Prix Bayeux 2021

Reporters told to keep 'exposing secrets' at Bayeux tribute to those killed

Engraved with the names of 53 journalists fallen in 2020-2021, the Reporters' Memorial, in Bayeux, Normandy, was unveiled during a quiet, dignified ceremony.
Engraved with the names of 53 journalists fallen in 2020-2021, the Reporters' Memorial, in Bayeux, Normandy, was unveiled during a quiet, dignified ceremony. © Pierre Fesnien/RFI

Families, colleagues and city officials gathered at the Reporters’ Memorial in Bayeux, Normandy, on Thursday for a solemn ceremony to unveil a commemorative stone to journalists killed in action. Despite the dangers of the profession, there was a clear message that the quest to bring information to the world must go on, words undoubtedly directed at the large number of student journalists present.

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Engraved with the names of 53 journalists fallen in 2020-2021, the stone was unveiled during a quiet, dignified ceremony. It was a key part of the annual event known as the Bayeux Calvados-Normandy Award for War Correspondents.

The memorial, in a lush green garden on the outskirts of the city, is just over the road from the British WWII cemetery. A beautiful, serene place to contemplate the meaning and cost of freedom.

Being a war reporter is not an easy job. It means putting your life on the line, facing death, or at the very least being exposed to constant danger and trauma. And leaving loved ones behind.

But without people willing to go out into the field, collecting reports and images, many important stories would go unreported, and many lives would be lost with complete indifference and impunity.

No region spared

More than 2,000 journalists have been killed in their line of work since an official count began in 1944. The Reporters’ Memorial itself was inaugurated in 2006, in partnership with Reporters without Borders (RSF), the Doha Centre for Media Freedom and the city of Bayeux.

Pierre Haski, president of RSF, reminded the audience that danger for journalists was everywhere, and no region of the world had been spared. Two-thirds of the journalists killed in the past year were from countries considered to be peaceful, such as in the Netherlands and Greece. Nine were from Mexico.

Families members of Spanish journalists killed in action stand beside the commemorative stone at the Reporters' Memorial in Bayeux, 7 October 2021.
Families members of Spanish journalists killed in action stand beside the commemorative stone at the Reporters' Memorial in Bayeux, 7 October 2021. © Ollia Horton / RFI

Among the tributes were heartfelt words for journalists David Beriain and Roberto Fraile from Spain, who were killed during an ambush in the Sahel – a region that is becoming increasingly dangerous for foreign journalists.

Haski reminded those present that it would be six months on Friday since the French journalist Olivier Dubois was taken hostage in Mali. To bring attention to his plight, RSF have placed a banner on the façade of the town hall in Bayeux.

Franco-Iranian photojournalist Manoocher Deghati, president of the 2021 Prix Bayeux jury was among those who addressed the crowd.

“In our job, we face two dangers, one is of course in conflict zones, and war, but the other danger is the authorities, the dictatorships who don’t want us to expose the truth,” he said, adding that he had lost many colleagues in the course of his career and has been living in exile since 1985.

Banner in support of French journalist Olivier Dubois, held hostage in Mali since 8 April 2021, on the facade of the town hall in Bayeux, Normandy.
Banner in support of French journalist Olivier Dubois, held hostage in Mali since 8 April 2021, on the facade of the town hall in Bayeux, Normandy. © Ollia Horton / RFI

'Keep exposing the secrets'

“Despite all that, we learn to accept this, we keep moving forward, with courage, especially the young reporters out there." Turning directly to the crowd, he implored them to “keep exposing the secrets”.

“A society without journalists is no longer a democracy. Our role is very important”.

After the speeches, a hush came over the crowd and journalists present rushed forward to capture the moment. Among them, groups of students from the Atelier des Médias workshop.

Armed with microphones and notepads, they shyly approached the older, experienced generation, as well as the family members of some of the murdered journalists who were present.

“It was very moving to see how many journalists have died, and that they died trying to alert people to what’s happening in the world,” one young woman told RFI. 

“I want to be a journalist because I think it’s important to show people what the conditions are like for other populations around the world, and this event in Bayeux has encouraged me to pursue this goal.”

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