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In the Newsroom

May 15, 2009
A reporter’s look down the barrel of a gun

A machine used for mining in Indiana, where Worldfocus anchor Martin Savidge was once held by an armed mine owner.

American journalist Roxana Saberi is heading home after she was released from an Iranian prison earlier this week. She had been sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of spying, but was released after an appeals court reduced her punishment to a two-year suspended sentence.

Worldfocus anchor Martin Savidge writes about his own experience being detained. 

After what must have been a frightening time for her and her family, Roxana Saberi is heading home.

We’re still waiting to hear the exact cause for her trial and imprisonment in Iran, which Saberi says she will reveal when she’s ready. One account from an Iranian lawyer says it was because she was caught in possession of some sort of sensitive government document.

I have been detained twice in my life as a journalist so far.

The first incident was very early on in my career. It was my first television job, and I was working at WCIA-TV, the CBS affiliate in Champaign/Urbana, Illinois. There was a nationwide strike by the United Mine Workers, and my assignment editor got wind of a strip mine located just across the state line in Indiana that continued to operate. He thought that might make a good story, so the cameraman and I drove off.

It took a while to find the place on the dirt back roads. As we were getting close, we passed a family butchering a pig that was hanging from a tree in their front yard. I should have seen it as an omen, but I didn’t.

We found the mine, but it wasn’t operating. It wasn’t shut down in observance of the strike, but rather due to the recent rain — it was just too muddy for the heavy equipment. I radioed the assignment desk for instructions; they said “Shoot what you can and come on back.”

We started filming from the road but couldn’t see much, so we ventured onto the property — which of course was trespassing, and a mistake.

Not long after, I heard a voice from behind asking, “Just what the hell are you doing?” I turned to find a big, weather-beaten man with a grim face holding a large gun aimed directly at us.

I stammered out some weak answer. This was clearly the mine’s owner. He knew, as I did, that if the UMW found out he was operating during their strike, he’d be in deep trouble.

He proceeded to demand the tape and the camera. I was young, dumb and just out of journalism school, with just enough idealistic passion to tell a man with a gun in his hand “No.”

He marched us into a worksite trailer on the property. He sat me down at a desk and told me to call my station. I got my assignment editor on the line and told him that the owner had shown up and was demanding our video — failing to mention the gun. The assignment editor broke into an amazing string of expletives describing the mine owner and his lineage. It was also very loud. I heard it and so did the gun holder — that’s when I decided to let my assignment editor in on the fact the man had a gun on us.

The assignment editor stopped mid-“@##$!,” got quiet and asked if we were alright. “Yes,” I said.

“Give him the tape and the camera,” he told me. Just like that — no debate, no harsh words, just give him what he asks.

“But…” I started to stammer.

“Just give it to him,” came the worried voice over the phone.

So I told the cameraman to eject the tape and give it and the camera to the mine owner.

The funny thing was, the guy just sort of looked at me staring at the gun, which he seemed to notice in his hands for the first time. He could see I was scared. He quickly put it down on the desk making sure to point it away from us.

@#$%!” the mine owner said. “Keep the damn tape and your camera and get out of here.” I told my assignment editor who was still on the phone listening that we were coming home.

After a long quiet ride back to the station, I walked in and gave the tape to the assignment editor. He asked if I was okay. I said yes. “Do you want me to write up something about the mine story?” I asked.

“Nah,” he said. “It’s not worth it.”

Since those days, I have had other run-ins with people with guns who’ve demanded my tape. I don’t argue with them — instead, I have devised other ways to prevent from ever losing a story. So far, I never have.

As for the second incident? That took place in Kuwait, and no amount of fast-talking would get me out of trouble — not when I was in the hands of the secret police being held at a secret military base. But that’s for another blog.

– Martin Savidge

For more on detained journalists, watch an interview with Joel Simon of the Committee to Protect Journalists: North Korea sets trial date for detained U.S. journalists.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user cindy47452 under a Creative Commons license.

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Israeli warships have surrounded and threatened to fire on the Spirit of Humanity, a ship delivering humanitarian supplies, medical and building materials to the people of Gaza. Thousands of Gazans were injured, and left homeless after Israel bombed Gaza for three weeks in January. Israel has prevented several ships from bringing humanitarian relief to Gaza. Today, Israel’s navy has jammed the ship’s radar and navigation system, leaving it unable to navigate in international waters. This violates international and humanitarian law. Former congresswoman Cynthia McKinney is onboard and has emailed an appeal to Americans to contact their congressmen and President Obama to stop this crisis now! See the attached email sent from passengers on the ship, asking for help.
This is the website of the Free Gaza Movement, a human rights group that in August 2008 sent the first international boats to land in the port of Gaza in 41 years. We want to break the siege of Gaza. We want to raise international awareness about the prison-like closure of the Gaza Strip and pressure the international community to review its sanctions policy and end its support for continued Israeli occupation.

Update on the Spirit
Tuesday, 30 June 2009 03:03 Written by Free Gaza Movement

Dear Friends,

We just spoke again with our people aboard the Spirit of Humanity. The Israeli Navy is continuing to try and intimidate the ship, and is actively jamming its radar, GPS, and navigation systems in direct violation of international maritime law. This jamming is extremely dangerous and directly threatens the welfare and safety of everyone aboard our civilian ship.

Because their instrumentation is being jammed, they are using compass & paper to attempt to navigate. They are in international waters & they believe their location is approximately 110km off of the town of Hadera. Everyone is tired but determined. They are not being deterred by the Israeli aggression & are continuing toward Gaza. Please help them.

Please CALL or FAX Major Liebovitz from the Israeli Navy at:
Tel + 972 5 781 86248 or +972 3737 7777 or +972 3737 6242
Fax +972 3737 6123 or +972 3737 7175

CALL Mark Regev in the Prime Minister’s office at:
Tel +972 2670 5354 or +972 5 0620 3264 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You needjava_script enabled to view it


Call off your attack dogs – Cynthia McKinney


Tuesday, 30 June 2009 01:15 Written by Free Gaza Team

We just spoke to the passengers. Everyone is OK, but the situation is still very tense. They continue to be surrounded by Israeli warships which are threatening to open fire. The Israeli Navy is actively jamming all navigation systems in violation of international maritime law, endangering the people on board.

Former U.S. Congresswoman, Cynthia McKinney, speaking from on board the SPIRIT, stated, “I am extremely angry. We demand that the Israeli government call off their attack dogs. We are unarmed civilians aboard an unarmed boat delivering medical and reconstruction aid to other human beings in Gaza. Why in God’s name would Israel want to attack us and threaten our safety and welfare. I call on President Obama and the international community to intervene now to prevent this situation from escalating with potentially drastic results to the civilians on board.”

Since the boat’s navigation equipment is being jammed, it has turned westward in order to stay in international waters.The Captain and crew are working from the most ancient of navigation equipment…the compass to stay clear of Israeli waters.


URGENT ALERT – Israeli Navy surrounding SPIRIT and threatening to open fire

Monday, 29 June 2009 23:57 Last Updated on Tuesday, 30 June 2009 00:07 Written by Free Gaza Team
At 1:40 am, the Israeli Navy surrounded the SPIRIT while in international waters off the coast of Israel as it is on its way to the Gaza Strip. We got a call from the boat saying that they were being threatened, told to turn back or they would be fired on.

Huwaida Arraf, one of the delegation leaders, was on the phone with the Israeli gunboats, and we could hear her saying, “You Cannot Open Fire on Unarmed Civilians” several times. At this writing, they are surrounded by several ships shining bright lights into the SPIRIT.

CALL or FAX Major Liebovitz from the Israeli Navy at:
Tel + 972 5 781 86248 or +972 3737 7777 or +972 3737 6242
Fax +972 3737 6123 or +972 3737 7175

CALL Mark Regev in the Prime Minister’s office at:
Tel +972 2670 5354 or +972 5 0620 3264

CALL Shlomo Dror in the Ministry of Defence at:
Tel +972 3697 5339 or +972 50629 8148

Free Gaza Movement
357 99 081 767

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