Adie is one of those enigmas that produces opposite reactions from different people. She has been described by some as ‘the Vera Lynn of war reporting’ and ‘cantankerous’ and ‘imperious’ by others. She has openly derided her own BBC for glamorising their anchors recently yet she herself was once compared to a ‘younger Julie Christie’.
Yet for all her idiosyncrasies, the most baffling contradiction of all is her unscathed psychology in the face of the horrors one can only imagine she has witnessed in her exciting life. True to form, when asked about the severity of the threats she and other war correspondents face she dismisses the scale of this and compares herself to her parents who lived through two world wars, as well as reminding us that journalists face these terrible events alongside soldiers, medical personnel and other citizens. She snuffs out any admiration for having been shot three times – ‘grazed’, she revises, before finishing, ‘…it’s a reminder not to be careless.’ War correspondence, she assures, need not be a dangerous job. However it is clear that she feels her career has been one of vocation – the need to share and describe to the world the events that need to be seen. It is this call of duty she feels has stabilised her mental balance in the face of what she has experienced, and no doubt the driving force of her tenacity during that renowned report from Tiananmen Square in 1989.
In spite what must be a plethora of memories of genocide and atrocity she is optimistic of the world’s future and is hopeful for a resolution to the current hostilities of the Middle East – a hope she expressed whilst opening the 2010 Ubud Writers’ and Readers’ Festival, the theme of which is ‘Unity in Diversity’.
JM: what is your one possession that you never travel without?
KA: Believe it or not, a toothbrush. Many moons ago I was told by members of Special Forces that if you get up in the morning after a night spent on damp ground in the middle of a jungle or the world’s worst hotel room, with no bathroom in sight, you’ll always feel better if you brush your teeth. (They also added you can shine your shoes with a toothbrush or possibly use it as a weapon of last resort. They didn’t explain how).
JM: In a different life, what would you have chosen for a career instead of one in journalism?
KA: As I never expected to be a journalist, didn’t choose to be one, and never trained as one. I’ve always expected that this was actually ‘the other life...’
JM: During your career, you’ve been shot at three times -did the experience change your views on your career?
KA: I’ve been grazed by bullets three times and taken shrapnel once. It’s a reminder not to be careless.
JM: How did your family and friends cope with the risks involved in your line of work?
KA: My grandparents went through WW1, and my parents went through WW2. They’ve had more experience than I’ll ever accumulate.
JM: Scenes of violence aren’t fully understood by merely watching the report on television but for those who experience it for themselves, it can be psychologically traumatic. How did you feel after reporting from scenes of mass genocide in Rwanda and Sierra Leone?
KA: All kinds of experiences can be emotionally traumatic -but not inevitably. Journalists who cover major events involving violence are pretty realistic before they set off for such assignments. Anyone who’s read a word of history, especially about conflict, should have no illusions about what might happen. Of course, it’s very affecting to see terrible scenes -but you have work to do- to describe and convey to other people what’s happening. If you believe you’re doing something worthwhile, it helps you get through it. And most journalists are pretty sociable people - they don’t bottle up emotions or deny what they’ve seen. We’re alongside soldiers, medical personnel, aid workers, ordinary citizens in all this -we’re not a special case.
JM: When asked about your risky career, you have always maintained that you were able to choose not to do anything dangerous in your line of work. How important is it, do you feel, for news reporters to be at the scene of a dangerous story rather than standing in front of a blue screen where they will be safe and unharmed?
KA: You get as near to being ‘at the scene’ as you can - as long as you bear in mind that you’ve got to get back with the story. It’s not the journalists’ decision these days to ‘stand in front of a blue screen’. It’s editors who decide what kind of reporting they want, and ultimately the audience.
JM: The theme for this year’s Ubud Readers’ and Writers’ Festival is “Harmony in Diversity” - which is a profound ideal of Indonesian culture. Global alliances have continually increased throughout history thanks to treaties and institutions - Europe is an example. Do you think that in the future, the same kind of ‘harmony in diversity’ is possible for countries currently in hostilities with each other - such as in the Middle East?
KA: We can only hope - and I’m an optimist.
Photo above is courtesy of the BBC