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Interview: Aliya Nazki

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Fluent in English, Urdu and Hindi, news anchor Aliya Nazki’s presentation style in the BBC Urdu programme, Sairbeen, won her the prestigious AGAHI Award 2013 for Emerging Current Affairs Anchor of the Year. After a short break off air, the programme – hosted by Nazki along with seasoned broadcaster, Shafi Naqi Jamie – is now re-launching in a new format, available online and to be broadcast on Aaj Tv. Newsline speaks to the Srinagar-born anchor about her life and work.

Tell us about Sairbeen. How did you get involved with it? 

Sairbeen is BBC Urdu’s flagship Tv show which draws on the BBC’s unparalleled international news-gathering presence. It brings regional reporting from BBC Urdu correspondents in Washington, Delhi and across Pakistan, and also analysis from BBC Urdu’s leading journalists. Our show offers a different and more global perspective to news and important contemporary issues. Arts, technology, travel and social media are also within the programme’s ambit.

Before joining the team which launched Sairbeen in February 2013, I worked for our website (bbcurdu.com) as an interactive video producer. I was approached as a possible programme host. I loved the pilots, being on air, knowing that I am speaking directly with audiences across Pakistan – and also with those who watch it wherever they are in the world, online. I accepted the opportunity to try myself on this platform.

Personally speaking, how was the switch from radio to television?

The two mediums are vastly different and that necessarily reflects in the treatment of the stories. Doing Tv programmes is also a more intense and stressful process. Purely because there are so many more things that can go wrong, and you have to make sure that you deliver 110 per cent every single time. Having said that, I have to say I enjoy Tv more. It’s more intense, but that’s what makes it more exciting.

Once upon a time, BBC radio was what everyone tuned in to for honest reporting. The news scenario in Pakistan has changed now, with so many news channels beaming live. What gives you an edge?

Honest, unbiased, objective reporting continues to be BBC Urdu’s distinctive feature – it doesn’t really matter which platform we are on, be it radio, online, mobiles or Tv. On trust, the BBC ranks highest among international broadcasters in Pakistan. The “edge” we have in the Pakistani media market is ensured by the BBC’s editorial approach to any story.

Additionally, what also makes our news special is the extensive spread of our newsgathering operation across Pakistan and  around the world – the BBC has more correspondents in other countries than any other international broadcaster.

What have been the cutting-edge programmes Sairbeen has done so far? 

In the last year that Sairbeen was on air, we produced cutting-edge reports on Balochistan and on the persecution of minorities in Pakistan. These stories are very relevant to our audiences, but are not necessarily picked up or covered by the local media. When you look at the news landscape in Pakistan, it is this human element to the stories that often gets overlooked, and it is these human-interest stories that we want to bring to our audience.

Have you ever received any flak for a story? Not long ago, there was a certain political party that campaigned against the BBC and its coverage of its leader.

That is nothing new. Sometimes we are criticised by opposite sides of the story for being pro-other side. Perhaps, it’s because we don’t take sides at all but deliver a balanced coverage of the story by presenting the whole range of views.

You seem to have travelled and lived in different cities of the world. How has this shaped your perspective?

I was born and raised in Srinagar and grew up by the banks of the Dal lake surrounded by cousins, laughter and poetry. In many ways, it was an idyllic childhood. Till the time that it wasn’t. When I was around 12, we moved to the North Indian city of Ludhiana in Punjab where my dad was pursuing his doctorate. After that, I spent a few years in Jammu and then Delhi before moving to London.

Travel opens your eyes up to differences of culture, perspective and opinions. It also helps you understand that it’s these differences that make the human experience interesting and unique. I’d like to think I’m less judgmental, more open and more tolerant because of the way I was brought up.

Being Kashmiri, what do you think about the way the Kashmir dispute is reported in both India and Pakistan?

Kashmir is such a long-standing conflict between India and Pakistan that I think, when it comes to reporting (or not) of the issue, there’s a risk that news organisations run of internalising and reflecting deeply-entrenched national narratives on both sides. As a journalist, that is deeply problematic and the challenge is to look beyond this and get to the heart of the story. Impartiality lies at the heart of the BBC – we don’t focus on anyone’s view. We work to reflect the full range of interests and perspectives. And as journalists, we have to represent the whole spectrum of opinions – it is a requirement of BBC editorial guidelines.

Is it difficult to remain impartial?

People will tell you that absolute objectivity is impossible to achieve. Because, after all, journalists are human beings and have opinions which, consciously or subconsciously, inform their work. To an extent, this is true. However, any good journalist will tell you that their role is only to report on facts and let their audience make up their own minds. And for a good journalist, no matter how close you feel to the story, that is what we do.

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