle relations with local communities and in general smooth the path for Westerners in difficult surroundings. Many are journalists in their own right, though they get little recognition.

Aaron Rockett has made a film about fixers in Afghanistan: see a clip here from CNN. Fixers are just as important in the rest of the Middle East, including Gaza: see a clip about their work here. They are by no means uncontroversial: in some places, critics complain they distort the news (of course they have their own views: they are human beings). This piece by an American correspondent gives a fairly rounded view.

The death of Azamy is a reminder that whatever their flaws, these guys take great risks. The Frontline Club in London has a Fixers Fund for the families of fixers killed or injured while working with international media.  You can find out more here.

Fixers often get caught in the crossfire between the communities they come from, the journalists they work for and the armed forces on both sides: literal and metaphorical crossfire. The Canadian Press reports of Azamy that he had worked for US Special Forces in 2001; for Canadian media; and had been detained by the US for nearly a year as an enemy combatant in 2007-8. “No explanation, either for his detention or his release, was ever proffered.”

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