21 Apr 2011

Tim Hetherington: a tribute

Photographer and filmmaker Tim Hetherington has died in Misrata, Libya. Channel 4 News Foreign Correspondent Jonathan Miller pays tribute to him.

Tim Hetherington was on the side of those on the side of the angels.  He was a man fired up by injustice, who used his huge creative talents to give voice to the voiceless.  That’s why he’ll have been in Misrata.

His intention – as it was so many times in the past – would have been to paint a thoughtful portrait of life in the line of fire.  To show the reality of life for those holding out against Muammar Gaddafi‘s repressive regime…and to give a lie to its lies that the Libyan armed forces are not firing indiscriminately into civilian areas.  Sadly, his death is proof that they were.

At great personal risk, Tim Hetherington would have sought to ensure that the watching world could not plead ignorance of the tragic humanitarian disaster unfolding in Misrata.

Yes, Tim went to some of the world’s most dangerous places.  He was more experienced than most in handling the extreme dangers of conflict zones.  But he was not driven, as some might suspect, by an adrenalised desire to be at the heart of the action. I would say that Tim was simply driven by compassion.

Within the journalistic fraternity he was widely recognised for that – as well as for being one of the most capable and professional journalists at doing the sort of things that he did.

I got a call from him once when I was in the Channel 4 Newsroom, saying he was just back from Chad where he’d documented the (as yet completely unreported) killing of Darfurian refugees by horseback Sudanese Janjawid militiamen, who’d prosecuted their murderous campagin across the Chadian border.

His footage was prima facie evidence that many ordinary people had been shot dead in cold blood;  evidence that the Arab-led Sudanese regime was bent on their ethnic cleansing of Africans across the region. He’d spent days in the bush, travelling around, skirting trouble. Tim was tough.

His footage from Chad opened my eyes to a new chapter in the Darfur conflict.  With Tim, I put together a report using his pictures that very night.  The Editor of Channel 4 News had no hesitation, having seen that report, on sending me and my team straight to Chad, that same night.

Tim’s Oscar nominations for his Afghan war documentary, Restrepo, were the most obvious and public recognition of his achievements as photographer and film-maker.  I will remember him though for his steadfast commitment to shining a light into the darker corners of conflict and suffering. And for just being a lovely, soft-spoken, intelligent guy.