Sze started his job with CCTV in October 2010. In less than a year, he had already travelled across the Asia Pacific area, reporting stories ranging from the new year celebrations in Singapore, the earthquake in Japan, floods in Australia and South Africa to the Chinese officials’ visits to Mongolia and the conflict in Libya.
CCTV offers training to international news reporters before they start their work. “I attended training in Beijing for a month along with other colleagues to practise reporting skills, how to handle emergencies and knowledge of first aid,” he says.
“News always comes in suddenly,” he says. “There are many qualities in a journalist, but on top of all of them, you should be ready to set off any time.”
When he learnt he would be assigned to Libya, Sze had barely any time to prepare. He grabbed his flak jacket, satellite phones and cameras and got on the plane.
In Libya, the Gaddafi government made all foreign journalists stay in a designated hotel. It arranged all the trips and press conferences. Journalists needed to get permission from the government if they wanted to work on their own story idea.
Despite the restrictions on his reporting, Sze did not sense any signs of danger on his first trip to Libya this year. He expected his second trip would be the same.
“There was no real cross-fire on the street. Everything seemed to be so peaceful until anti-Gaddafi forces rapidly advanced through the capital in the last few days of our visit,” he recalls.
Danger came on the night of August 21. All Muammar Gaddafi’s officials and hotel staff left the Rixos hotel without telling the journalists. A remaining four to five gunmen loyal to Gaddafi roamed the hallways and restricted the movement of Sze and other journalists from international news organisations, including Phoenix TV, the BBC, CNN and Reuters.
They were trapped inside the hotel and were forced to stand clear of any windows because of stray bullets. The situation got worse when their water and electricity supplies were intermittently cut.
But Sze and the others still tried to carry on with their usual reporting. They filed stories about life in the hotel and how the journalists prepared for the rescue.
“It was really a special situation. I was a reporter, but I was also the centre of the news. But as a reporter, I deem that even if I am scared and worried, I cannot put my own feelings and personal appeals into the broadcast news,” Sze says.
He upheld the professionalism he had long practised as a journalist even though it was life-and-death situation.
“It was hard to sleep as the sound of gunfire and explosions echoed across the city. We felt so tense and tired. However, it was a crucial time to help and encourage one another.” Sze adds.
The journalists agreed to stay together in a corridor because they felt it would be safer there. Some of them cooked steak and French fries, which was the food left in the basement of the restaurant. Some of them watched movies on their computers. They hoped to relieve the tension and keep each other cheerful.
As the days went by, however, the apprehension and nervousness mounted in the hotel. “There was this moment, like a movie plot. A woman rushed into the hotel and cried out about the anti-Gaddafi forces starting the killing outside. All the reporters’ hearts sank,” Sze reminisced. “Some journalists started to cry and some recorded farewell videos to their families.”
“You could not predict what would happen in the next second. You never knew whether the anti-Gaddafi forces or the gunmen in the hotel would do anything. You just didn’t know.”
As Sze recounts those moments, his voice is surprisingly calm and detached. It sounds as if he is telling the tale of others.
Luckily, temporary stability might have come about because of pressure from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent. They urged Gaddafi loyalists as well as the rebel forces to keep the trapped journalists safe.
On the fifth day, two foreign journalists successfully persuaded the gunmen to put down their guns and let all the journalists leave the hotel to get into Red Cross vehicles.
Sze went back to Beijing for a duty report to supervisors. Then he flew back to Hong Kong in early September for a two-week holiday, during which he could enjoy time with his family.