NBC's Engel: More Data Alone Won't Lead to Press Freedom

Nov 132013
  • Richard Engel won the Excellence in International Reporting Award for covering the Middle East at a time of massive disruptions.

Richard Engel, NBC News’ chief foreign correspondent, said the widespread digital revolution won’t replace the need for “educated, experienced” reporters, in a speech at the International Center for Journalists Awards Dinner in Washington, D.C.

He said the more data that’s out there, the more vital quality journalism becomes. “We cannot give up the fight for press freedom, and we can’t assume the Internet will take care of that for us,” Engel said as he accepted the Excellence in International Reporting Award.

The award recognizes journalists who produce high-quality coverage at great personal risk. Known for his on-the-ground coverage of the Middle East at a time of massive disruptions, Engel tracked revolutions in Egypt, Libya and Syria. He and his news team were held hostage in Syria for five days, but managed to escape. He was also the only U.S. television correspondent to cover the Iraq war from start to finish.

“Some say that our job as journalists is getting less important” as citizens using mobile phones capture breaking news faster than reporters, he said. “I don’t agree with that.” Engel said it’s up to well-trained journalists to “make sense of it all.”

After covering the recent trial of Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s former president deposed by the military, Engel recounted how a group of Egyptian journalists in the courtroom actively called for Morsi’s death. These journalists weren’t anti-Morsi, but rather “pro-government,” backing whoever is in power at the time.

“I left that court thinking ‘old media is not yet dead,’” he said. “I don’t mean print media. I mean the oldest form of old media there is, which is propaganda.”

He also expressed dismay over the recent chemical gas attacks in Syria, citing a lack of action despite hours of verified footage posted online. “It was probably the most-watched atrocity in history,” he said. “The so-called international community saw what happened, shook its head in sympathy and turned away.”

Though he admitted pessimism about the turmoil in the Middle East, he said he’s also “full of wonder” about the region and looks forward to telling its stories.

“But my biggest fear in covering war zones is that I leave people with the impression that the world is always hostile,” he said. “There are fascinating stories to tell on our planet. The world is still full of mystery and adventure and is waiting to be explored.”