Wednesday, 13 October 2010

BBC News and the Chilean Miners rescue

Like so many times in the recent past, I told myself I'd get down to the business of writing my blog posts for Masterchef and Whites and other programmes right after the Football. Problem was, I'd have to watch them first. Somewhere between the lacklustre performance of England v Montenegro and the news finishing, all hope of any work getting done was tossed out the window. Matt Frei starred at me from my screen telling me the rescue effort would be starting within the hour, and that was it.

It's 2:29 am Chilean time as I write this, a third rescue worker has been sent down and three miners are breathing fresh air for the first time since Aug 5th. I apologize to those of you expecting reviews and reactions from the football, but somehow it all seems less pressing than usual. I haven't shared a moment like this with my family since I was a small boy and we all huddled around the Black and White telly to watch the Moon landings. Unlike 9/11 or 7/7, this has all the hallmarks of a happy, hopeful event that speaks of the ability of man to overcome adversity and the seemingly impossible. From the grainy pictures coming from the surface of the mine to the clear 2nd window showing us operations controls and half the Chilean Cabinet, you got the impression you were watching history in the making. For the first time in Human History, men had lived and survived longer than any others under ground and were coming out. Their families had gathered in Camp Hope for the last 69 days in a makeshift village to await the miracle of technology, hope, political will and sheer force of character to make it out alive.

There has even been the isolation portion that was as close to orbiting in space, living on rations and keeping busy with exercise and writing letters home to the family. I'm sure we'll be treated to the inevitably deep poetry written by one or more of the miners, and at least one of them will win the race to tell his exclusive story to the press. The media circus reminiscent of Rocket launches from Florida became part of the scenery in the last two days. I know it's special, because every rescue is as interesting as the last, every detail Tim Wilcox or Rajesh Mirchandani can tell about is incredibly fascinating. What strikes me further by this event, is the very cinematic, uniqueness of the entire scene. From the moonscape like terrain to the suspension of all things normal, this event has managed to single-handedly unite the planet in its grip of positive human hope.

622 meters below the surface, 30 miners and 3 rescue workers await thier turn in the 55 cm wide lift Phoenix 2. But the statistic that's most amazing , is that until yesterday or the day before, only about 6 international and national media were present for the duration. The great old lady of news, THE BBC, with Tim Wilcox doing yeoman service was there to talk to every official, family member and rescue technician. We got interviews with Salvador Allende's daughter, the Senator, there was the Walter Cronkite/Jeremy Paxman/Piers Morgan of Chile. We got the best of the News division's people on the ground, speaking spanish and translating faster and better than any dull toned drone. Long before the rest of the world focused on the spinning wheel that even now is bringing up the Bolivian miner, the BBC and a handful of news organizations, took this story seriously. It was there in Copiapo to insure the story was told correctly, in depth and with as little interference from spin doctors. Another way of knowing just how truly special such an event is, is to realize you are in fact seeing coverage so exhaustive, the on air reporters need to orchestrate a rhythm that keeps them in food and personal breaks. At times though, the event takes on a life of it's own and they need to apologize for answering the call of nature, you see extros followed by intros and the occasional confused look, or off air "What are we doing next". It's good people see this at least a few times in their lives, proof that reporting live news is hard and, keeping it interesting is not as easy as it looks when you don't have three cameras, two studios and lots of material to play over and over again. 

I have to say I'm deeply impressed by the level of professionalism and familiarity the BBC three have managed to impart to us. In the days to come, when the first blush of joy and relief passes, they will be among a precious few who will be able to dig deeper and get us the details that will be far harder to get for the media whores who chose  to come in the last minute. The memory of this global television event will have been crafted by Matt Frei and Tim Wilcox, the same way the great Walter Cronkite put his stamp on the moon landings. As a family event, the scenes of reunion triggered the memory of my father seeing his own father restored to him after 2 years in KGB hands, his sister hugging him as they walk down a street in a Siberian village as the Russians finally allowed the Polish army to reform and leave unjustified slavery. Ironically, as I write this, the first miner is now reunited with HIS whole family, safe and sound, after most had given up hope of ever seeing him alive again.

One of the things that do happen when watching these long drawn out affairs, however , is pretty funny. You begin to see things and imagine what has no place going through your mind. In my case, I kept seeing Betsy and Patrick Troughton zooming around the place, while the tiny cage more at home on a Doctor Who set from the 70's complete with cranes, miners and concerned officials, pokes through the rocks all suppository like and disgorges an orange clad extra who will surely be killed or have his body taken over by Cybermen, Autons or captured by terminally un scary Silurians or completely ridiculous Sea Devils. I have since heard Tim Wilcox refer to the capsule as Tardis like, It is blue , it is sort of like a round police box, but if I may go picky, it is more like the Master's Tardis when last we saw it, but with some paint on. So it's not THE Tardis, but A Tardis. Nice to see even our intrepid reporters have allowed their imaginations to fly.I also found myself doing mock interviews in my mind or out loud, with family members in which Steven Sackur accused assorted people of being dictators, incompetent or just crawling out of the woodwork to be nice to the soon to be geet rich miners. Of course Matt Frei and Tim Wilcox never once crossed the line from heartfelt sincere report to hard as nails journalist. That is for another day, this is not to say they didn't over the course of the last few weeks shine the harsh light of inquiry on these things, they just didn't go all barracuda like the new arrivals have in the last few hours, up to and including, stampeding a tent filled with relatives of trapped miners or filming two small boys rowing.

And so the Bolivian has come out and that leaves several more tens of  hours to come before it's all over. No swingometers, no political panel and no clips of building being destroyed by an artillery barrage. Just a good news story about a group of patient men who never lost hope and a people who rallied to save them against all odds. My thanks to Tim Wilcox, Matt Frei , Rajesh Mirchandani and their staff who have brought us this once in a life time story from the start and while most of us take a nap, will continue putting in the hours till every last miner and rescuer is brought back up.

Watch the BBC's continued live news live on the internet


on site said...

I absolutely agree. This morning our CBC current affairs program started off with clips of the rescue on CNN and I was so thankful I'd stuck with Matt Frei and Tim Wilcox, not least because of their beautiful Spanish which led them to talk to people, really talk to people, not just monitor the news feed.
I would die without BBC World, I really would.

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