Jonathan Miller is the Foreign Affairs Correspondent for the UK’s Channel 4 News. Jonathan has won four Royal Television Society Awards and four Amnesty International TV News awards for the programme.
Before joining ITN in 2003, Jonathan worked as a documentary director and presenter after fours years as a BBC correspondent in South East Asia. He has covered some of the most ground breaking news stories from around the globe, frequently relying on fixers to cover challenging stories.
Where have you just come back from? What was the story?
Top secret! But, it involved a couple of countries in the Middle East. Right now, I’m just packing my stuff for what promises to be a pretty wild two weeks in Nigeria.
How did your fixer help you on this most recent assignment?
In the one I’ve recently come back from, I can say that my crew and I might well be in jail were it not for our fixer, who fended off police with great dexterity. Nothing like a confident, experienced fixer for getting rid of unwanted law enforcement officers. As to the trip I’m about to undertake: if our plan works out, it could be spectacular and it will, once again, all be down to the skills and contacts of my very experienced Nigerian fixer, whose identity I am afraid I must keep under wraps.
How do you feel they have helped your career in Broadcast journalism generally?
I could not do my job without the work of the local fixers I hook up with wherever I go. They are my eyes and ears. The first thing I do is download all the local goss from them. I have worked with some of the finest in the business – and to me they have as important a role in the making of our reports as I do as the correspondent, or as the camera person or producer. A good fixer shines – and can remain confident of a long, productive and creative relationship. Bad ones never get called again.
In your eyes what do you feels constitutes a good fixer?
A good fixer must, over and above all else, be easy to work with; sometimes they are fun, or funny, sometimes they’re serious – but they must always have an easy way about them, and get on well with me and my crew. Usually, that’s the case, as you don’t become a good fixer if you’re not good with people. After that, yes contacts, being plugged in, being able to show initiative, contributing ideas – and being willing to do anything… ideally with a bit of enthusiasm!
Can you tell us about a few of your favourites and why?
If you work over many years with particular people, as you revisit stories, you forge a bond of friendship where you just snap straight back into things the way there were the last time you were together… like any old friendship. Often you experience things with a fixer which accentuate that bond; being under fire or being arrested or undertaking some huge adventure with them.
In November last year, we honoured our Channel 4 News fixer in Gaza, Khaled Abu Ghali, who has, over the past decade, become a great friend. Those of us who worked with him for week after week last summer, nominated Khaled for a Rory Peck Award. He won!
I have great friends and fixers in many countries across Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America. On four occasions now, past fixers of mine have had to flee their home countries (one three different continents) because of the risks they’d had to take doing what they do. On each occasion, I have sought to assist them in setting up a new life somewhere else. It serves as a chilling reminder for a foreign correspondent that while you can waltz into a country and then disappear back where you came from, your local journalist colleague – and for that matter, your driver cannot. They sometimes have to pay a very high price for doing what they do. But its a two-way deal: if they do that for you, you must be willing to help them when they need it.
You recently wrote an op-ed regarding Khaled Abu Ghali winning the Martin Adler award. It is clear this is something you feel very strongly about – can you explain why?
Fixers get little credit in our business, but all too often play the starring role, albeit behind the scenes. Khaled is a spectacular fixer. I am not the only journalist who can say that his quick thinking and intuition probably saved my life. There are few people Khaled does not know in Gaza and he is universally respected. He has not been embittered by his and his family’s grim experience of living with endless cycles of war. His nose for a story is second to none. Nominating him for the Rory Peck Trust Martin Adler Award was particularly resonant for me. Martin was an old friend of mine, who was shot dead in Somalia in 2006. He too valued his fixers greatly – and rumour has it he bankrolled a wedding for one of them somewhere in Central Asia and helped put another fixer’s child through school in Central America.
Can you tell us about the most memorable experience you have ever had with a fixer?
Where do I start? Walking for days through the Congolese jungle with Robert, my fixer from Goma? I just wanted to lie down and die by the end of it but Robert just kept on plodding on and made sure I did too! Or there was Reza, in Ambon, Indonesia. We capsized in a boat, a mile out at sea at 11pm in a war zone and floated around like shark bait for a couple of hours until someone came out and rescued us!
There’s a fantastic lunatic I refuse to name, in Lebanon, and trusty Patricia too… who didn’t take very kindly to being shot at by Syrian soldiers as we stood on the border with Jordan. There was our born-again former drug-dealer fixer on South Africa’s Cape Flats and our un-nameable undercover hero-fixers in Zimbabwe, Sudan, Burma, Azerbaijan, China and Sri Lanka… There’s Tahrir and Mushtaq and Ahmad and Alessandra. Suffice it to say that adventures have been had.
You have conducted some extremely important investigations, especially in Sri Lanka. How did local professionals help you on this project?
I cannot reveal the identities of those I have worked with over the years on our Sri Lanka investigations — for obvious reasons. But yes, we have received help, both on the ground there and in films we’ve produced from abroad. Often these people have put themselves at great personal risk and I pay tribute to them. You cannot hope to dig fresh, detailed information of the sort that you need when you’re investigating possible war crimes, without having an extremely knowledgeable local journalist or investigator working with you.
As the media industry changes how do you feel that our reliance on fixers will also change?
Skill-sets might change; the need to grapple with new technologies, or be au fait with social media. Expectations may change: perhaps it will in future be deemed necessary that a fixer can competently wield a camera… but ultimately, good journalism, good TV, is about content and context and a fixer’s role is to provide both of those. So that will probably never change. If they can spot a good story and have the contacts, knowledge, verve and guts to carry it off, they never need worry about being out of work.
Interview by William Lloyd George for World Fixer. The featured image is Jonathan with Gaza fixer, Khaled Abu Ghali – recipient of the Martin Adler Prize 2014 (awarded via The Rory Peck Trust)
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