Iraq in focus

One year after the war in Iraq, the BBC, ABC America and Time magazine got together and commissioned a survey of the Iraqi people to find out more their life after Saddam’s capture. As part of this effort, they also sent out four television teams to different parts of Iraq. Digital Studio speaks to Dubai-based Mike Charlton of Atlas TV, who was part of the BBC crew that went to cover southern Iraq.

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By  Vijaya Cherian Published  April 29, 2004

I|~|mike.jpg|~|Mike Charlton |~|Charlton and his team — producer Ognian Boytchev, correspondent Jill McGivering and safety advisor Paul Grant — were sent to cover the southern part of Iraq. Prime areas were Basra, the Hawizeh marsh area, and small Marsh Arab settlements, near Nasiriya. “Since it was shot, some of these places we were filming in, such as Nasariya, are now ‘no go’ areas. Even the Italian troops have pulled out of the town,” says Charlton. The team’s objective was to go to the assigned area for two weeks and see how life had changed for the Iraqi people after the fall of Saddam Hussein. “We went up to Nasariya to see the Marsh Arabs and how their life had changed,” says Charlton. During Saddam’s reign, the marshes were drained after their uprising in 1991 and the whole area was deforested to crush any further rebellion from these people. “These people lived by fishing and growing crops,” says Charlton. “When the marshes were drained, these people lost their livelihood and were displaced. Although it was done to destroy what was a haven for troublemakers, it also was a huge ecological disaster,” he adds. But there is hope, as the television crew discovered. When Saddam was captured, the dams were unblocked and the marshes flooded again; and now, the Marsh Arabs are coming back. But it will still take many years before the land can be restored to its early glory again. Charlton relates an incident where the water minister took the crew to a junction between the Tigris and the Euphrates. “He showed us a picture taken 20 years ago of lush green trees and thick vegetation. Now, there are just two trees there.” The cameraman has many stories to tell after his two-week visit to Iraq. As he says, ‘every corner you turn, there’s a story to be told’. ||**||II|~||~||~|One is of a huge parking area in Basra, where cars are parked close together and cover more than two kilometres of road. After Saddam’s reign, when things were exorbitantly priced, Iraq is currently in a period of limbo when there is no authority to impose customs duties on cars. As a result, people are rushing to buy and sell cars at this area, and there are huge shipments leaving from Dubai. “The only problem is car jacking. Security has been really bad in Iraq after the war began. While before it was impossible to buy anything, you have now got Alibabas [thieves] al over so when you drive your new car out, somebody might pull you over and rob your car,” explains Charlton. Two weeks of shooting and 14 hours of footage later Charlton and the rest of his crew get the same answers again and again — freedom tastes sweet but you can’t go out anywhere. Crime is rampant and people don’t dare go out after dark — not even the TV crew. They leave as early as seven am every morning to do their shoot and set out early on their return trip as well so that even if there is a car breakdown, they can get to their hotel before dark. “We always took two vehicles. They were not brand new because we didn’t want to stand out but they also had to be reliable for a drive. You don’t speed and you don’t do anything at all that might cause any trouble because there are so many road accidents,” he says. As the TV crew was going to a place where breaking news was always a possibility, they carried a Sony SX instead of the standard digi beta cam. In fact, for any foreign shoot of this importance, the BBC usually sends its crew with the SX. The reason — these systems include edit packs that allow the crew to edit footage on the field and play out material from the site in case there’s a breaking news story. “We can’t do that on the digi beta or rather to do it, we have to take a lot more equipment so this is preferred.” However, Charlton adds that the BBC seems to be looking to replace these cameras with optical disc cameras ‘because the editing systems are smaller and you can put them on your laptop. That is next generation though now SX is being used for the BBC’s news work’. If there is not need to play out material, the British broadcaster still uses digibeta as standard. The programme was aired early last month on a BBC programme called Reporters. “The overriding concern of the Iraqi people now is security and this is reflected well in the programme,” says Charlton.||**||

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