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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 May, 2003, 16:27 GMT 17:27 UK
Reporting on disasters for real
George Eykyn delivers a fictional news report for The Day Britain Stopped
The film uses fictional news reports

The Day Britain Stopped uses a large number of specially recorded news reports to recount the disastrous events of the day.

The BBC's George Eykyn compares reporting for this drama filmed in the style of a documentary with covering a real life incident.

Arriving at the scene of the dramatised aircraft crash near London, I was conscious that as a reporter I probably wouldn't have got there so soon after the event.

Things were still going on that I wouldn't necessarily expect to see, as people were still running from their homes and the emergency services were really only just arriving.

At disaster scenes you often feel a sense of bewilderment when you first arrive
George Eykyn

It's very unlikely I'd have got there this fast from BBC Television Centre - even by motorbike, which is how I often travel so as to beat the congestion.

Of course, chance always plays its part and you can find yourself on the scene immediately.

BBC reporters happened to be nearby on the M1 when the Kegworth air crash happened, and members of BBC staff were on board the train which crashed at Ladbroke Grove.

At disaster scenes you often feel a sense of bewilderment when you first arrive. For the news teams there is a lot of hurrying around, with no real wider sense of what other colleagues are up to. Adrenalin is flowing, and you get caught up in things.

Scene from The Day Britain Stopped
Emergency scenes are always confused places

So that we all do our jobs effectively and safely, it's vital on stories like this that tasks aren't just left to potluck, but that a senior figure either onsite or back in the Newsroom is calmly giving the orders and keeping track of who's doing what.

At the point where I appear in the dramatisation, the reporter in my position would have realised that although this was an opportunity, it was also a dangerous place to be, and so he or she wouldn't hang about.

Privileged picture

The priority is to get a "piece to camera" on tape, no matter how breathlessly, and film a few shots of the activity there, before inevitably being ordered out of the area by police officers setting up cordons.

So in the film, you don't see me wasting time trying to gather interviews. People are still running out of the area and ambulances are charging in. We would film some of that, and record a piece to camera saying something which isn't going to be out-of-date immediately.

The crucial thing news organisations can do to help is to report sensitively and accurately
BBC reporter George Eykyn

From a location like that, first hand observations are a good idea, and in my report for The Day Britain Stopped I mentioned the smell of fuel around the crash sites.

As a reporter onsite you have only a partial, if privileged, picture. Your tone will reflect that - as it does the seriousness of the situation and, probably unavoidably, your own excitement.

Having covered several train crashes and many IRA bombings which devastated entire streets I know the crucial thing news organisations can do to help is to report sensitively and accurately what is known about a disaster.

A scene from The Day Britain Stopped
George would let paramedics do their work

A lot of people would be watching BBC coverage of the air crash depicted, worrying that their relatives were caught up in it. Giving correct details of the aircraft involved and about the exact location of the wreckage on the ground will help set some minds at rest.

Although rare for news teams to be up and running at a disaster scene this soon after the event, people always want to know whether reporters would film victims, or get involved in treating them.

The honest answer is it depends; you can't predict your response to such events with any certainty.

I have given first aid to colleagues and to strangers on occasions in the past, but have never got to a disaster so early on that I could actually have helped anyone - other than by simply staying out of the way of the professionals.


The Day Britain Stopped was broadcast on Tuesday, 13 May, 2003 on BBC Two at 2100 BST.



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