Former BBC bodyguard’s book highlights dangers of conflict coverage
May 25, 2012 2 Comments
After years of working behind the scenes to help deliver some of the greatest international stories covered by the BBC, a former security adviser for the corporation has decided to step forward tell his own.
As a bodyguard for high profile BBC correspondents John Simpson and Jeremy Bowen and a plethora of international new crews for more than a decade, Craig Summers has travelled to and through some of the world’s most troubled and dangerous places.
His work as a BBC security adviser took him to war zones and scenes of natural disaster, to undercover operations involving child trafficking, football hooliganism and narcotics.
“I think we’ve all learned a lesson – all the broadcasters across the world have lost people in various war zones. They have a duty of care and everybody who deploys people to these war zones has a duty of care,” he says.
‘Bodyguard: My Life on the Front Line’ is a behind-the-scenes look at Summer’s experiences of protecting news crews and details his deployments with high profile journalists and other celebrities in countries including Afghanistan, Gaza and Zimbabwe, where he had to ensure that those he worked with were able to get the story they wanted and then get out as safely as possible.
“There are going to be some people that get killed doing the job. The only way you can stop that happening is by not going – but then you’re not going to see it [the news] on television. What we’ve got to do is help [journalists] get the story and get out as safely as possible.”
Careful planning coupled with his former military experience are key components to Summers’ high risk missions, executed so that conflict coverage looks easy to the viewers back home.
So, he describes an occasion when he travelled through Zimbabwe with John Simpson, on an undercover operation which led to a scoop interview with the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) leader MorganTsvangirai.
“The BBC were banned and obviously we had to be on our toes all the time…moving from location to location, trying to avoid the authorities.
“It’s stressful at times because you’re trying to keep the World Affairs Editor [Simpson] happy, but you’re also taking into account that every time he’s on air he is bringing [the authorities] closer to you,” Summers recalls.
But even acute planning cannot prepare for every eventuality, as Summers was with Simpson when he was injured in a friendly fire incident in 2003 when a US warplane bombed a convoy of American and Kurdish forces he was with. A member of the crew was killed and Simpson was left deaf in one ear.
In another incident detailed in the book, Summers was travelling with the BBC’s Stuart Hughes in Northern Iraq when Hughes stepped on a landmine and lost his right heel.
“When large broadcasters assign safety advisers, some say they are just there to enforce health and safety rules, I would say the opposite is true. People like Craig are becoming more and more important,” says Hughes.
“He played a key role when I was injured in Iraq in 2003. He understood the seriousness of the situation, he kept me calm, he kept my family informed.
“Not only are they [the safety advisers]responsible for less glamorous jobs like digging latrines and finding water supplies, but when an emergency happens they are the ones who have the knowledge and experience to get us home, if not in one piece, then alive.”
As the stories covered by journalists become increasingly complex and technological pressures mount, Summers – who now works for Sky News – acknowledges that high risk teams are well equipped to deal with the rising challenges.
“As much as we take risks to get the story, there’s a lot more safety in place to help [journalists] achieve it. There have been a lot of great improvements with the equipment that’s available to people who have been covering war zones and conflicts, and actual safety policies across the big broadcasters have improved,” he says.
“People in [jobs like this] do a great job to help keep these guys safe, and still achieve their aim which is to get pictures on the TV, or radio, or on the airwaves.”
“I’m not in front of the camera but it’s a great sense of achievement when you’re standing somewhere in a foreign land and John[Simpson] is doing a piece for the 10 o clock news, and you’ve had some input to get the guys in front of the camera safely.”
‘Bodyguard: My Life on the Front Line’ was published on 23 May by Biteback Publishing.