REAL-LIFE BATTLE PREEMPTS SCREEN-LIFE RECAPITULATIONS : TV Reporters in Libya Cover Battlefronts With Censors in Tow
ABC correspondent Charles Glass was on the phone from Tripoli.
“We haven’t had any electricity at night since the raid,” Glass said Wednesday, referring to Monday’s bombing of Libya by 33 U.S. warplanes. “We work by candlelight or cigarette lighter or flashlight, and we’re running out of batteries, like the ones we’re using for this phone conversation.”
Libyan officials have given radio and print reporters a relatively free hand, Glass said, but TV has been censored. Some of the censorship has been arbitrary, he said.
“Today they even stopped us from shooting (Libyan leader Moammar) Kadafi’s bombed-out compound, which they brought us here to shoot,” Glass said. “Our cassettes are pre-screened by a censor, and if there’s something he doesn’t like, he just erases it. And a camera crew just told me that a picture they took of an old man smoking a cigarette was censored, I guess because they thought it made him look bad.”
Cable News Network’s John Donvan noted on TV, moreover, that the Libyans had started clamping down on the night use of flashlights, fearing they could be seen from the sky by U.S. planes.
Glass, who was widely praised for his coverage of last year’s terrorist hijacking of a TWA jetliner that wound up in Beirut, heads ABC’s eight-person contingent in Tripoli.
Actually, I was speaking only indirectly to Glass, who--along with Allen Pizzey of CBS, Steve Delaney of NBC and CNN’s Donvan--has been a point man for network coverage of the U.S. attack, which President Reagan said was carried out in retaliation for Kadafi’s rampant terrorism.
Because of communications problems, I could hear Glass but he couldn’t hear me. Thus, I had to feed my questions to ABC Radio in New York, which repeated them to Glass in Tripoli, and Glass then responded on the phone.
As of Wednesday, Western media in Tripoli were still confined to the seafront Al Kabir Hotel, from which TV reporters first reported Monday’s attack, communicating by phone, holding their microphones out their windows to record the sounds of bombs and anti-aircraft fire.
It was TV without pictures, reminiscent of Edward R. Murrow’s radio reports from Europe at the start of World War II, when he ingeniously put his microphone to the pavement to capture the goose-stepping of German troops.
Glass could stay on the phone only a few minutes Wednesday. “It’s difficult to get phone lines and Telex lines now,” he said. “And we’re watched very closely by the Ministry of Information.”
Western reporters are not allowed to go anywhere independently, NBC’s Delaney said by phone from Tripoli on a connection so faint I could barely hear him. Delaney heads a five-person NBC contingent.
“Before the raid, we couldn’t go anywhere without an escort or ‘minder,’ as they’re nicknamed,” Delaney said. “Now they move us en masse by bus and take us where they want to take us and show us what they want to show us, and we do the best we can with that.”
Conditions for the media may not have been very good before the raid, but now they are worse. “Now the Libyans are watching us very closely,” Glass said, “and I think the armed forces are very jumpy.”
It’s a dangerous time in Tripoli--for Libyans, for the media, for everyone.