London Riots: Journalists Under Attack Share Stories From the Front Lines

 Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

LONDON – A BBC radio car set on fire, bottles being thrown at international correspondents and cameras being snatched by rioters; these are just some of the violent acts being faced down by the media covering the spate of rioting, looting and civil unrest across the U.K.

While Tuesday night was quieter in the British capital after three nights of the worst civil unrest to have hit the U.K. in years, reports from Birmingham, Manchester and other regional towns carried similar images of burning buildings, shop looting and marauding hooded gangs.

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The unrest, having spread to cities outside the capital, saw a BBC Radio car set alight in Salford Tuesday night as broadcasters and other media organizations scrambled to put resources in place to keep up with the disorder as it spread across the Midlands, the North West and the West of England.

Salford is to be the home for the BBC’s MediaCity, the corporation’s much trumpeted new broadcasting facility which will be home to a slew of BBC departments including Radio 5 Live, BBC Sport and BBC Children's.

The BBC car and another vehicle belonging to a front line reporter were set ablaze in a town adjacent to Manchester, a city which also found itself Tuesday night in the midst of pitched battles with police as rampaging hooded youths and looters continue to fill news airtime.

London held an eerie calm after many businesses closed up Tuesday afternoon and the streets were flooded with more than 16,000 cops in a muscular display of anticipatory policing.

The perils of covering such a fast-moving, volatile and dangerous story had been underlined as reporters themselves found themselves targets for the looters and rioters.

CNN senior international correspondent Dan Rivers had bottles thrown at him while doing a live on air piece to camera in Peckham, a South London borough, while dressed in combat gear.

Rivers told The Hollywood Reporter that reporting on that particular part of the London riots “felt more scary than a lot of the dodgy places” he has worked from.

Rivers, who has seen stints reporting from Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Ivory Coast in Africa and Libya, told THR the atmosphere in London during the rioting was “menacing.”

He said there was “definitely a high risk of getting a good pasting.”

Wednesday afternoon saw Rivers on a train to Birmingham to cover the flare ups and the developing story of a trio of men killed amid the turmoil after a car ran them over on the street.

The New York Times’ London reporter Ravi Somaiya was on the ground covering the unfolding story of the London riots, posting updates on Twitter from early on Saturday night when looting and violence broke out in Tottenham.

He told THR the most worrying thing was the possibility of being mugged for the tools of his trade by the aggressive crowds.

“A few journalists had stuff stolen and some were attacked,” Somaiya said in an interview. “The rioters didn’t like being photographed for obvious reasons, so I had to be subtle about the way I went about it.”

 

Somaiya said that for much of the early rioting in Tottenham and Enfield, the lack of police presence meant it would have been too unsafe for broadcast media to report the events.

"I don't think that you could have covered this for television. For TV you have to have a crew, a camera, a broadcast truck, a presenter. In those circumstances - where there were no police to be seen - it wouldn’t be possible for it all to be protected. It was difficult enough for me to sent Tweets and discreetly take photographs on my phone. In many ways it was a story made for Twitter."The Guardian reporter Paul Lewis told the Journalism.co.uk website he has seen a trio of journos “thrown to the ground and beaten by a group of youths.”

Lewis was expected back on shift later Wednesday evening.

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