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May 10 2012

When the Camera is Too Candid

Live broadcast, by its nature, has its funny moments, whether in studio or out in the field. Equipment not working, mics that should be off suddenly coming to life, props collapsing, or wild animals breaking into the frame, and it is all hilarious, as long as it happens to another reporter or another broadcaster.

All reporters have their own stories of embarrassing/funny/slightly humiliating moments on air. The ones I can remember are an Israeli radio morning news anchor trying to crack a joke on the morning after the Olympic bid by asking me, at 7am London time, “so, which pub in east London are you in now, Daphna Baram?” to which I replied far too candidly “I’m in my east London bed, Gabi”. 15 minutes later the 7/7 bombings hit, but my phone did not ring again. Clearly Israeli broadcasters realised that they’d disturbed my sleep quite enough for one morning.

Another day I was called into the Al Jazeera studios in London to commentate on the case of an Israeli citizen who was charged with rape on the premise that he had misled his alleged victim regarding his identity by claiming he was Jewish. I was picnicking with friends on Hampstead Heath when the call came in, and said I’ll oblige if they pick me up and give me a shirt to replace the rather scruffy vest I had on. Once I was whisked into the Knightsbridge studio, a young employee jumped me, put me in a chair, and said “you are on in 30 seconds”. When I reminded her of the shirt business she sized me up rather scornfully and said “all the shirts we have here are for our presenters. Have you seen them? None of them is over size 8”. A make up artist who rushed in managed to comb some of the hay out of my hair during countdown, but I’m sure a few viewers that day were wondering who’s the hobo.

At GRNLive we often find ourselves trying to coordinate a hit while avoiding (or not) a catastrophe in the making. On the day of Muamar Gadhafi’s death one of our biggest clients managed to secure a satellite feed point for a short amount of time. We managed to find our correspondent who miraculously was staying at the same hotel as the feedpoint. The reporter did not know where in the hotel the studio was, and we were struggling to find out. All that could be heard in GRNLive’s offices was shouting “Just run! RUN!” as the correspondent ran along the hotel’s corridors, desperately looking for the right door while trying to get her lipstick on. The time slot was coming to an end and we had been watching the television screen desperately, when to our relief our reporter suddenly emerged on screen all prim, if breathless, and delivered a perfect account of events.

In Tbilisi in 2008, during the Russian invasion, we had a call from one of our clients asking if we could kindly ask our correspondent to “keep her hair tied back next time she goes on camera”. It transpired that the correspondent was reporting from an exposed outdoor feedpoint, and her hair kept flying into her face. While I was making the hair-design consultancy phone call others were watching the video and assessing the magnitude of the disaster. “It did look a bit like an episode of Desperate Housewives” she concluded.

The gaffs are not always coming from the correspondent’s end. The studio often provides its own mess-ups. One of our correspondents in Baghdad before the fall of the city, was asked by a news anchor whether the female minder assigned to him was attractive. The reporter, taken by surprise by the audacity of the question, went mute for a few long seconds.

YouTube offers a large selection of awkward and funny news moments, collected mishaps, assorted on-air accidents, angry reporters following misunderstandings with studio, racist gaffs and hiccups that are the result of slightly blue minded anchors.

After spending an afternoon of chuckles in the office reminiscing and watching broadcast glitches, we decided to declare GRNLive’s correspondents funny moments competition. Tell us about yours, attach a video or audio if you have them (but tell us the story anyway), and the best story (chosen by the impartial light minded GRNLive team) will win an iPod Touch (terribly useful for shooting footage and recording audio, among other things). Don’t be shy – a giggle shared is a giggle multiplied!

1 comment

  1. Simon Lane

    Comedy? Without a shadow of a doubt, a CBS Radio two-way from Rio de Janeiro in 2003 to report on an accident at the Brazilian Space Agency launch site. I was in bed at the time as we had a bunch of rowdy Spanish relatives staying (they always arrive en masse, this time with DJ and fire-eater) and had only reverted to the horizontal at sunrise. Would it be OK to call back in five minutes? With a half-consumed coffee, cigarette and newspaper, I perched beside my wife on the bed and embarked on an authoritative monologue, declaring that the accident had indeed been terrible. “Yes, terrible. Many lives lost,” I continued. “Twenty-one scientists, in fact,” ripping through the sports section. Explaining that the launch site is located at Alcântara, some fourteen hundred miles due north of Rio, I was heartily nudged by my wife who, thinking I was on the phone to a friend, felt emboldened to correct me in the most voluble and insistent terms. “Nowhere near there. Can’t be north. It’s down south. São Paulo state.” An American audience was thus introduced to the directional ambiguities of my adopted country. Or the one that adopted me. The dispute with my wife continued as I paused to allow my interviewer to press me further, but there would be no consensus. He did call me back though afterwards to say he had enjoyed the experience. My wife meanwhile, not one to bear a grudge, had gone back to sleep, leaving me to orientate myself correctly. – Simon Lane, Rio de Janeiro, 12 May 2012

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