28 Aug 2011

Q and A: Alex Thomson on reporting from Libya’s frontline

How do you stay neutral in a warzone? And how do you stay focused when all around is chaos? Channel 4 News Chief Correspondent Alex Thomson – currently in Libya – answers your Facebook questions.

Channel 4 News Chief Correspondent Alex Thomson reporting in Libya.

Alex Thomson answers questions posted on Facebook on Friday 26 August. He is currently in Libya for Channel 4 News.

Simon Moss: How do you stay neutral when in conflict zones?

AT: I don’t know that you can stay all that neutral. You have to be, physically, with one side or the other in a war. But if people are committing atrocities you say so – rebels included in Tripoli – as we are seeing.

People lie in wars more than they shoot. Always attribute everything eg RAF’s claim to have hit a “Gaddafi bunker” in Sirte. It amazes me how few media organisations do this. Most will have taken the RAF’s claim at face value.

Andy Rymarz: Do you ever simply look around and think it’s utterly pointless? Going from central London’s trappings on take-off to seeing death on landing. It must take its toll. To remain unchanged, impartial, keep journalistic integrity, surely it’s not possible?

AT: No. Never ever ever. In the information age when we’re drowning in e-bullsh*t, having people go to these places and say what they see really, really matters. Moreso now than it ever did.

Lewis Marshall: From reading your blog how do you deal with such mental stresses? Do you worry how it might affect you?

AT: I do not have the faintest idea. But I don’t have the dreams or flashbacks. I go home, clear up the cat’s mess/do school-run/dig up spuds and therein lies balance. Then I break free and I surf. Not for everyone, but it works for me. And the harder you hit the story at ITN the more time off you get – vital.

Alex Thomson reports from Libya.

Feroza Mehta: Does Channel 4 provide you with counselling? It must be horrifying to see what you have seen.

AT: Yes, ITN does provide PTSD support and counselling.

Jen McPherson: How do you see your role as a journalist when confronted with such horror that audiences back home cannot relate to. Do you report with your eyes or report with your heart?

AT: I try to report with eyes, heart and brain at all times. Probably fail. But I try hard.

Jane Saunders Macnaghten: Why is there no water [in parts of Libya]? Does anyone know?

AT: Trying to find out right now. Tripolitans blame the colonel if course. Either that he’s turned it off or rebels had to because he’s poisoned it. No evidence of any theory. But it does appear to be pumped from miles away – some say from Sirte, still loyal to Gaddafi.

Andrew Smillie: How do you keep your focus when all around you is chaos? Also what kind of equipment are you using to broadcast, what are its limitations?
John Joe Regan:
What equipment are you using? What camera? And what are you using to send it back?

AT: We have a very good security adviser watching our backs. But you focus on the story – laser, locked on, focus and drive is all.

As for techy stuff we generally use broadcast-standard video cameras, edit on a laptop and feed pictures either from a B-Gan.

The limitations of all electrical equipment are much as you’d expect – you need mains or a generator when power’s out and extreme heat and dust and electronics don”t mix.

Mark Clark: A US reporter got “engaged” during the Haiti crisis and was filmed helping. How can you stand aloof when seeing children in desperate need?

AT: I don’t stand aloof. If anyone desperately needs your help – you help. I’ve done it loads of times. I did it yesterday when they desperately need hands to get wounded out if Abu Salim hospital.

Rob Banks: Can you bring me back a fridge magnet please?

AT: No. The shops are shut. When they open fridge mags are top of the list before we get to fripperies like water and bread.

If you have a question for Alex or any of the Channel 4 News team, post it at facebook.com/Channel4News