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Last Updated: Sunday, 3 June 2007, 11:57 GMT 12:57 UK
Bowen recalls 'action movie' life
Jeremy Bowen
Bowen says conflict 'turns up the volume of everything'
BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen has admitted war reporting had taken him into some of the "dark corners of the world".

His book War Memories describes his experience in trouble spots from El Salvador to Chechnya.

It was "an action movie and I was in it," Bowen told an audience at the 20th Hay festival in Powys.

Of seeing dead bodies, the Cardiff-born journalist said he was struck more by the impact of war on the living.

"What affects me more are people who are alive," he said.

"When people are dead there is nothing you can do for them. You see the best and worst of humanity and on the same day as well."

He spoke of the "addictive combination" of being a war reporter in his early years.

Sometimes I thought what the hell am I doing here? I'm supposed to be a journalist and here I am cracking jokes
Jeremy Bowen on his stint on BBC Breakfast

"Life and death situations by day, seeing terrible things, then sitting on the terrace of a nice hotel, with a good meal, drinking wine and champagne.

"You feel quite safe, perhaps unwisely so."

Bowen said he suffered withdrawal symptoms for Bosnia, when he returned to work in London, adding "When I wasn't in Sarejevo I wanted to be there."

He said his partner said it was like he was "having an affair with an entire country."

Bowen admitted there could be moral ambivalence, such as covering the "grotesque barbarity" of Serbian shelling of a funeral of two children, but which brought a compelling story.

"For us to have a good day, means someone has one of the worst days of their lives or the last day of their life."

Bad dreams

Bowen admitted he could understand World War II veterans and their heightened memories, saying experiencing conflict "turns up the volume of everything, makes the colours brighter."

He also talked of the watershed moment in 2000 when his driver/fixer Abed Takkoush was killed by an artillery shell in southern Lebanon, as Bowen filmed a piece to camera.

As well as "feeling guilty having survived", he suffered post traumatic stress.

"There were bad dreams, hyper vigilance - when you think something bad is going to happen.

"I'd be in a taxi queue at Paddington and looking at where I could shelter from the bombs.

"I'd get flashbacks, but had some treatment and therapy and once I was reassured that this was quite normal, I was on the mend."

Part of this rehabilitation was his stint as presenter on BBC Breakfast, which he felt surreal and said left him frustrated, "kicking the walls" as he walked to the studio.

Jeremy Bowen in El Salvador
The journalist has also reported from El Salvador

"Sometimes I thought what the hell am I doing here? I'm supposed to be a journalist and here I am cracking jokes.

"I was also getting up a 3.30 in the morning, it was like flying to New York and back, it was like I had permanent jet lag."

Reporting now in a global 24-hour media, correspondents were now "much more visible", said Bowen.

"A lot of people want to influence the news agenda. That can be quite benign but at a more sinister level it can be appalling and violent."

As for the prospects for the Middle East, exacerbated by the problems in Iraq, Bowen admitted it was "hard to be positive."

He said: "I'm pessimistic - I really hope I'm wrong".

He said he could see problems which were "going to last a long time and get worse. I believe we've just seen the beginning of them."






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