Television

BBC special to examine the effects of war on journalists

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MUMBAI: One key area of coverage for any news channel is the war zone. However what effect do the horrors of war have on journalists reporting from the war front? That is the subject of a BBC World special. Jeremy Bowen On The Front Line airs on 27 August at 5:40 pm and on 28 August at 12:40 pm and 10:40 pm.     

Through in your face footage along with comments from foreign corespondents, one gets a clear idea of just how dificult life is. The glamorous image of a war correspondent is stripped away as the special reveals that years spent on the frontlines take their toll. Alcholism, drug abuse, suicides are not uncommon. There have been journalists who have gone through three marriages as the home life got wrecked as a result of the profession. Bowen covered wars on BBC for 11 years starting with El Salvador. Bosnia and the Middle East were learning experiences and he came very close to losing his life. Earlier this year Bowen was appointed to the newly-created post of BBC Middle East Editor

Speaking on the occasion of a media screening on Tuesday, BBC News South Asia Bureau editor Paul Danahar says, "Hopefully after viewers watch this they will never look at war coverage the same way again. Our aim is to bring a clear picture of the effect that war has on journalists covering them and on their families. In fact, when I talked to Bowen a couple of years ago he refused to cover the war on Iraq. That was because his wife was pregnant and he did not want to face the possibility that his son might grow up without a father. The BBC has 2000 foreign correspondents around the globe. It is not as if they go out searching for conflicts."

"Very often it arrives on their doorsteps. Since they have been living there, they are able to bring a perspective on why the events are going on. I have covered the good and the bad stories from regions like Africa. When I took up my current assignment in Delhi, Kate Peyton took my place in Africa. Unfortunately she was gunned down in Somalia. Now covering wars has become more dangerous as journalists are seen as targets. When your friends and colleagues get killed the little voice in your head that says 'It will not happen to me' starts to ring hollow. We do have measures to prepare journalists ranging from clothing to hostile training."

Danaher went on to add that the BBC basically wants to be first and right. He gave the example of the bomb blasts in Mumbai where some local channels exaggerated the number of blasts. "It is important to never take a chance on reporting in the hopes of beating the competition." A sad moment in the film comes when a cameraman talks of getting nightmares after the Rwandan genocide. His dreams were full of people crying for help and a room full of dead babies. Bowen himself went into a catatonic state for a week after returning home from covering the Bosnia conflict in the early 1990's. However for him normal life felt stale in comparison.

Another point that the film brings home is the disillusionment that journalists feel after spending several years on the job. When they cover wars they hope that their coverage will make a difference in terms of international opinion. Unfortunately it does not and as Bowen points out this century looks like it is going to be as worse in terms of violence as the previous one. CNN senior international correspondent Christiane Amanpour says that the fear factor of reporting from areas like the Gaza Strip increased after she had a son.

Skoda has tied up with BBC for the special. SkodaAuto India MD Imran Hassen says,

" There are two key reasons for participating with BBC World for this special screening, the first and most important one is that programmes like these pass a larger social message towards the lessons to be learnt from a war scenario, and for the fact that SkodaAuto India and BBC World stand for similar values of quality and truth."

BBC World's recent sponsors include Airtel, LG, IBM, HP and Speed.

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