DEATH, disasters, destruction, disease: Peter Stefanovic has endured the worst imaginable circumstances in some of the world’s most dangerous places in the course of his employment as a television news journalist.
In a sensitive yet self-deprecatingly humorous professional memoir, Stefanovic recounts the highlights and lowlights of his eight years as a foreign correspondent for the Nine Network, based firstly in Los Angeles and later in London as he covered events across North America, Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
Having followed his brother Karl into the media, the younger Stefanovic was posted overseas at the age of 26.
Among his earliest assignments were bunkering down in Texas as Hurricane Ike swept ashore and interviewing distraught fans on the day Michael Jackson died. In 2010 he was despatched to Haiti while the earthquake that killed at least 100,000 people was still reverberating.
From London he travelled to South Africa for the original trial of Oscar Pistorius, to Norway in the wake of a fundamentalist right-wing gunman’s murder spree, to France as the hunt for the Charlie Hebdo assassins was in progress and to Iraq for a meeting with an all-female militia unit behind ISIS lines.
Stefanovic takes readers for an edge-of-the-seat ride through the Arab Spring uprisings, the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi’s dictatorship in Libya and the relentless warring that is characteristic of Gaza. He records the anguish and agony created by the carving up of Ukraine and describes the suffering wrought by the 2015 Nepalese earthquake.
On the surface the “flak jacket” of the book’s title is literal: the body armour Stefanovic wears while reporting from the frontline or shadowing rebel groups among bullets, tear gas and low-flying bombers. More deeply, however, it is a perfect metaphor for the subconscious emotional defences he erects in response to traumatic stress experienced repeatedly while at work.