22 Mar 2010

Pioneering NZ camerawoman Margaret Moth dies

5:38 pm on 22 March 2010

Margaret Moth, the award-winning New Zealand camera operator shot in Sarajevo in 1992, has died of cancer in the United States.

Regarded by her colleagues as a courageous and flamboyant rebel, she died in Minnesota at the weekend, aged 59.

She became a public figure in 1992 when she was shot in the face while working for CNN covering the Balkan wars.

Born Margaret Wilson, she changed her name to Margaret Gypsy Moth because, as a feminist, she wanted to have a name that was her own. She chose Gypsy Moth as a tribute to the Tiger Moth aeroplane used in her skydiving pastime.

After studying photography at Canterbury University's School of Fine Arts, she joined Television New Zealand in 1975 as a camera operator - a job previously reserved for men because of the heavy equipment.

Struck by exploding bullet in Sarajevo

She left New Zealand in 1980 and began working for CNN in 1990. She covered the first Gulf War before volunteering to go to Bosnia, and it was while she was travelling through Sarajevo, with colleagues in a marked television van, that an exploding bullet hit her in the face.

It was sheer luck for her that there were few wounded people in Sarajevo that morning in 1992 and that there was a sufficient blood supply available for doctors to operate on her for seven hours. She lost much of her left jaw and her mouth, teeth and throat were seriously compromised.

After numerous operations, and having regained an ability to speak, she returned to Sarajevo in 1994, at her insistence, but this time with a bullet-proof vest.

Given Courage in Journalism Award

Margaret Moth was a striking figure, always dressed in black, who chose to work in war zones because she did it well.

She had a love of history in the making: "I want to be there," she said, "I want to be part of it". She did not see herself as having a death wish and resented it when she was seen that way.

She won several awards for her pioneering work and bravery in the field. In 1993, the International Women's Media Foundation gave her the Courage in Journalism Award to a standing ovation at the ceremony in New York.

When she was diagnosed with terminal cancer, she faced it with characteristic courage, saying she had got the best out of life.

In 2009, CNN made a documentary about her in tribute, calling it Fearless - The Margaret Moth Story.

She never married and is survived by brothers and sisters.