Review by Jackie Smith
Genre: Memoir, Autobiography
“I wanted to call this book ‘An Idiot Abroad’. Unfortunately for me, Ricky Gervais had beaten me to it with his British TV comedy show. Shame, because it was a perfectly apt description …”
Be it the inauguration of outgoing US president Barack Obama, the tragic events taking place between Russia and Syria or the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, it would seem that Peter Stefanovic is the world’s voice, having been a Channel Nine foreign correspondent in the Middle East, Europe and the US for a number of years.
But what happens behind the scenes of one of these big news events? What drives a story and the desire to report it? What kind of person do you have to be to follow stories such as these, and how do they shape and change you as you cover them year in year out?
These are the questions answered by the journalist’s debut memoir, Hack in a Flak Jacket, and it’s not as glamourous a life as it may seem on TV, while we are thousands of kilometers away from the action, safe and sound among family and friends. A retrospective of sorts, Stefanovic takes us on a journey through what has been an illustrious and rather dangerous career, putting himself at the centre of most people’s nightmares, all for the sake of bringing us a news story that is as up to date, true and compelling as he can make it.
Today, it’s Gaza, November 2012, but tomorrow it could just as easily be Afghanistan, London, or even Paris. A phone call in the middle of the night could mean that he is flying half way around the world to report on what may only be a fifteen-minute story on the six o’clock news bulletin.
Hack in a Flak Jacket is horrific, with an air of danger that makes the reader cling to their seat and, at times, perhaps even curse starting the book in the first place. But, in the same vein, Stefanovic has found that balance that comes with years of perfecting one’s craft as he mixes light with dark, self-deprecating humour in times of terror and chaos. From the very beginning it’s compelling, just as the new stories he has captivated our attention with over the years.
At first glance, Stefanovic, it may seem, is something of an adrenaline junkie, taking his life as a journalist to the extreme, and the things he experienced throughout his term as a foreign correspondent is the stuff of nightmares. But behind the brave front he puts on for the cameras, this experienced news reporter is just as mortal as the rest of us, questioning his right to be in places of such terror, invading citizens’ private lives as they grieve for a country they love.
“I can leave, they cannot. I live in a country where I can do what I like, when I like, but they aren’t. I left Gaza and Israel with a heavy heart, while the local people stayed behind and picked up the pieces, knowing it was highly likely war would resume again, probably in the not-too-distant future.”
It is with these words, written early on in the book, that we realise the humane side to what is otherwise quite an impersonal job. Among the chaos and turmoil, Stefanovic somehow finds the right words to remind us of his own morality, and the conscious that lies behind the man who appears on camera. He knows there’s something almost morally wrong to this side of his reporting life, and yet he places himself in that danger time and time again, an easy target for not only the physical threats that hide in the shadows, waiting for him to slip up, but the mental ones too.
In this successful blending of both the personal and professional, Hack in a Flak Jacket is also a style guide of sorts, an appreciation for the ways in which news works, and the people who have helped him get to where he stands today. Despite his numerous achievements, including a prestigious Walkley Award, Stefanovic remains remarkably humble and self-aware, striving to report a story not only on time and on point, but fully and to the best of his ability. If all journalists were as accepting of their own flaws, the media world would certainly be better for it.