On Wednesday of first week, Hilary Term 2015, IR Soc welcomed BBC Africa Correspondent Andrew Harding to Exeter College. With over 20 years experience as a foreign correspondent he spoke about some incredible experiences he has had reporting on some of the most important events of the last two decades. From driving through war torn Chechnya in the late 1990s to meeting a woman who’d escaped after being kidnapped and forced into marriage by al Shabab in Somalia to interviewing President Robert Mugabe, Harding had some fascinating experiences as part of his rich career. However the heart of his talk and the discussion afterwards was about the job of being a foreign correspondent more broadly.
His message was that foreign correspondents face a host of challenges but that their role remains highly important. A foreign correspondent must escape from behind the laptop in their office and avoid the bubble of foreign journalists and instead try to meet ordinary people. If they can overcome these challenges he argues then they can be very worthwhile.
Unlike a London based journalist who flies into a country when a crisis breaks out, foreign correspondents have local knowledge and extensive contacts on the ground. Harding praised local journalists and individuals reporting on events on social media. However he argued that foreign correspondents can still be helpful in providing an outside, broad perspective on an issue and backed up by the resources of organisations like the BBC or al Jazeera, have the wherewithal to go places like Somalia and Syria where ensuring your own security is costly.
Harding admitted that the era of the 5 minute correspondent’s report on the 10 o’clock news may soon come to an end but whatever becomes of the foreign correspondent he provided us with a fascinating insight into the profession.