Kate Adie and Rageh Omaar.
I have chosen these two journalists, as their careers featured in news bulletins from my formative years. Even though they were born in different parts of the world, educated differently, and started their media careers in different ways, their work has followed a similar path during conflicts and wars.
Kate Adie was born in Northumberland, England, and started her media career in local radio after completing her degree in Scandinavian Studies at Newcastle University. Her first roles came at BBC Radio Durham and BBC Radio Bristol, which led to a move into reporting for television in Southampton [Rock, 2013]. She then moved to cover network BBC News in 1979. Her career with the BBC continued until 2003, and she covered various worldwide conflicts and battles, as well as in the UK. [Swan Helennic, CV]
She was the journalist outside the Iranian Embassy Hijacking when the Special Air Service (SAS) stormed the building after 6 days of stalemate in April and May 1980. This was a stepping stone for her, climbing the ranks within BBC News, eventually becoming Chief News Correspondent. Her significant stories include the downing of the PanAm Flight 103, the American Bombing of Libya, the First Gulf War, Bosnia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and the student uprising in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square before becoming a freelance journalist.[Rock, 2013] During her time as a journalist, she was arrested in Belgrade trying to research material about General Tito. [BBC, 2010]
Whereas Kate Adie was a prominent member of the BBC’s news team for the First Gulf War [IWMF, 2011], Rageh Omaar was a high profile journalist in the second Iraqi invasion.
Rageh Omaar was born in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1967, and moved to the UK, aged 2. Educated at New College Oxford, where he read Modern History, his journalism journey started with print based The Voice as a trainee in 1991. He moved to Ethiopia a year later, where he was a freelance journalist, mainly working for BBC World Service. His role for the BBC continued as Chief Africa Correspondent, prior to the start of the Iraq Invasion. [BBC, 2002]
During that conflict, his coverage was seen on BBC News, and around the world on BBC World News, further enhancing his reputation as Senior Foreign Correspondent. After leaving the BBC in 2006, he worked for Al-Jazeera, [Independent, 2006] before returning to the UK in 2013, becoming special correspondent for Independent Television News (ITN), and is currently their International Affairs Editor. [ITN, 2015]
These two journalists have continued to help form and shape the way in which the journalists of today, cover conflicts and uprisings around the world.
Kate Adie blazed a trail for female journalists in general, but more especially within the confines of a war zone. Prior to her career, women journalists were rarely seen in places such as The Gulf, and Beijing, but thanks to her tough, no-nonsense approach, she was at the forefront of news reporting during her time at the BBC.
Adie uses her camera on the ground, and isn’t afraid to get in the crowds, as is demonstrated in her coverage from Tiananmen Square, Beijing. [Kate Adie, BBC, 1989] . By using very striking visuals shot on location, and her pieces to camera, she brought world news events to an audience who were shocked by the events, whereas now, audiences are more likely to be desensitized to the events that take place from across the world. This is also true for Omaar, in his coverage of the toppling of Saddam Hussain’s statue in Baghdad. Striking visuals, working with the crowd, whilst delivering a piece to camera. [Rageh Omaar, Baghdad 2003]
Adie’s voiceover pieces use elaborate, flowery language, but this adds depth and gravitas to the video and are delivered in a calm voice. Whereas her pieces recorded in front of the camera, have her voice stronger in its delivery, to get across to the severity of the situation that is being covered.
Earlier in her career, Adie covered the US bombing of Tripoli in Libya, and is seen reporting from the scene of a bombing, wearing very little armoured protection. She tries to get across to the audience the human element of, what is a very grave situation, where people have been injured and have died, bringing it to the homes of the audience. This is in stark contrast to Omaar, who wore full protection, but Health and Safety has become a part of video journalism.
As Kate Adie was coming to the end of her BBC career, and moving into freelance work and becoming an author, Rageh Omaar was being seen covering his own stories, firstly as the BBC’s Africa correspondent, but it was with the start of the second Gulf War in 2003, that Omaar became a regular face on BBC news coverage, which was then subsequently syndicated around the world. [Fox, K, 2006]
Omaar was keen to deny reports that he was the new Kate Adie, he recognised the similarity in their roles, but replied “I don’t know about that. But I’m not the old Rageh Omaar.” [BBC, 2003]
Rageh Omaar’s brand of journalism was refreshing for the time, in the same way that Adie brought her own perspective to reporting.
Being of African parentage, his understanding of issues from other parts of the world was a great asset to understanding other cultures and customs, and allowed him to access areas that may have been difficult to other journalists. Fluent in Arabic, this undoubtedly helped to communicate with the Iraqis during the conflict.[BBC, 2002]
His journalism style is very similar to that of Kate Adie, in that he is willing to get in amongst the battles, attempting to tell the story in an accessible way for the audience, and doesn’t speak down to the viewer.
In a piece for the BBC, the way in which Omaar covers a story, the toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussain in Fardus Square, Baghdad, in a very calm and measured way, even though the crowd around him are visibly excited by the events happening.
Omaar and Adie reflect on their time covering the Gulf Wars with a sense of frustration. Adie is quoted as saying “I’ve seen a complete erosion of any kind of acknowledgement that reporters should be able to report as they witness” [Anderson, 2003], and Omaar talked in 2008 of Iraq as a “a contradiction – it is still the most important international news story, but the continuing violence and insecurity have also made it an information abyss.” [Omaar, 2008]
Frustration at attempting to tell a story, when you’re not being given all the information you require. The socio-political impact of this is that the audience are being given only half the story. By showing positive propaganda, it makes the war on the ground seem better than the actual truth. A situation similar to the Vietnam War, and the footage being shown to the US audience.
These two journalists have come from very different backgrounds, but there seems to be a hard-nosed attitude to provide the viewer with hard-hitting journalism, even if they may seem frustrated by the control held over them by the Armed Forces, and maybe even a little bit of editorial control by their employer. [Controversial Images, 2012]
Their backgrounds are worth reflecting on, to see where these tough, investigative journalists started from, to see if this had any effect on where they are today.
Adie was given up for adoption by her mother, after falling pregnant whilst her husband was away on National Service. Her adoptive parents, were a pharmacist and his wife from Sunderland, England. During her childhood, she was described as a shy child, but this may have been due to her deafness. [Grice, E, 2005]
Omaar was born into a wealthy family from Somaliland, in the north-west of Somalia. He moved to the UK aged 2, and was educated in independent schools in Oxford and Gloucester. [Prime Performers, 2015]
Their formative years don’t seem to have much correlation, but what stands out in their careers, is their ability to find stories, bring them to the audience, and, to a certain degree, being in the right place at the right time.
These two correspondents worked a few years apart, but the way in which news is reported has changed. The news outlets for Kate Adie were the lunchtime and evening bulletins, where as with Rageh Omaar, news coverage was accessible 24 hours a day via BBC News 24, and around the world, as his work was syndicated in America. Their paths to video news journalism started from very different media, Adie taking the radio route, and Omaar starting in print, but they both ended up in the same places reporting the facts. [BBC, 2010 Adie] [BBC, 2002 Omaar]
What stands out is that their ideals still hold true, no matter what their starting point. They just wanted to relate the story, even though it was from places that the audience may not have knowledge about. The willingness to put their lives and safety at risk to cover a story, is what drives and connects these two journalists.
They are also linked by story telling away from traditional journalism. Both have become authors in their own right, Adie writing about the role of women in World War 1,[Hodder & Stoughton 2015] and Omaar describing his life growing up as a Muslim and writing about his experiences in Iraq. [Jardine, 2006]
Their names are held in reverence in journalism circles, and the current journalists covering these stories today have a lot to live up to in terms of content and determination to show the true nature of war.
When viewing their work, you can see that they work to get show how grave a situation is, with careful use of crowd scenes, showing troops on the ground if possible, and speak directly to the camera, but ensuring that they relate situations to the audience, rather than just lecturing.
Their use of camera angles is important to the gravity of the situation. For example, in Rageh Omaar’s piece in Baghdad, the camera is set low, looking up at the tank that is rumbling past. It gives the feel of a young child looking up at a monster, and children were not immune to the suffering within Iraq. Kate Adie’s video from Beijing is shot in very low light as it is late in the evening, with just the artificial light of the street, and the fireglow to use. This is an attempt to show the dark nature of the situation during the Student Uprising.
By relating the situation, they work with local people, attempting to get their side of the story, if possible, given that they are embedded with the soldiers fighting the battle. Working with the local people, it demonstrates that they are trying to relate the whole story, even when there are hurdles preventing the full story being shown.
Like so many journalists before them, and, no doubt other journalists to come, their passion for telling a story in a way that is accessible by the general public. The British troops on the ground in the war zones were quoted as saying that if Kate Adie was being sent to cover the story, then things were being perceived as a very serious situation.
Rageh Omaar is a journalist who, is held in the same esteem. He is a journalist that has gone from a Black African newspaper, to covering stories from around the world, and his work with the BBC, ITN, and Al-Jazeera is one that the great John Pilger covered in his documentary “The War You Don’t See”. [Communications B, 2015]
Their work still holds gravitas throughout the journalism world, and drives many journalists on today. to ensure that the truth is reported, in a fair, accurate and contemporaneous way to the widest possible audience.
They both treat the subject with humanity and respect, and also extend that courtesy to the audience. Their ability to look objectively at some of the most horrific situations from around the world, come across when viewing news broadcast footage from their careers.
However, they both felt compelled to leave the BBC, where their work came to prominence, to forge their own paths.
Their work is so well-respected within the industry, that they were able to carve out their reputation as names of great war journalists and correspondents, and that their names were known for being great journalists, rather than just being BBC journalists who happened to be sent to cover the wars and conflicts. [Press Gazette, 2013 Omaar] [CredoReference, 2014 Adie]
A true journalist always wants to convey the truth to the audience, and these two journalists have inspired me over the years with their work around the world. By facing difficult situations, and bringing their humanity across via the camera and their written words, many have followed their work intently.
Their work, continues to inspire and help to shape the journalists and reporters as the media moves forward with established 24 hour news, the constant updating of online news and the increased use of social media. For example, when viewing the work of Caroline Wyatt at the BBC, you see the influence that Omaar and Adie have had on the style and presentation of the news pieces. [BBC, 2015].
Without their influence, reporting, comment and help to shape the journalists of the future, the sociopolitical impact of wars and conflicts wouldn’t be as striking. In news reporting today, you see skills and techniques these two journalists pioneered many years ago. The audience, reporters and correspondents are able to learn from their work for many years to come.