Bowen talks of war zone pressures

Bowen: benefits of counselling

A "boss culture" that pressurises foreign correspondents to do pieces to camera from the front line in war zones has been criticised by former foreign correspondent Jeremy Bowen.

"The management line that no story is worth a life is absolute bollocks," said Bowen, who currently presents BBC Breakfast.

"If you want to be taken seriously as a war reporter you have to do a piece to camera at the front line. People who haven’t have been taken off the story."

Bowen agreed "machoism and narcissism" sometimes motivated journalists to put themselves in dangerous situations and prevented them from getting help when they were affected by their experiences.

He had "gone public" about his decision to get counselling after the death of his driver Abed Takoush in the Lebanon because he thought it would encourage others to do the same.

"I realised that what I had experienced needed a different response to chatting to friends in a bar helped by the consumption of enormous amounts of alcohol," said Bowen, who was speaking at a conference on trauma and journalism.

It was organised by Mark Brayne, a former BBC foreign correspondent, now European news and current affairs editor for the World Service, who has trained as a psychotherapist.

Vin Ray, deputy head of newsgathering at the BBC, said there had been a big shift in the culture towards acceptance of counselling.

But freelances could not afford the luxury enjoyed by staff reporters of taking time off to deal with the effects of a traumatic assignment, said Damien Lewis, a freelance director and writer.

A recent operation had forced him to "take time out" and reflect on 15 years spent "wading through shit", he said.

"A freelance is not able to get off the treadmill, not allowed time to stop and think," said Lewis.

"The quality of journalism suffers because you get to the point where you think everything is very black and hopeless."

By Julie Tomlin

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