Cameraman based in Edinburgh, employed by ITN, working for ITV's Good Morning Britain covering stories all over the UK and the world. War Zones, World Cups, Royal Tours and many other less exciting assignments, like interviewing current and ex Prime Ministers have kept me busy over the years working in Breakfast Television since GMTV came on the scene back in '93 and regional TV before that. In 2009 I began to record what it is like to work, the often strange and long hours needed to bring the hard news, human interest and fluffy fun to the UK's TV screens in the morning, mostly broadcasting live.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Zarzis port and refugees

Wednesday 2nd

A sort of routine was developing where we would record a voice over for a report put together overnight by the producers in London and get it sent over before setting out to our live location.

Sending the "voice over" to London on the internet.

This morning the process was quicker than yesterday so we were on the road nice and early.

We did not have far to go to get to the port.

In case there had been change in plans at the port we gave ourselves enough time, just, to get back to the refugee camp we were at the last two days.

We arrived at the port. There was no boat to be seen.

At the gate to the quayside we were pleased to see a bus load of men sitting in the dim light from the lamps around the port.

Many were huddled up in thick colourful blankets against the chill night air.

Some had bags, others bulging suitcases tied with heavy string and some had just what they stood up in.

We had a word with the officials on the gate who were once again very helpful.

They told us that the men would be kept outside the gate until the boat arrived or until there was a large group and then they would be taken through.

They were happy to let us go wherever we wanted to set up for the live broadcasts.

Although they did draw the line when I suggested that the best place for our car was on a rather scruffy and sparse area that might at one time have been a flower bed.

Once a parking place had been agreed we started to set up.

We had pulled all the kit out and were fairly leisurely starting to get it set up when suddenly all the men stood up and formed an orderly line.

The gate barrier was lifted and they started shuffling through on to the quayside.

Our background and reason for being there was slowly disappearing.

There was still a little bit of time before Daybreak came on air.

It gave us the time to get the gear thrown back into the car and go to where the men were being led.

They were gently ushered into a large dark warehouse.

We organised to put the car near to the door so that we could take the camera just inside.

We started to set up once again.

I put the satellite dish on the roof and pointed it skywards.

I was starting to unravel the cables that had become tangled up when we moved when a mini convoy of buses lead by a Tunisian army Humvee appeared around the corner.

They pulled up and started to disgorge more tired men, again with a variety of baggage.

I stopped what I was doing and got the camera to film them trudge off the bus and into the warehouse.

I only had time to do a very few shots before getting back to prepare for the first broadcast which was now looming.

It was then that a pleasant but forceful army officer asked us to move the car.

It was not one of those situations where it was going to be worth a discussion.

Once again the kit was back in the car and we moved it.

For the third time we started the process of getting the kit ready.

The third set up of the morning and "Daybreak's" not even on air yet.

There was now a steady gentle flow of guys in single file with blankets over their hunched shoulders slowly going in to the warehouse.

We got set up very quickly a few minutes before the programme started.

It was looking likely that the men would all be inside before we broadcast.

It was a very hurried conversation with Doug the technical director back in London to start recording our output so that we could pre-record a piece with the activity still going on the background.

Sure enough the programme titles rolled and there was not much going on behind us.

We did do a very quick 5 second tease telling the viewers what was coming up in a few moments from us in Tunisia.

When the time came for what would have been our live broadcast the recorded piece was played.

This gave us time to go into the warehouse and record another piece that we could feed back to be played at the next broadcast time.

It was a dark cavern of a building with horrible lighting and a cold concrete floor but, I am sure that the guys were more than happy to be there. They knew that they would soon be home.

The men inside the warehouse.

We wanted to do the next broadcasts live from inside the warehouse.

So we moved our little operation right round to the other side and we were able to have enough cable to get inside.

The car with the BGAN satellite dish on the roof in position four of the morning.

Once more the Tunisians at the port could not have been more helpful by once again providing us with a power supply and just letting us get on with what ever we needed to do.

Waiting in the warehouse.

We were up and ready with all systems go in plenty of time for the next scheduled broadcast at 7:30 am.

Erron the director stood us by, Tasmin the news reader started to introduce Gregg.

Then I heard Erron say, “we’ve lost Tunisia!”.

The satellite signal had dropped out at the last second before we should have been on air.

We had done the same as we did earlier and sent a standby recorded piece but it was too late to get on.

At least the next and final one at eight o’clock worked and went well.

We were pleased and relieved that it had mostly worked and we had hopefully conveyed a part of the size of the problem caused by the trouble in next door Libya.

The other thing that we were happy about was that this would be something that was not being shown on any of the other news networks.

The downside more for the men inside the warehouse was that the promised boat had not yet arrived more than an hour later that was planned and there was no sign of any boat at all out to sea.

For all their resources and international infrastructure there was no sign of the BBC and for all their money and toys there was no sign of Sky News.

Our days work doing live broadcasts may have been finished but, our working day was far from over.

We had to go to the border and see what was going on there for a report to be seen tomorrow morning.

We packed the kit and headed off.

We stopped off for a nice breakfast of Tabouna in a little town called Ben Guergane about halfway between Zarzis and Ras Jadir.

Tabouna is basically a big bread roll filled with chicken, salad and egg.

The refugee camp that we had done our live broadcasts from on Monday and Tuesday had grown hugely in the 24 hours between us leaving yesterday and going back today.

There were quite literally hundreds of white UNHCR tents where there had been sandy desert scrubland and more were being offloaded from a huge truck.

The UNHCR tents.

The tents will keep them warm but washing facilities are basic.

There was a lot of activity.

Busy place.

Rushing to catch a bus.

It was not just Egyptians that were in the camp, there were people from all over the world in large groups.

Men from Bangladesh being given some information about their flights home.

Piece to camera time.

Filming a man being helped on to a bus.

Getting a wide shot.

We found a father who had fled Libya with his wife and three children. He had not witnessed any horror but knew of people that had.

He was there with two of his sons. So we did an interview with him and some shots of him and the kids playing football amidst all the chaos of people arriving, people waiting and people franticly trying to get away.

When we had finished filming at the camp Chokra made a call to the port authorities and was told that the ship was there.

So we decided to have a look because a few shots of people boarding might be useful for tomorrows programme.

The boat with the men ready to board.

When we got there there were a few photographers and TV crews already set up, including Sky News.

A crew with a similar BGAN set up to ours.

The Sky News satellite dish and kit.

Sleep when you can!

We wondered if their news desk people had been watching Daybreak this morning, or if they knew about the boat already?

Given that there was no sign of any of them at the time the boat was supposed to arrive I think I know the answer.

We celebrated the end of the filming day with a can of Diet Coke and a bar of chocolate. Life in the fast lane.

The piece still had to be edited.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent article - Really interesting to see how u piece together the news - Im a camera operator & doing BCTJ Broadcast journalism Post grad .. and want to do your job !.. i should be on Placement at ITN in summer.. would be very interested to hear any advice you might have. Robert, on twitter @onthepulsenews