Tuesday 12 August 2014

Montrealers Hamamdjian and O'Hara-Byrne head the CTV National News bureau in London

LONDON - There is a distinct Montreal flavour at the CTV bureau here in London, England, with Ben O’Hara-Byrne and Daniele Hamamdjian serving as the national network’s team on the ground.

Ben O'Hara Byrne and Daniele Hamamdjian at the CTV London bureau.

I got to know both of these  native Montrealers as they were cutting their teeth in the business, Hamamdjian at the local CTV newsroom then known as Pulse and O’Hara-Byrne with Global. Hamamdjian joined CTV National News in 2009. She recently covered Nelson Mandela's funeral in South Africa,  the Commonwealth Games in Scotland, the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia and the crisis in Ukraine. While previously assigned to the Ottawa Bureau, she travelled with the Prime Minister’s office numerous times, including to the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, Korea in March, 2012; the G8 Summit in France in 2011 and Northern Ireland in 2013; Afghanistan for the Prime Minister’s final visit to the troops before the pullout; and the annual trip to the Arctic, tracing Canada's international diplomatic efforts.

Hamamdjian began on-air reporting for CTV Montreal in 2006. A Concordia University journalism graduate, she actually began her career as general assignment reporter at the Santa Monica Daily Press in California. Born in Cairo, Egypt,  she lived in Los Angeles before immigrating to Montreal with her family in the late 1980s and settling in Laval. She speaks French, English, and is conversational in Arabic and Italian.

O’Hara-Byrne moved to London after a stint as CTV’s Beijing Bureau Chief. He spent three years covering stories across China, including the visits of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama, and the 20th Anniversary of Tiananmen Square. He has also reported from Afghanistan, Libya, North Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, and Russia. Winner of an RTNDA award in 2007 for Best Network Spot News for the Conrad Black Verdict (Global), O’Hara-Byrne was also a 2007 Gemini Award co-nominee for Best Reportage.  He grew up in Mile End, right around the corner from the St. Viateur Bagel factory and lived in Outremont through his teens. “I finished high school at Royal West Academy and I credit my time there, the teachers I had and friends I made, for kick starting what has been a very interesting journey through life so far,” he says. 

Hamamdjian says she still pinches herself when she walks through the streets of London. “I ask myself ‘how did I get here?’ and then I realize how really fortunate I am,” she told  me. “I love Montreal, but when they say that London is the center of the world culturally and financially they are not kidding. It is impossible not to have something to do and see here.”

I would agree with Daniele on that point. We were there for a week and did not accomplish anywhere near the number of stops we had planned.

As for O’Hara-Byrne, he says “the posting in London is really a wish come true. The CTV bureau here is responsible for all of Europe so that offers a endless supply of fascinating and challenging stories, everything from the battlefields of past wars to ongoing conflicts in places such as Ukraine. On days off, the city itself is always fascinating, as the saying goes, bored of London, bored of life.”
After working out of Montreal, Quebec City, Toronto and Ottawa,  O’Hara-Byrne  accepted the fact that moving around would be part of the job. “ But I had no idea when I decided to apply for a correspondent's position in Beijing in 2008 that I'd still be abroad in 2014,” he says. 

“I really enjoyed the China assignment. So much is changing so quickly there and elsewhere in Asia. I also met my wife in Beijing, so it was a life-changing time. It’s always difficult to pack up and move to yet another new city, but London is its own reward.
Because of the centrality of London, Hamamdjian and O’Hara-Byrne never know when the call will come for them to hop on the plane and go to any location around the globe.  “I love what I do,” Hamamdjian says. “ The bottom line is you are in this business because you love to tell stories. For stories like the Ukraine, you never have much warning. Pack your bag and you are off.”

Hamamdjian’s family still resides in Laval and she was back home recently for a brief visit.

During her time at the CTV Ottawa bureau, Hamamdjian clearly impressed her superiors. She was part of the first international reporting team on the ground in Haiti after the devastating earthquake that rocked the country in 2010, and she also travelled to Guantanamo Bay in August 2010 to report on the Omar Khadr case. “Guantanamo Bay was probably the strangest place I have ever been to,” she says.

Hamamdjian’s coverage of international affairs is balanced by the Canadian stories she has covered, including the 2011 Federal Election. Her coverage of the Attawapiskat housing crisis in 2011 led to testimonies of alleged rampant sex abuse in Attawapiskat and native communities across the country. And then there is the Nigel Wright coup. Wright was the chief of staff to Prime Minister Harper and got in very hot water when he handed over a personal cheque of $90,000 to disgraced Senator Mike Duffy to try and get the latter out of a jam. He ultimately was forced out of the job because of this. Nobody seemed able to corner Wright for an interview. When Hamamdjian found out that Wright took his daily jog at 4:30 a.m. she decided on a stake out. “He was not too happy to see us and I had to run after him,” she says. “Everyone knows that you do not run away from a camera. It does not look good. So he stopped and gave me the interview.”

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