Broadcasters struggled to deal with unfolding tsunami crisis

 

One of the most challenging stories news organisations have ever had to cover took place when many journalists were on holiday and newsrooms were operating with skeleton staffs.

Broadcasters relied on wire services, footage shot by tourists and information from locals to report the Boxing Day tsunami before their correspondents were able to reach the region.

Channel Four, the BBC and ITV all had staff on holiday in areas devastated by the tsunami.

Nick Wrenn, CNN managing editor for Europe Middle East and Africa, said: "We have a good global newsgathering infrastructure in place but we still faced the challenges that all broadcasters were facing."

CNN now has 80 people reporting on the aftermath of the tsunami.

Sky News took an early decision to present its news from disaster areas. ITV News has also been presenting its news from affected areas.

Nick Pollard, head of news at Sky said: "As soon as it was clear how severe the situation was we decided it would be best to actually present from the field. By that point we had 10 – 12 different teams of people in the regions with our own satellite and technical back up out there."

Jeremy Thompson and Julie Etchingham anchored from Thailand and Kay Burley and Martin Stanford from Sri Lanka.

Pollard said: "It's not a gimmick. This story has been the biggest challenge for broadcasters. 9/11 was huge but happened in the biggest media city in the world. The Iraq war needed as many resources but there were 4 – 5 months to plan for it. In this case we had to move very fast."

Jonathan Baker, world news editor at the BBC said covering the tsunami posed far more problems than the Bam earthquake in Iran last year because there were so many areas to cover all of which had had their infrastructures completely destroyed: "Logistically this story has been particularly difficult. We are experienced in covering disasters but covering a disaster that has affected so many areas in such a catastrophic way has made it much harder."

John Irvine, ITV's Asia Correspondent was with his family on an island off the coast of Thailand when the waves hit.

They were swept off a beach into a mangrove swamp. When the waters had died down, and he had made sure his family were safe, he was able to contact ITV. A couple of days later he was reporting from Phuket.

The BBC's Roland Buerk was swept from his bed by a wall of water but as soon as he had reached safety he relayed a vivid account via a phone borrowed from a fellow tourist in Southern Sri Lanka.

Channel Four reporter Katie Razzall was on honeymoon in Tangalle in Sri Lanka when the wave struck. She continued working until colleague Alex Thomson reached Sri Lanka and resumed her honeymoon.

Channel Four was also contacted by reporter Lucy Manning on holiday in Kerala.

She moved to Chennai and covered the south east with cameraman, Karan Singh.

They travelled to the Andaman islands where they reported for several days before being amongst the first to get to Nicobar.

 

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