Open Mic Spotlight: Anna Foster, 15 Minutes from Mosul

New York Festivals Radio Awards Open Mic Spotlight Interview features prominent award-winner’s from the wonderful world of radio. This week, NYF interviews Anna Foster, Presenter and Journalist for BBC Radio Live. Anna presents Drive on Radio 5 Live-the BBC’s national news and sports network,  and for the past 15 years she has reported major stories from around the United Kingdom and internationally.

Anna Foster, BBC Radio 5 Live

Ms. Foster has earned an impressive number of New York Festivals International Radio Awards throughout the years, including earning the prestigious 2017 Gold UNDPI Award and a Gold Award for her program 15 Minutes from Mosul, her important story

on the refugee’s in the camps outside the Iraqi city of Mosul.

While reporting for BBC, Ms. Foster has traveled to Sierra Leone to tell the story of the Ebola outbreak, reported from conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, covered the terror attacks in Paris and Brussels and explored the refugee crisis in Germany.

She has a passion for developing the next generation of journalists, and increasing the visibility of women in the media via mentoring and encouragement.

In the interview below,  Ms. Foster shares her motivation for creating her award-winning program, how she came to connect with the Iraqi’s in the refugee camps, the creative challenges she encountered and how she solved them and more.

NYF Radio: What sparked your idea for this program?

Anna Foster: I’d been following the awful impact that the Islamic State group was having not just in Iraq and Syria, but closer to home too. I’d travelled to Paris and Brussels to cover the terror attacks there, and was desperate to tell the stories of people who were living under the control of this awful organisation. They were largely voiceless at that stage – the difficulty of getting in to IS areas and the danger that people faced speaking out there had led to a wall of silence. But as people finally managed to leave Mosul I saw a chance. I really wanted to make a radio programme about people – parents and children, teenagers, men and women – ordinary individuals with extraordinary stories to tell.

NYF Radio: How did you first come to connect with Manal and the other Iraqis in the refugee camp?

Anna Foster: We were in the camp, talking to the refugees, hearing horrifying stories of the lives they’d fled from. They were so warm and eager to speak, inviting us into the tents that were their new homes. I wanted to get a real sense of how they were living, so we were with a UNICEF medical team moving from family to family, giving vaccines to children who’d had no medical care under IS. Our fixer Mahmoud felt a tug on his sleeve – it was Manal’s relatives desperate to tell us her story. I still remember ducking through the canvas to see her two boys lying on a dirty mattress, with the thinnest arms and legs I’d ever seen. Their weak, pained cries took my breath away. It was such a tough moment, but I know I had to take pictures, talk to Manal, and find out what had happened to them.

NYF Radio: What risks if any did the people who shared their story have to come to terms with?

Anna Foster: Very often the people we spoke to didn’t want us to broadcast their names, because they had relatives who were still living in Mosul and at huge risk of violent reprisals. We had to be so careful, making sure we didn’t include faces in photos unless people’s whole families were known to have escaped from IS to safety. It was a huge responsibility, and I’m so glad that people trusted us enough to put their lives in our hands. Something like that really pushes you to make an incredible job of the material you get, to really do justice to people’s stories and make sure they’re heard around the world.

NYF Radio: What creative challenges did you encounter and how did you solve those challenges?

Anna Foster: I wanted to make something unconventional, something that wouldn’t just grab the attention of people following the news, but instead break out of that mold and really speak to anyone who heard it. Because of that it doesn’t have a classic narration style, it’s very raw, I wanted the listener to feel like they were standing right alongside me, seeing what I was seeing at that moment. Equally though, I wanted it to be a compelling and beautifully produced piece of radio that stood out. We took the 15 minutes theme – the length of time it takes to travel from Mosul to the camps – and counted that time down through the programme to highlight that even though people were out of the city, they were still so close to danger.

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