BBC's First Chief News Correspondent Wins Lifetime Achievement Award

Kate Adie has helped blaze a path for women reporters.

By Lesley Kennedy • Reporter
kate adie image
Kate Adie will receive the 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award at the Courage in Journalism Awards.
Photograph: Steve Brock/International Women’s Media Foundation

KA: It depended on life. We were a big stable of reporters—it’s a big national newsroom running several radio and television channels, and in the end, I suppose particularly in the ’80s and the early ’90s, I ended up going to a lot of conflict because there was an awful lot to cover: the end of the Berlin Wall, various revolutions, then the start of the first Gulf War and then the war in the Balkans. There was just a lot of conflict which we were covering. 

More: Was there ever a time when you thought, you know, “I really don’t want to go to another war zone?”

KA: I would have never gone on reporting if I had thought that. By that time, in 1990, I was chief news correspondent with a very large number of journalists under me and I would never have refused to go to a place if there was a more junior journalist going. You lead from the front, and that’s part of the responsibility of the job, it occurred to me. 

More: Have you had moments in your career where you were just like, “Oh my God, what am I doing here?”

KA: Well, time and again. I mean, war is absolutely horrifically dangerous. War is about killing. And it’s immensely, immensely violent. And, therefore, if you know that in advance, you try and assess the risk and you try and take precautions. But you can never, ever factor in all the unexpected and the times when the completely unknown comes out of the blue. And so, you can find yourself in difficult situations.

I used to say to other journalists and younger journalists, the point is no one should ever go off to a war without reading about it. The First World War is probably the single subject about which the most has been written in English, and, therefore, [reading about it,] you can learn about what man does to man. And so you do that before you ever go.

More: As a woman, did you face unique challenges in war zones? 

KA: If you face a bunch of people at a political summit, there are hardly any women there. I mean, the physical arguments are all about lavatories. End of story. …I went in, in the first Gulf War, and there were 43,000 British men and me. And it boils down to, in the end: the main physical problem is keeping clean and going to lavatories. There aren’t any portable lavatories in the desert. So, you’ve got practical things.

When it comes to the actual environment, other than that, I have to say, if you ever report sport or you report a great deal of politics or terrorism, you are, on the whole, still working in a male environment.

More: You’ve suffered a serious share of war wounds—which are you most proud of?

KA: I’m not proud of them. It means that you’ve gotten in the way of something. Journalists do not go to get injured. You go to get the story and bring it back and any injuries are a mere problem. There are times when hot metal flies around a lot or various other things can happen to you, and you just have to try to avoid it. I mean, I’ve still got shrapnel in one foot, and I’ve been very, very lucky, where bullets have been concerned. I’ve been grazed four times and that’s near enough.

More: How do you, personally, process the atrocities you’ve witnessed in the field?

KA: I think that if you go off to conflict you have to read about some of the grimmer aspects of history and discover what people can do when they’re desperate or filled with rage or hatred. You’ve got to be able to have an idea in your mind of what you might see. And so, I feel that although you may be shocked by what you see, you should never be particularly surprised by it. There is quite a difference between those two approaches. And you’re still shocked—everyone should be shocked by the awful things.

First Published October 24, 2011

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