Hajj 2016: 35-member strong Al Arabiya team gears up for coverage

They begin preparing 45 days ahead of time and arrived in Makkah two weeks prior to the beginning of hajj

Leila Alwan

Published: Updated:

The annual hajj season has begun with an estimated 1.5 million Muslim pilgrims descending on the holy city of Makkah.

Saad Almatrafi, the head of Al Arabiya News Channel’s hajj coverage team, says they are ready to handle anything the annual pilgrimage throws at them.

“We always know what to expect, and we always expect the unexpected,” said the Riyadh bureau chief.

As the countdown begins to hajj 2016, the Al Arabiya crew is preparing for coverage that will shed light on every aspect of the holy pilgrimage.

Through the coverage, viewers will get a live view of the mammoth pilgrimage that gathers people of faith from around the world.

According to the Saudi Central Hajj Committee, as many as 1.5 million external and domestic pilgrims are expected to perform hajj this year. “No hajj without permit” and “no hajj without vaccination” are the slogans this year.

Almatrafi said the slogans suggest that the authorities want to encourage pilgrims to take their vaccines so that they don’t cause the spread of disease.

Al Arabiya’s team consists of 35 members, including reporters, camera operators and producers.

Almatrafi said they would be using hi-tech equipment such as a remotely-operated flying camera to provide an eye-from-the-sky view. The flying camera provided cutting edge coverage last year.

He added that Go-Pro cameras on motor sticks will also be wandering around the holy sight, capturing images and giving them a wide angle. Reporters will be conducting “walk and talk” reports without a script.

Saudi Arabia’s ministry of health will be providing the Al Arabiya team with accommodation besides “many” reports and statistics this year. Due to the poor signal in Mina and Arafat, the team will be relying on walkie-talkies to keep in touch.

From Friday, Sept. 9 to 11, the team will stream live from Mount Arafat throughout the day until sunset.

New territories

For the very first time, there will be live coverage from Muzdalifa via 3G kit, which will use Zain telecom’s chips. This will allow them to go on air without the actual SNG car, making it more affordable and easier to cover.

This year, also for the very first time, three 7-8 minute reports will be made, including a report on the history of Zamzam water and about “Jamrat al-Aqba,” the spot where pilgrims carry out the ritual of throwing pebbles.

He said the perk that comes with covering hajj as a reporter is getting to carry out your own pilgrimage at the same time.

“I love that some reporters perform their pilgrimage at the same time. Reporters wearing the “ihram ( the two-piece white cloth that all male pilgrims wear) on live stream adds uniqueness to the screen,” he said.

Almatrafi said there are going to be challenges such as transportation and reaching a certain destination could be difficult due to security measure.

“Normally we don’t face real obstacles, things tend to go smoothly,” he added.

He said that his team has veterans who have been covering hajj for more than 10 years. “They are as prepared as possible,” he noted.

Almatrafi emphasizes the need to plan in advance and said that they begin preparing 45 days ahead of time and arrived in Makkah two weeks prior to the beginning of hajj.