Jaldi 5 with Mishal Husain: Need for care on using ‘breaking news’ tag

05 Oct,2012

Mishal Husain

In Mumbai recently where she interacted with an invited audience as also students of St Xavier’s College, Mishal Husain, a well-known BBC World News presenter and journalist, spoke about her journey to five countries last year to work on a documentary called ‘The Arab Spring – How Facebook Changed the World’.


Here she took MxMIndia’s questions on whether being from the subcontinent helped her get plum assignments in the recent past and how to ensure that viewers don’t get put off by the hype of ‘breaking news’.


1 We in the subcontinent take much pride in the fact that one of ‘ours’ is on the BBC World News. Is it really a big deal for a South Asian to be a leading presenter on the BBC?

It always means a great deal to me if people who share my background take pride in what I do. I think the BBC has been conscious over the years of the need to broaden the range of faces and voices on air and that diversity of background has made a difference to the quality and depth of the programmes.


2 Do you sometimes think that the fact you hail from South Asia has somewhere worked to your advantage in your career… for instance post-Osama’s killing in Ab’abad? Or is this an unfair question?

The considerations are often very practical in a fast moving scenario such as a breaking story. For instance I think the first time I was ever deployed as a producer on international breaking news was when Pervez Musharraf seized power in the coup in Pakistan in 1999. I was very junior at the time, but language skills and the fact that I already had a valid visa for Pakistan were crucial in getting me sent on location.


3 The Breaking News that you see on the BBC is dramatically different from what you see here in India. When there’s so much happening around you, how do you hold back and not label everything as ‘Breaking News’?

We do have to be careful in how we use that tag. If you called every bit of news dropping onto the wires as ‘breaking’ then you would lose the trust of your viewers in making a judgement on the relative weight of stories. I try to vary the wording eg ‘news just coming into us’ or ‘story we have been following’ or ‘an update on a story we’re following’. Our audiences are smart, they can easily spot any hype.


4 Your comments on the news channels in India? And Pakistan?

As a journalist it’s great to see so many flourishing news sources out there and so much choice for viewers. Of course that doesn’t automatically mean everything reaches the same standard of quality. The challenge is to be engaging as well as credible, and I believe investing in trustworthy journalism pays off in establishing a quality brand in the long term.


5 If you were not a star anchor at the BBC, what would you be?

I like to think I would still be working with words in one way or another, perhaps long form journalism or even having some fun at the glossy end of the magazine spectrum. Apart from that I have always loved textiles and particular those from South Asia. I love the idea of taking traditional textiles e.g kilims and using them to re upholster chairs or stools, or using embroideries in new ways as home furnishings.


A subcontinent personality you would like to interview?


Amitabh Bachchan would be great – he has such an enduring appeal. Also Aamir Khan on how he combines art and activism.


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