Voices from Mumbai
As head of news at the Asian Network, I work out of three offices, in Leicester, London and Birmingham. Of course I wasn't in any of them when news came through about the bombs in Mumbai. The first I heard of it was when I idly looked at my mobile phone - which was on silent during the meeting I was in. "Four missed calls". There was also a text from a colleague at BBC World Service asking if I was "sending" to Mumbai. "Sending" is the journalist jargon for getting a reporter to a location.
So I phone the office, find out what we know so far and start telling people to do things. But it becomes clear that the team writing our news bulletins in Leicester and the one making the Adil Ray Drive programme in Birmingham are way ahead of me. They are doing a textbook job in breaking news. Adil himself is relatively new to this kind of story but I think anyone listening would agree he performed superbly: always calm, always trying to find out more and always clear about what we really know and what only think has happened.
That leaves me with the problem of whether to "send". My instinct is of course "yes". But the Asian Network is not a huge station and doesn't have that much money for big trips. We have already spent a fair amount this month sending a reporter to Pakistan to cover the case of Mirza Tahir Hussain - a Leeds man on death row in Islamabad. A "send" to Mumbai will also mean that I have less to spend on what I think is our core business: covering the lives and concerns of British Asians. The Asian Network can also use all the other BBC reporters who are rushing to the scene too. Even so, I take the view that for the Asian network to cover this story as well as our listeners will expect, we need to be there.
It was a bit of a scramble. We decide to send Dil Neiyyar (our London reporter) and Rifat Jawaid (our languages editor). Dil spends the afternoon getting a visa from the Indian High Commission and his equipment together. Rifat rushes to Heathrow from Birmingham. We start compiling the appropriate hazard assessment forms. Safety is crucial. As well as the possibility of more bombs, there is the fear of communal violence and more mundanely the intense heat. Both Rifat and Dil have done the BBC's "hostile environment" course. Mumbai isn't a war zone, but this intense training really helps reporters assess the risks on the ground.
Eight thirty in the evening and a nightmare call comes. Visa delays mean they've missed the flight. More money needed for another one. Got to do it now, just hope we get a refund for the first flight.
They arrive early the next day and are on air almost immediately. Between them they work for our morning programmes, our lunchtime news programme "The Wrap" and for Adil's show again. Rifat appears on our languages shows through the evening. They head off around Mumbai and get some terrific material: voices of real Mumbai citizens responding to this terrifying attack. I'm left with a strong impression of a defiant city refusing to stop living their lives and refusing to blame the many Muslims in their city. And the good news is we did get our first flights refunded. So more money in the pot for next time.