French Female Pioneer is My Role Model in Journalism

My role model is a woman that died 67 years ago.

First French war correspondent and investigative journalist Andree Viollis started her career during the first World War, she traveled to Afghanistan in the 20’s and extensively to Indochina to expose the dark side of the French colonization. She covered the war in Ireland, the Spanish civil war and World War II.  What an incredibly adventurous life. She was well-known and respected. Always the first to interview the powerful leaders of Europe. As famous then was Albert Londres, who is a myth for all young French journalists.

Two years before dying at 80 years old, Viollis was still travelling to South Africa to write stories about segregation there. She even planned to cover at 80, the war in Korea that had just began. She was a mother and a practicing journalist throughout her lifetime, even when quite old! This is everything we are told that is not quite possible when you are a woman. Sadly, very few people remember her and her name is almost completely forgotten.

And in good old paternalistic France, that’s very unfortunate. Young French female journalists need to know her. Working in dangerous zones or being a war journalist for a woman is, in fact,  an old story, “not something we should always prove we are entitled or competent enough for…”

I wish I heard about her earlier in my career, especially ten years ago. I was working for a French production house where the boss was openly discriminating women. “No females on the frontline,” he used to say. Younger and less experienced male staff would be sent to the best assignments from Ivory Coast to the West bank. I stayed and struggled for three years because it was still an exciting organization to work in and the team was wonderful. Also, because I was a young and stupid, I suppose.

Eventually, in 2007 I won a prestigious award known as the Albert Londres prize for a documentary about the murder of a French NGO employees in Sri Lanka. I then left the production company.

As a freelancer, I never again was openly exposed to this kind of discrimination. The downside to that is the insecurity that comes with being independent.

The lesson I’ve learned in my career so far is to find a new employer when you are told, “this is not a story for women.”

Anne Poiret is a filmmaker and investigative broadcast journalist based in Paris. In 2007 she won the prestigious Albert Londres Prize in France for her film shot in Sri Lanka “Muttur: a Crime Against Humanitarians”. Her work with Welcome to Refugeestan (2016) on refugee camps all over the world was selected in European documentary festivals. Her latest film, The Envoy: Inside Syria Peace Negotiations focuses on the work of Staffan de Mistura, the UN Special Envoy for Syria. Stay updated on Anne and her work on Twitter @Annepoiret.

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