Gry Blekastad Almås is on the verge of her second correspondence period in London.
One of the big differences from the last time is that there has been more bureaucracy, Gry Blekastad Almås points out when the Journalist meets her at Marienlyst to talk about her imminent second period as a foreign correspondent stationed in London. The UK is in the midst of major change processes as a result of Brexit. Which provides extra work and practical challenges for those who will settle there.
– The biggest difference is that we have to apply for a visa to live and work in the UK. But there are also changes in the social security agreement between Norway and the UK, and a number of other things that have changed since I moved over in 2010. It is as if I am a guinea pig in the system now, because it seems as if the caseworkers have not dealt with such issues after Brexit before me.
She also spends the summer working her way into the journalistic material, on topics she wants to cover – cases, case complexes and contacts.
– I have many contacts from before, but other things I want to expand and work more with – as a new topic. And then there is – not least – a lot that has happened since I was last out.
Lots of new
It’s been eight years since she last returned from London.
– There has been a huge development on the equipment side, for example with cameras, editing equipment, direct transfer options… Now I work to get all the equipment in place, and learn to use it, as well as prepare it for use, with apps and additional things. need. She must also find a place to live. As a correspondent in London, you have to work from home, because NRK, unlike in Moscow, does not have its own office in the city.
– NRK doesn’t own a permanent location in London. It is the case that each correspondent finds something that suits his or her needs, and they vary according to who you hire. It should preferably be practical both for me in my job and for the rest of the family and their needs. Jobs and family are not completely separate either.
Her husband, Håvard Blekastad Almås, is also her photographer and editor, but only part of the time. She must therefore master both camera and editing herself as well. She is also well on her way to investigating cases she wants to cover. Various consequences of the pandemic, climate issues related to the forthcoming climate summit in Glasgow and social and cultural aspects of British society are on her agenda.
Concerned about security
Northern Ireland, which is becoming part of its coverage area, has become more and more unstable in the wake of Brexit.
Almås doesn’t envisage having to cover it as a war zone, but if that should happen she feels taken care of.
– My experience is that security is taken very seriously in the editorial office and in the larger NRK. I have packed a moving load now which consists of a bulletproof and a bulletproof vest, helmets, gas masks, first aid kit and all that kind of safety equipment. As a news journalist, you have to relate to what is happening, and if it happens, you have to move.
She has covered demonstrations before, also violent.
– The fear associated with Northern Ireland now is probably that you come back to a situation like you had during “The Troubles”, the three decades of civil war. There were violent paramilitary groups on both sides of the conflict, so one fears that one will come to such a situation with terror and so on. And then you can definitely start talking about covering a war.
But Almås chooses to look forward to it.
– We’re not there yet. And work is being done on all sides to avoid that. But it is clear that the border issue on the Irish island has always been the crossroads, which has made the Brexit agreement difficult, where the unionists in the north are very afraid of and now provoked by being treated as if they are still part of the EU. – they want to be part of the UK. Now they are negotiating solutions that they too can live with, says Almås.
If the development is in a negative direction, and there are possible violent clashes, a possible decision is made to travel in consultation with the management of NRK.
– For me, it is not a dream to go to war, but I can not go around thinking that “I will not do that” if that situation arises.
And if you have to travel, it must be done in the most responsible way possible, she states.
– I think that of all the correspondent positions NRK has, it is probably not me who is most exposed to those assessments there, hehe. But who knows? And besides, you are also sent from a foreign service mission to other parts of the world to cover things that happen, if necessary, and if it is convenient. So I have to be prepared for that.
Difficult to predict resolution
Almås is cautiously optimistic about the British union, and admits that there is a danger that it may disintegrate, but she finds it difficult to predict what will happen.
– I see that Scottish nationalists would like to leave the British Union, or at least the Scottish nationalists who have the majority there. That debate is by no means over. Exactly where it ends I am not sure, but it is clear that if Scotland holds a referendum that gives a majority for independence, then it will move elsewhere as well.
And there is a lot of movement there, and in Northern Ireland, and in Northern Ireland more then because of the direct consequences of the Brexit agreement, says Almås – and adds:
– But I think it is difficult to predict what will happen. I think the policy is very changeable. She has already started thinking about how to cover this unrest. – I have thought about it, and started to see for myself what kind of issues and how I should be able to say a little about the division then, in the union, which is there. Yes, the four nations have a tense relationship with each other, and we will cover that.
A changed country
Dissolution or not, Almås is reasonably sure that the country she returns to has changed since the last time.
– Yes, I think it has changed quite a lot, says Almås. – It has changed negatively in the sense that there is a greater distance between people and different groups. Between north and south, between old and young, between political opponents. Inside families. Brexit has brought out bad things that have increased the division, quite simply.
– And it has been quite noticeable! There are things you should not talk about when you are in social groups to have fun. That’s not how I experienced it before at all. I think it has become much more difficult for many to be a foreigner in the UK, and that in a country that has had some pride in being open to everyone, and where people have enjoyed themselves.
Suddenly you no longer feel welcome, Almås thinks.
– I know a lot of people say that, who come from other countries, who have lived there for years and felt very welcome there until this split and everything it brought with it. Almås herself has a very close relationship with the country and the city she moves to.
She has visited the country several times a year since she moved back to Norway eight years ago, even though the pandemic has put a stop to visits over the past year. She has also followed developments closely as a program manager for Urix and has also written the book “United Kingdom – a journey in the Norwegian United Kingdom”.
– I have a very close relationship with the UK, and closer than to many other countries I have visited a lot. And why I have written a book about it, to try to explain this. Not just on a personal level, but because many Norwegians have a very strong relationship with the UK.
She believes it is both about a common history dating back to the Viking Age, and having geographical proximity.
– We sort of share the North Sea between us. For my own part, I also think that it has a lot to do with the fascination with British culture, both through popular culture that we get on TV and movies and the kind of things that we are almost brought up on from childhood.
And then it has to do with language, it is an accessible language that we understand, points out the NRK journalist.
– Then it is easier to get in touch with people, and that is one of the most important things. It’s the people you meet that make you love a place.
Best in the field
After many years as a presenter with Marienlyst as a base, she is now looking forward to becoming an outgoing reporter again.
– The best thing is to be a journalist in the field. You get a closeness to the substance that you are going to convey that you may miss when sitting in a studio or at a desk at home. And to be responsible for an area that I am passionate about, and with a huge breadth in topics that I think is very exciting. There I think maybe London is in a special position again, because there you are allowed to cover so much different.
– And it is a fantastic city to live in. If you subtract all the negative we have talked about, then it is just joy and gloom, she concludes.