Kim Sengupta: Out of the mine and into the media scrum

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The Independent Online

Many of the miners' families had expressed the fear that the ordeal of facing journalists may prove to be more traumatic than 68 days buried alive, and elaborate measures had been taken by the authorities to protect the men from media intrusion. At the end, however, what unfolded was historic television coverage full of drama but also with its share of bathos.

More than a hundred news organisations had gathered at Camp Hope in the Atacama desert for the rescue to begin and a massive numbers of viewers, from Australia to Iceland, watched coverage which began with grainy images of the men as they waited to be brought up.

The tension among those above was palpable, not least that of the BBC's Matt Frei, who expressed his deep concern at the announcement that the operation would be delayed by two hours. It would mean, he pointed out, that it would be quite late in Britain and thus many people would miss the coverage he was providing.

There had been fears that the miners would be spirited away out of sight of the cameras, but that did not happen, and there was some graphic description of the survivors. As the fifth miner emerged, a Sky News reporter, alongside an on-screen "Sky Counter" of those saved so far, pointed out: "There he is! Bright-eyed!... Except for the dark glasses."

The evocative commentary continued through to the early hours, when a BBC presenter looking at shots of the hole from which the miners had emerged was moved to exclaim: "The shaft, a boring name for a very important... er, shaft."

The apprehension about the coverage was reflected in the local newspaper, La Tercera, in which 20 of the miners' families said they believed "over-exposure" may be more problematic than the men's psychological and physical health. A relation of Franklin Lobos told a TV crew: "We appreciate the attention you've all given us but this is too much, we're too tired."

Jean Romagnoli, a lead doctor on the operation, disclosed that in the past week the miners had been receiving media training. "We have been coaching them, they need that," he said. In the event, the feared mayhem was limited to a few isolated incidents. As 31-year-old Florencio Avalos stepped out of the rescue cage to embrace his wife and son in a tent, the phalanx of television cameras surrounding them moved in. There were tantrums, oaths, punches and hair-pulling. Eventually the tent collapsed.

But viewers the world over were transfixed. "It was supposed to be a day off for me and I was planning to catch up on my reading," wrote a teacher, Tetsuro Umeji, from Kudamatsu City, Japan, on the BBC live feed. "But now my eyes are glued to the computer screen as the rescue is broadcast live. Absolutely amazing! Congratulations, Chile! I will keep my fingers crossed until the last of the 33 miners are brought to the surface."