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Reporting a Revolution: 5 live in Cairo

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Hasit Shah | 12:15 UK time, Monday, 14 February 2011

5 live's Peter Allen speaking with the BBC's Jon Leyne in Cairo

5 live's Peter Allen speaking with the BBC's Jon Leyne in Cairo.

Every journalist wants to cover the biggest stories, of course. But actually doing so is often nothing to do with finely honed news instincts, or meticulous planning. Sometimes you just get lucky, and just try and make the most of it.

I was working on some stories that were supposed to be broadcast sometime in the next few weeks. It was about 4pm, and I had a couple of hours of phonecalls and emails left to finish off. A few desks down, I could see 5 live's most senior editors talking about something that was clearly important, and I wondered who was about to get told off.

Like many of you, I'd been following the events in Egypt, and had seen that President Hosni Mubarak was reported to be on the verge of stepping down. I'd known I might have to go there for a couple of weeks, so when Stephen Mawhinney and Jonathan Crawford, 5 live's head and deputy head of news respectively, called me over, I knew what was coming.

They told me I'd be travelling with 5 live's elder statesman Peter Allen and Phil Mackie (5 live's West Midlands reporter).

I had two hours before I'd have to leave for Heathrow. The first thing to sort out was the kit. I always take a laptop, a portable satellite dish and receiver, a digital recording device, and a small mixing desk. Peter told me he first used this type of equipment nearly 20 years ago, and despite heavy usage and plenty of repairs, they're both still going strong.

After we checked in at Heathrow, we found out that Mubarak had decided to stay till the end of his term. We seriously considered turning back, because it looked as though everyone had got it wrong. But, given the size and duration of the protests, we decided that this announcement would only mean more people on the streets pushing for Mubarak to go. The story was still big - and it was worth Peter, Phil and I being there to cover it.

We got here after an overnight flight, and had to find somewhere secure to broadcast from. That's 'secure' in both senses of the word: we needed to be safe, and also make sure we had a constant, stable line to the studio back home. This took all day, in an unfamiliar city. Incidentally, our hotel was near the site of the old British cantonment, where Phil's great grandfather was posted in the late 19th century. He didn't know Peter though.

When Drive went on air, we didn't think we had enough material, and the story didn't seem strong enough to justify all the airtime we were about to devote to it. We weren't happy.

Then, just two minutes into the programme, Hosni Mubarak quit.

We legged it to Tahrir Square, the centre of several weeks of protest. We decided to ditch the bulky satellite kits, so Phil and Peter could walk more freely among the crowds, and report on their mobiles. Even though the sound quality isn't as good, the strategy worked.

We found ourselves in the middle of the world's biggest party. No point in complex analysis at that point (revolution? coup?) - we just wanted people to hear the atmosphere. Peter and Phil were brilliant, just doing what great reporters should do, simply describing what they could see. Sounds easy, but it's not.

We spent the weekend covering the celebrations, and with the help of people far more knowledgable than us, tried to put the whole event into context. Mubarak had ruled with a firm hand for 30 years. Five more before Sir Alex can match that.

On Drive this afternoon, we'll look back over the dramatic last few days. Peter said he wished he'd been there when the Berlin Wall fell, and maybe he's seen something similar here.

Related Links
5 live Drive
The latest news from Egypt on the BBC News site

Hasit Shah is a senior broadcast journalist at 5 live.


  • Comment number 1.

    This is called reporting. I know it is unusual for the station to have true current affairs being covered on the ground. Your listener stats will probably go down for this period. After all, cutting in to the latest comedian selling a tour, or someone showing off about their new album, is not acceptable to many 5Live listeners.

    By the way, Peter has done a great job.

  • Comment number 2.

    I've thoroughly enjoyed Peter's reports. His natural cynicism with UK politics appears to have flown in a different direction to him and his interviews with the ordinary people in Cairo have been warm and interesting. Peter at his absolute best.

  • Comment number 3.

    Peter Allen and Phil Mackie have both been excellent, especially with the breaking news on Friday.

  • Comment number 4.

    Peter Allen and Jane Garvey on Drive were what first attracted me to 5Live. The way he and Phil Mackie have covered events over the last few days has been excellent.

    Coming from a country which has also suffered for decades under oppressive rule, a place with similar cultural rhythms to Egypt's, when I imagine our own revolution, and how it will be reported to the world, I imagine someone with the compassion, intelligence and journalistic integrity of Peter reporting on events.

    He stays away from the sensationalism and "Gotcha!" type journalism too many 24hr news outlets feel they must engage in to keep ratings. And his interviews always help you hear the humanity in the voices of people who might otherwise be dismissed as blank statistics.

    It's been wonderful to listen to the coverage from Cairo over the last few days. Well done all of you.

  • Comment number 5.

    One of the few BBC few journalists who took reports from real people, talking about it as a people's revolution, not standing on a balcony giving opinion like some other veteran BBC journalists. Well done Peter - I'm glad you enjoyed it - you deserved to.

  • Comment number 6.

    Oh for heavens sake reference most of the comments above! What sentimental claptrap!

    Peter Allen may be 'a very nice man' and carve an avuncular figurehead within his profession but he along with all his colleagues are merely reporting what we're supposed to hear.

    For a start it's not a 'revolution' in Egypt and if it was BBC journalists wouldn't dare to be anywhere near these events!

    A revolution is a fundamental overthrow of the prevailing economic and social system and this cannot take place in one single country as millions of Russians found out to their peril after the Bolsheviks were dreated both inside and outside Russia! This is certainly not the case in Egypt and nor is it the case in Bahrain today where similar protests are gathering.

    This 'peoples revolution' that's supposedly taking place according to the likes of Peter and his colleagues is simply to delude millions inside and outside such countries that by ousting a partucular leader like Mubarak everything will change and that their campaign has been successful. It won't change a thing. They will probably cobble up some type of democratic reform along the way but only because the regime/s will be replaced by other USA backed cronies who will control what parties the new 'electorate' are allowed to vote for!

    Indeed that's exactly what's happening!

  • Comment number 7.

    It was a bit tedious hearing how each and every Mr and Mrs Egyptian person was feeling 'very happy'.

  • Comment number 8.

    I do think the guys did a good job but the fact is it IS their job. They may be a bit rusty at war reporting but this kind of developing news is right up their street.

    I do agree with Nick and Zelda though. The trouble is for some reason the powers that be at 5 Live are reacting as if this was something above and beyond the call of a reporter's duty and sadly it is because the station is so dumbed down that it is seen as extraordinary. Don't get me on Victoria and the alcoholic GP. I thought Victoria did a very good job with the whole section of the programme although I did not hear the follow up today. However if I was a patient of this woman I would be running a mile to complain and I didn't really see why she was so indulged. "Fetch me a can". "OK". It was horrifying, more than Pete and Phil's Tahrir Square experiences all rolled in to one.


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