Dealing with disaster. Media turns ugly as tragedy unfolds

TV journalist Peter Enright describes what it was like reporting on the Russian Kursk submarine catastrophe.

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By  Peter Conmy Published  August 23, 2000

Being a TV journalist at the centre of an international disaster recovery mission is no easy job.

If it isn't difficult enough having to cope with the trauma of the "Will they, won't they, make it" nature of the event there is still the small matter of having to give daily or even hourly live reports on what is happening, why its happening and make predictions about what might happen next.

And all this comes with the added pressure of a thousand competitors vying for a fresh angle, a tight security regime protecting state secrets and a recovery crew trying to save lives.

Stricken Submarine

Peter Enright of the news production company PTS Moscow was in Murmansk the day after the stricken Russian submarine The Kursk sank.

He was on hand to report as the faint hopes for the lives of the 113 sailors faded and the recovery mission team accepted defeat.

He also saw first hand the ruthless nature of TV news as hundreds of journalists jostled for position in the race to get that exclusive reaction from friends and family and the authorities.

In an enthralling insight into the difficulties of covering an international disaster Enright told about his experiences.

Saturday, August 19th Murmansk, CIS “Scenes of frantic chaos erupted at the Murmansk train station this afternoon as international TV crews, photographers and journalists swarmed over the platforms, anxious to speak to some of the submariner's families arriving from across Russia," explained Enright.

“As the train pulled in, crews rushed in with their microphones, but the families, many in tears, were herded into a special bus by navy officials.

Caught in the melee, I was swept along, unable to get any decent footage as the navy security were shoving me away as I tried to follow our journalist as he tried to get some response.

Mind the Gap

“A second train pulled in later,” continued Enright “And as the family members were rushed out, I was forced to run along the platform backwards as I filmed them.

"This is not an easy task, if you can imagine what it might feel like with a 12kg TV camera balanced on your shoulder, your eye glued to the viewfinder as you trot backwards, not knowing where you are going, tripping over bags and people and somehow managing to keep your balance, and keep the shot steady enough to be useable.

“Although I don't particularly enjoy this kind of filming technique, it's what TV journalists want for their stories. For most of us, the story is almost over here.

"Now that the British/Norwegian rescue team has arrived, it's a forgone conclusion that the Kursk submarine crew are all dead, and we are just waiting for an official confirmation of this.

“There's not much more we can report from Murmansk. Soon the witch-hunts will begin in Moscow. Someone will be blamed for the initial explosion that sent the sub to the bottom.”

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