Simon Dring, a veteran British journalist, television producer and presenter, who rose to fame for covering wars and revolutions around the world, has died at the age of 76. While Bangladeshi print and electronic media covered the sad news with due prominence, none of the western media outlets have covered the news until filing of this report.
Dring, revered as a “true friend” of Bangladesh, also covered the horrors of the country’s war of independence from Pakistan in 1971. He was among about 50 foreign journalists confined to their hotel, the Intercontinental, in Dhaka on Mar 25, 1971.
The 32 hours of risking his life had him noting down reports of crackdown, travel Dhaka in a baker’s van once the curfew was lifted on March 27 to collect some evidences of genocide that, till this day, remain as one of the most gruesome and merciless acts committed by a military. In his own words, Simon Dring described the aftermath of Operation Searchlight to The Daily Star, which serves harrowing images even to this day: “I found the bodies of students who had been shot to death in their dormitories and outside on the campus grounds; the rickshaw pullers, bullet-ridden and bloodied, lying by the roadside; whole families burnt alive in their homes when their street had been sealed off and the houses torched; bazaars in the old city burnt to the ground”.
Simon Dring managed to escape the military and board a flight to Bangkok, from where he sent his report “Tanks Crush Revolt in Pakistan”, which appeared in the front page of The Daily Telegraph on March 30, 1971.
Dring was undergoing routine surgery for a hernia in Romania on Friday when he had a heart attack, said Chris Barlas, a cousin. The surgical team was unable to revive him. Dring leaves behind his partner Fiona McPherson, and three daughters.
Born in 1945, Dring began his career in journalism as a feature writer with the Bangkok World Newspaper. He would go on to report the start of the Vietnam War, acting as a reporter for Reuters and other news organisations.
He later held positions at the BBC and The Telegraph, reporting from Biafra, Bangladesh, Eritrea and many other countries.
Simon was on the plane that brought Ruhollah Khomeini from Paris to Iran after the Iranian revolution. He was injured several times in the course of his duties and was imprisoned in Uganda by Idi Amin and threatened with execution. He also won several awards for his work.
In 1997, Dring joined partners in Bangladesh to found Ekushey Television (ETV), the first private terrestrial television operation in the country, by bringing together a team of over 50 reporters, producers and editors.
Dring, managing director of the Ekushey Television station, left Bangladesh in 2002, after the government led by the then Prime Minister Khaleda Zia issued a deportation order. ETV got a licence under the previous Awami League government.
But immediately after the Khaleda administration came to power, ETV faced a difficult time. The validity of its broadcasting licence was challenged by supporters of the ruling coalition. The Supreme Court cancelled the licence in 2002 after lengthy legal procedures. Ekushey Television went off the air the same day, after the government shut down its transmission facilities.
At the time, ETV insisted that its news and current affairs coverage was neutral and objective, but the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamaat-e-Islami believed it was biased against them.
Before his departure, Dring was given a farewell reception, at which many of Bangladesh’s leading cultural personalities were present. Dring told the audience that it was the second time he was being deported from Dhaka.
In 1971, during the Bangladesh war of independence, he was deported from Dhaka along with other western journalists who were reporting on the atrocities carried out by the Pakistani army in the then East Pakistan.
Simon Dring wrote a book to accompany a BBC TV series, “On The Road Again: Thirty Years On The Traveler’s Trail To India”, which was published by BBC Books. In 1962, at the age of 16, Dring was one of the first to walk what was to become the hippie trail to India. In the summer of 1994, he set off again to retrace his footsteps on an 18,000-mile overland journey across some of the most volatile regions of the world.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Dr Hasan Mahmud today expressed profound shock and sorrow at the death of renowned British journalist Simon Dring who covered the atrocities of Pakistani forces during the great Liberation War of Bangladesh.
In a condolence message, the minister said Dring was the first foreigner journalist to witness the mass killing in 1971. He wrote reports risking his life and informed the world about the most gruesome and merciless acts by Pakistani forces.
Hasan, also Awami League joint general secretary, said the contribution of Dring, who was awarded Muktijuddha Maitree Sammanana by Bangladesh government, will ever be remembered.
The minister prayed for eternal peace of the departed soul and conveyed deep sympathy to the bereaved family.
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