A heartrending and detailed talk was given to the fourth year BA and MA students of Journalism and New Media at the University of Limerick yesterday by Co-Founder of the Global Post, Philip S. Balboni.
Balboni was heavily involved in the attempted rescue of American journalist, James Foley, who was murdered by ISIS on August 19, 2014.
Philip Balboni addressed a small crowd of students, via a video feed from Boston, in a room in the Glucksman Library in UL. Lecturer in Journalism at UL, Fergal Quinn organised and headed the seminar which took place for just over one hour.
The talk began with a short video which recalled James Foley through the eyes of his family members and former work colleagues. Once the video had finished, Philip Balboni began to address the room and talk about the various dangers of war and conflict reporting. He then moved on to talk more personally about American journalist, James Foley, his career and the events surrounding his death.
Balboni recalled how James, “was unafraid, not reckless, but unafraid of being close to the front-line.”
James Foley was initially kidnapped near Libya with three other journalists. Subsequently, one of Foley’s friends and fellow journalist, Anton Hammerl was killed in the attack. Foley spent 44 days in captivity by Gaddafi forces until his release in May, 2011.
Once Foley returned home, Balboni said that he, “tried to encourage him to go other places than conflict zones, such as South America because he spoke Spanish.”
“I couldn’t in good conscience sign him back to Syria,” said Balboni.
He noted that Foley independently made his way back to Syria under no direction of any news organisation. In November, 2012, James Foley was to meet a photo journalist at the border of Turkey, but never showed up. After waiting two days, fellow reporter Nicole Tsung became concerned and contacted Balboni to alert him.
“I received an email from Nicole Tsung to say that Jim hadn’t shown up,” said Balboni. This email was the beginning of a rescue operation that would span almost two years and would cost “millions of dollars”.
“I was always optimistic that we would succeed,” he said.
Balboni recalled how on August 19th, he noticed something about Foley on twitter and when he followed it up, it turned out to be a photo of Foley in his orange jumpsuit moments before his beheading.
In reference to the moment he saw this on screen in his office in Boston, Balboni said, “it was one of the most awful moments of a 48 year career in journalism.”
The BA and MA students were then given the opportunity to put questions to Balboni once the discussion was over. Some students asked about the supply of reporters to areas of conflict, while another student asked about the involvement of the American Government in Foley’s rescue.
Balboni said that their involvement was, “a major disappointment” and that, “there was no active involvement from either Britain or the US.”
When asked about his memories of James Foley, he replied: “Jim was a lovely guy and very down-to-earth. He was deep. He loved literature and poetry. He was interested in religion and loved people.”
“He’ll always be a real presence in my life,” he added.
Philip Balboni concluded the seminar by talking about the “disservice” American news organisations did to themselves, the American public and to James Foley’s family and friends by repeatedly broadcasting the images and videos of the journalist's beheading.
“IS were using these videos to recruit,” he said.