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ITV Wales diary

Presenting the ITV Evening News: Uprising In Libya & Disaster In Japan

Andrea Benfield reflects on her recent stint in London reporting for ITV news at 18:30 on the crisis in Libya and the Japanese earthquake

Many of you may have noticed that I’ve been on loan to London recently.  I’ve returned to the Wales Tonight sofa richer in knowledge and experience as a journalist than I ever would have anticipated when I left for the bright lights of ITN at the end of February.

During my first week presenting the ITV Evening News with Alastair Stewart the rebels’ uprising in Libya was starting to gather pace and Prime Minister David Cameron proposed the idea of a no-fly zone.

There was criticism that he was speaking with a lack of experience of foreign policy  decisions.  Little did we know at that stage just how significant this particular Middle Eastern uprising would turn out to be and how much weight those words of Mr Cameron’s would hold.

Alongside the ultimate professional Mr Alastair Stewart, I found myself presenting this fast-developing international story to the nation, as Colonel Gaddafi’s forces increased pressure on the rebel forces.

As more air strikes and further advances on their strongholds were reported, diplomatic chatter about international intervention gathered pace.

ITN, which produces the ITV Evening News, had dispatched its top reporters and correspondents to positions across Libya – from Tripoli in the West to Benghazi in the East.

Events were developing incredibly quickly and the story now warranted some of the programmes being anchored by Mark Austin from Tripoli.  This meant I was on standby in London in case of technical difficulties, or the ongoing situation meant they weren’t able to broadcast.

Despite not being in the studio, keeping across the story every step of the way was vital in case I was called upon.  It looked as if I would be ‘on the bench’ for the foreseeable but then, perhaps to the relief of Mr Gaddafi, on Friday morning the media spotlight was abruptly diverted – to a massive earthquake and tsunami in north-eastern Japan.

By Friday evening, the desperate situation in Japan was ever so slowly becoming clearer. I remember the afternoon editorial meeting discussing the difficulties the news desk was experiencing in getting hold of anyone in the disaster zone to speak, even on the phone, about their eyewitness experiences.

Of course, at that time, with details of the severity of the quake and tsunami still emerging, it was assumed this was because communication lines were down.  In fact, we now know it was because many towns and the people living there had been wiped out completely by the force of the ensuing wave.

With many of ITN’s teams still in Libya and no possibility of anybody reaching Japan in time for the Evening News, Alastair and I fronted a special programme from London covering one of the biggest natural disasters the world has ever seen.

By Monday, news teams were in place in the worst hit areas.  Julie Etchingham was there to anchor the programme so it seemed sensible for me to return to Wales at this point as it was going to be a long-running story.  So, I headed along the M4 to host Wales Tonight for what I thought would be the rest of the week.

But this was before the full extent of concerns about the Fukushima nuclear plant had surfaced.  By Thursday radiation fears had escalated and most of the media were moved out of the worst affected areas or out of Japan altogether.   That meant a call from London.  I was back on and back along the M4.  By 6.30 pm I was back in the studio, this time alongside Mark Austin.

As the week came to close, the devastation in Japan and the trouble at the Fukushima plant remained high on the news agenda with the number of dead and missing amounting to tens of thousands.  But attention was also turning back to Libya.

International Editor Bill Neely had managed, against all the odds, to get into the town of Zawiyah.  From what he saw and filmed he was able to confirm that loyalist forces had retaken the city and it was under government control.

There were similar concerns for the oil city of Ras Lanuf on the eastern front.  Bill had his tapes confiscated but was still able to report the events through material filmed on a phone and stills taken by the paper journalist he was travelling alongside.

Everything by now was pointing to imminent foreign intervention and Cameron’s no-fly zone, which a fortnight ago had seemed so unrealistic.  The action was authorised in a vote by the U.N Security Council and it said ‘all necessary measures’ would be used to protect civilians against Gaddafi’s forces.

I spent that Saturday and Sunday presenting at ITN on what was to become a momentous weekend.  Britain was on a war footing. And it wasn’t long before the first coalition air strikes were launched to halt the advance of government forces on Benghazi and target Libya’s air defences.

There are still no definitive answers about the so-called ‘end game’ in Libya.  The concluding chapter in the story of the Libyan uprising has yet to be written.

Currently the message from the international community is that allied air strikes will continue until Gaddafi meets UN terms.  Meanwhile, the people of Japan are faced with an ongoing radiation threat as well as the daunting task of rebuilding an entire region.

Both stories will prove to be two of the biggest of the year, if not the century.  To cover them as part of the ITV Evening News team has been an invaluable experience as a broadcaster.

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About Andrea Benfield

ITV Wales and ITN news presenter.

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