Since RTV Slovenia announced my return at the end of last month, I have received many congratulations, but sadly some people expressed their concern that this move could be a mistake, possibly the wrong time. To answer those, I have consulted a friend I trust, and I am very happy I am back. Like Slavoj Zizek said: “The true courage is to admit that the light at the end of the tunnel is most likely the headlight of another train approaching us from the opposite direction.”
Journalist-correspondent and broadcaster for a public broadcasting house is an honorary post, but also a job that demands all of you. You never know when a big story will happen; whether it’s Novichok or terror attack, or a burning tower… night or day, you must be there at the heart of the situation to report the event correctly, fairly and ethically to your audiences. You are not working for yourself, you are working for people you don’t see, you don’t know them, they are of many different backgrounds, and they all deserve to learn the truth. On the other hand, they know you – at least they think they do – they trust you and they see you on the screen at their homes, offices and other places. Some call it technology, we all have TVs now, but I know it is so much more. It is responsibility, the right form of judgments, it is also something some people have and some don’t: the camera-like face, and that you are capable to talk, sometimes extensively about the topic, without lingual mistakes, nor prompts. With only facts and no clichés, the story must be delivered.
As a foreign correspondent in London, 2017 was a bad year with the capital’s terror attack in March, the announcement of April’s snap general election, the Manchester Arena terror attack in May and another at Borough Market in London, then another at the Finsbury Park Mosque, and the Grenfell Tower fire.
I was there to cover every single one of the tragic attacks and the fire. You see the suffering, human tragedy, people dying, blood, so you must report on everything in front of you, hiding your feelings, because no one should care about you, they should care about what is happening there.
On that warm June evening of the tower block fire, I was sitting with my dear friend Janez Skrabec from Slovenia in the Little House Mayfair restaurant. We had a jolly good time and a bottle of wine, if not two. When we were leaving, I checked my phone to find 19 missed calls from the current affairs news desk in Slovenia. I made what I thought was a quick call when I learned that the high-rise fire broke in the 24-storey Grenfell Tower in the one of the most prestigious neighbourhoods of London.
My merriness of dinner certainly didn’t help, but I had to go straight there. I was calling a cameraman, a young chap half my age but he wouldn’t pick up the phone. Why would he? He was most likely having a wonderful night. My first news report went out three hours later, for Radio Slovenia. At least for that I didn’t need pictures. The situation on the ground was horrific. I couldn’t breathe, and ambulances and the fire brigade were not able to access the area, as at least 100 cars were illegally parked around the tower block and the grass pit. I was looking towards Grenfell, and I saw the white sheets in the clouds of fire and smoke – people were still there, they were still alive. This comforted me, although just for a short time. A few minutes later I saw a large white sheet slowly falling, then bouncing off the wall of fire while burning on the way down.
A woman in her 50s came to me shouting: “Are you a journalist?” (she had seen the microphone in my hand and my cameraman was yet to arrive). She shouted that her 79-year-old-mother was disabled and alone in a flat on the ninth floor. I looked towards the building and started counting, although it was very hard to see the windows, the building became like a torch. Sadly, it was now completely in flames. The woman was crying loudly, and I couldn’t hold it anymore, I cried with her. It was just a few minutes before I had to report live on the 6am radio news, going first with the heartbreaking story. At that time, we didn’t know how many of the residents were trapped inside, or how many were able to flee to safety. We barely had any information from the police nor the fire brigade. We didn’t even know the name of the building – some journalists were calling it Grenfell Tower, some knew it as Grenfell. It was one minute before my live broadcast when someone from the crowd started shouting; “They are throwing children down! They are throwing them because they think the fire brigade has airbags around the building.” And I thought, is this even possible? Everything is falling from the cladding, no one could have been close to the burning Grenfell Tower.
Did I say in my live radio broadcast they are throwing children down? Did I say that the lady’s mother is most likely dead by now? I was thinking about my audience, waking up to a new day and the first story they will hear that Wednesday morning. It is horrific, tragic, and horrible, but do they have to know the whole story? Can I really share everything that I witnessed?
After my live broadcast for the radio, I got a call from the editor complaining that my voice sounded very different, not at all what should be acceptable for radio. I explained that the smoke went to my eyes and throat. Then I looked in another direction and there he was, my cameraman. When he arrived, he had the smell of a woman’s perfume. “At least someone’s night was wonderful, I thought.” And then he said: “Hey love, what’s going on with your mascara, you should get a better brand?” “Well, it is not waterproof,” I replied. He then looked at the Tower, his eyes wide open, and all I heard was: “FU*K!”.
We stayed there for three days. I only went to shower twice, and I had a bite to eat here and there. I didn’t feel like eating. I was layering-up my make-up, which was unforgiving. Later, when we learned about the fire’s data and how things collapsed in a domino effect, I was angry, sad and felt useless. Even today, I still feel the smoke of Grenfell in my throat, eyes and nose. I recalled that first morning – the building was still burning, the sun was rising and it felt very peaceful. For a second, I thought I saw many souls swishing around the Tower. And I realised that I couldn’t do it anymore: I needed to go, I couldn’t do this job, although it took me another year and yet more horrific experiences to finally quit.
I am now back, but for as long as before remains to be seen.
Television is a media I know very well. At the age of five or six, I filmed my first TV commercial. I think it was for a washing powder, or maybe ice cream… there were so many.
And later, I had minor roles in TV episodes. At one point I was dancing in a musical, “Macek Muri”, as a cat called Muri. It was a big success where we toured in many theatres, cultural centres and primary schools. I was probably about 10 when we stopped.
Over the next few months, I will be covering several UK events, with perhaps the two biggest being the coronation of King Charles III from London and the Eurovision Song Contest from Liverpool.
And I know, as Friedrich Nietzsche said: “Sleeping is no mean art: for its sake one must stay awake all day.”