Sunday, November 24, 2013

BBC's Hostile Environment training for journalists - a review

A feature length of this article is being considered by a popular UK news website.

Be prepared to die.

It doesn't get any blunter than that. Last thursday I attended an event at the BBC - possibly one of their best open fouum for journalists.

The BBC could have packed in the nation's aspiring journalists, but on the day a mere 200 plus had the opportunity to gather in new broadcasting house's radio theatre to learn about hostile environment reporting.

And that's where the BBC's MIddle East editor Jeremy Bowen made the remark: when you're going out on a foreign assignment consider the fact you may not return. So why do it then?

The adrenalin rush, making a difference, you'll never experience anything like it, was the response.

This was grim, but poignant advice for would-be journalists in a digital age where the dangers of reporting have become all too apparent.

Analogue versus Digital
David Dunkley Gyimah reporting from South Africa 1994 - on the eve of their historic election

In South Africa (92-94) as a journalist in the analogue days, you went into a hot zone, reported and got out, or headed for safety. Digital, said one of speakers, has led to an increase in workload and the reality that you end up testing your luck in the zone.

I still multiskilled: worked for ABC News (TV), made programmes for South African independents (TV) freelanced for the BBC World Service (Radio) write articles, but it wasn't relentless to the point of having to stay in a hot zone.

The inauguration of Nelson Mandela. It was electric. The whole country came to a standstill.

Violence grips South Africa. The Townships e.g. Soweto has become a conflict zone between ANC and Inkatha factions. This a report from Jo'burg and Durban on the violence. Its scary!

The problems Today
So far, for a number of different but connected reasons 35 journalists are missing in Syria. Reporting from the region or any other conflict zone has spawned an underground digital reportage industry.

If you're lucky you'll make your name, if you're not, you've become another number. This was the sort of discussion that the 200 were privy to.

I'll report on this in more detail in a post for a publication that reflects my career reporting from hot zones, as well as more recent work in September 2013 working 3 hours from Kilis on the Syrian border.

I'll talk about my motivation and how the lack of black journalists getting breaks irked me. I have done things therefore when I was young to prove to myself and critics who were less prone to hire people from minorities.

I'll also reflect on how that has spurned me on, and my ambitions to correct a narrative in journalism, specifically videojournalism,  that requires reevaluating. The results thus far has rendered videojournalism  anaemic. That's the subject of my PhD.

Then I'll round up with my experience as both a journalist and academic, how the next generation could strengthen their involvement in a journalism of empathy, affectivity and cinema.

David Dunkley Gyimah is an academic and journalist.

He is a chair of the jurors for the UK's RTS Awards - the highest awards in the UK for professional television journalists.

Go hear for more on his background covering conflicts in South Africa etc.