War zone news crews resort to torchlight TV

Manyon: "very careful at night"

News crews in northern Afghanistan have been advised to work by torchlight to ensure their safety in a conflict in which the videophone has also come into its own.

ITN correspondent Julian Manyon  used small nightlights for a report by satellite videophone for ITV’s News at Ten after he was told not to use normal lighting because it could attract enemy fire.

"I make sure I spend as short a time as possible on air," said Manyon. "We have to be very careful at night, because all lights, including car headlights, could be mistaken as enemy targets."

Sky News correspondent Geoff Meade was among a number of newspaper and broadcast journalists whose vehicles got caught up in mortar fire when they drove towards the front line on Sunday after US and British air attacks began.

"We ended up on an open plain, which turned out to be no-man’s land, under a full moon," said Meade. "First there was rocket fire from behind us and then what looked like three mortar bombs went off about 150 yards from us. Fortunately nobody was hurt, and we made sure we got out of there very quickly."

In potentially dangerous and difficult terrain, the lightweight and portable videophones have been vital in getting out reports for television.

Gary Rogers, editor of 5 News, said it made it easier for reports to be "more like TV, rather than radio on TV". Nevertheless, the programme’s foreign affairs correspondent, James Bays, had to revert to phoning in a report without pictures on Tuesday after he was told that any bright lights would attract bandits.

ITN editor of news Nigel Dacre, who said the nature of the conflict made reporting "very difficult and costly", said it was the first main story the broadcaster had covered using videophones. "In each war or conflict a new technology emerges and this time videophones have really come into their own," he said.

Before being thrown out of Kabul by the Taliban, CNN correspondent Nic Robertson used a videophone to transmit pictures from inside the Afghan capital, including shots of a brief rebel strike on the city.

But despite such successes, BBC special correspondent Ben Brown, who rode for two hours on horseback to reach the frontline, said the "frustrating" problem remained that crews were unable to get any footage from Kabul. Broadcasters have been relying on footage from Arab satellite channel al-Jazeera and agencies such as APTN and Reuters.

"It’s the first war in a long time that we have seen so little of what’s going on," said Brown, who added that dust storms were also causing problems with traditional camera equipment. "It’s a fascinating place to be, but it’s a very difficult story to cover," he said.

 

By Julie Tomlin

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