In Arabic they have a saying that states; “all foreigners are blind even if they are able to see”. This is the phrase that Palestinian journalist and fixer, Khaled Abu Ghali, uses to express the important role of the fixer in news-gathering around the world. Khaled believes that all journalists coming to a foreign land have a different culture, a different topography, so the job of the fixer is to be their eye on the ground and reduce their blindness.
For over fourteen years, Khaled has worked tirelessly to help support freelance journalists, camera crews, photographers and other media professionals to work safely and efficiently in Gaza where he is from. Often risking his own life and being away from his family, he has covered many of Gaza’s most intense periods of conflict, most notably in 2006, 2009, 2012.
Owing to his integrity, sixth sense for danger and professionalism, Khaled is highly respected by media professionals who have worked with him and local journalists in Gaza. However, like many fixers around the world, Khaled has never received any public recognition for all he has done for the media industry and what he has risked. Fortunately, there is one organisation that has for the last two decades remained dedicated to the well-being of fixers and freelancers around the globe; The Rory Peck Trust.
In November this year, Khaled Travelled from his home in Rafah, southern Gaza, to the United Kingdom to receive the Martin Adler Award. The award was set up by the Rory Peck Trust to honour local freelancers who work under challenging and difficult circumstances within their own country and who go largely unrecognised.
The award was named after Swedish journalist Martin Adler who was shot dead while reporting on a protest in Mogadishu in Somalia in 2006. Martin was known to look after his fixers particularly well and maintained contact and support long after he left his assignments. Fellow journalist and friend, Jonathan Miller, Foreign Affairs correspondent for Channel 4, said that he quietly looked after freelancers he had met and even gone as far as bankrolling a wedding in central Asia and putting a child through school in South America.
Martin Adler (photo: Rory Peck Trust)
It was Martin’s respect and compassion towards the freelancers that he met and worked with, which inspired the award to be organised by the Rory Peck Trust. Any media professional will acknowledge that without fixers, stories would never get published and many more journalists would have been killed or kidnapped. It is fixers who help us cover the stories we need and make sure we avoid dangers we are not aware of or simply do not understand.
Despite the absolute necessity of fixers and the risks they take to help media teams get the story, they are rarely publicly credited or acclaimed for their work. This is why, Tina Carr, director of the Rory Peck Trust believes the award is so important.
“It is important for fixers’ work to be highlighted because they perform an incredible variety of functions, namely in a short capacity to western media, who simply could not do without them,” Carr told the WorldFixer Community blog. “Many fixers are freelance journalists themselves, working as fixers and because they know the terrain and have their contacts, and understand the political landscape so well, they are absolutely invaluable to international news organisations who need to cover a story”.
The winner of the award gets to travel to London to receive a cash prize and get attention paid to their work but according to Carr this is not the most important part of winning the award. “Most importantly for the winners they get to stand up in front of a room full of people and tell them exactly what their work is about and the situation in the countries they come from”.
This was particularly significant for Khaled who comes from Gaza and had spent the whole duration of the war working as a fixer.
“In general all fixers need to be recognised and as I come from Palestine, a nation that has been neglected for so many years, and faces many obstacles, to receive this award for my efforts showing the truth and facts of what is going on during the last couple of years is very important for me” Khaled told the WorldFixer Community blog.“It will give encouragement to journalists all over the world to continue to reveal the truth in complicated situations”.
According to Jonathan Miller who worked with Khaled during the most recent escalation in Gaza, Khaled worked flat out for weeks despite the increasing intensity of Israel’s bombing campaign and the escalating level of risk for journalists on the ground, He continued to do so even when his own wife and children were forced to evacuate their family home in Rafah, and when a close friend was killed in an air-strike.
“Khaled is respected by visiting foreign journalists and admired by Gaza’s own journalistic fraternity as a man of great integrity,” wrote Miller in an Independent piece about the award. “He fully recognises and respects the importance of journalistic impartiality in reporting the Israel-Palestinian conflict, despite having witnessed and lived with the raw emotion of war for so long.”
Whilst Khaled was over in London for the award, Channel 4 news and the Rory Peck Trust organised a hostile training course for him to attend. Khaled says that even he has a nursing background he felt the course was incredibly valuable and that all freelancers and fixers must make sure to attend one.
“This course is crucial for every person, the most important thing is that they put people in real situations as though they are really under attack in the training, and this allows you to work out how you would respond if actually under attack. We are responsible for journalists so we must be trained up properly and supported by specialist organisations”.
The Rory Peck Trust does a lot more than give awards it also works with a tight network throughout the world to ensure the safety and well being of all freelancers. Set up over twenty years ago, in honour of prolific cameramn man Rory Peck, the trust often gives out small financial assistance when freelancers are in danger and need money to survive or evacuate a country. It also has a website full of resources and advice highly useful for any freelancer.
Khaled says he feels inspired by the work of the trust and has already made plans with the directors to work out exactly how to help other freelancers in Gaza. “My first priority when I get back will be to explore how we can use the incredible resources of the Rory Peck Trust to improve the well being and security of fellow media professionals in Gaza and the region”.
William Lloyd George is a journalist and co-founder of World Fixer. He is currently based in Ethiopia, previously in Latin America, and with expertise in Myanmar. His particular interests lie in human trafficking, humanitarian issues, development and foreign policy gone wrong. William has worked for TIME Magazine, BBC, CNN, Newsweek Al Jazeera, The Guardian, IPS and many more.