Chater: “Iraqi authorities have been very good”
David Chater, Sky News’s roving correspondent reporting out of Baghdad, narrowly escaped a bomb blast just a few hundred yards from his vehicle.
He was on his way to interview a family about the impact a week’s bombing of their city had made on their lives.
With the kind of gallows humour necessary to get through a day and a half of non-stop aerial bombardment, Chater said: “For the first time, I really came to appreciate precision bombing.”
Minutes later, he was on the air reporting on the aftermath of the missile attack on the Al Sha’ab marketplace.
When Press Gazette caught up with him, Chater, 50, one of Sky News’s most senior correspondents, had just grabbed three hours’ sleep after being on his feet for 36 hours during constant bombing of the city by coalition forces.
“To operate out here is very difficult. You only get snatches of sleep in-between the sound of the cruise missiles and ‘bunker busters’. You are constantly at work, describing the events to the office, travelling around looking at casualties, counting the dead – it never stops. There is not a moment when you are not under stress.” Another constant in the life of the ‘unilateral’ reporter is the Iraqi Information Ministry-assigned minder, or, as Chater calls him, his “Dennis [Waterman]”. The minder has been an overseer as well as a source of protection, Chater said, citing the moment when a drone aircraft was brought down and Iraqis surrounded it and began attacking it.
“I was with a Belgrade crew, right in the thick of it. The minder was very close and there for my protection.
“The Iraqi authorities have been very good with me. They’ve allowed me access, with my minder, to roam pretty freely, as long as I’m aware of government restrictions. Within the guidelines and the limits, you get a lot of freedom. The way they see it, the coalition forces have spy satellites, drone planes and eavesdropping equipment. Why should journalists help them too? “They are very sophisticated and understand propaganda, as well as how to defend a city like this. They totally understand the propaganda war and are determined it’s a war that they will win.”
Despite being constantly surrounded by the sights, sounds and smells of death, Chater insists there have been some life-affirming moments.
“The good thing about Baghdad is that, if you stand in the same spot for long enough, you’ll meet everyone you ever met before in your life. It’s quite a reunion. It becomes a real bonding experience, especially after Terry Lloyd’s death. He was an old colleague and that really brings it home to you. In the end, you’ve got to be among friends in this kind of situation.”
By Wale Azeez