The Malta Independent 15 June 2024, Saturday
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Zeinab Badawi: Journalism facing new challenges

Malta Independent Monday, 28 April 2014, 16:36 Last update: about 11 years ago

Ms Badawi was born in Sudan and has lived in Britain since the age of three. Her great-grandfather, Sheikh Babiker Badri, fought against Kitchener's British forces at the Battle of Omdurman in 1898 and pioneered women's education in Sudan. Ms Badawi's father was a newspaper editor in Sudan committed to social reform who, when the family moved to the UK, joined the BBC's Arabic Service.

She was the first presenter of the ITV Morning News (now known as ITV news at 5.30), and co-presented hannel Four News with Jon Snow (1989–1998), before joining BBC News. Badawi is currently the presenter of World News Today broadcast on both BBC Four and BBC World News and Reporters (BBC programme), a weekly showcase of reports from the BBC.

The event was co-organised by Josephine Vassallo Parnis at Leading Talks in collaboration with the Tumas Fenech Foundation, represented by former President Ugo Mifsud Bonnici, while former Speaker Michael Frendo chaired the meeting.

Ms Badawi described today’s media scene as one divided into three segments:

-          The old established media organisations such as the BBC, CNN, etc.

-          The new but traditional media such as Al Jazeera, Russia Today and some new newspapers; and

-          The newer and mostly digital media including the social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and the like which are causing a revolution in today’s globalised world just like printing caused a similar revolution in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Media coverage has become globalised: even at the BBC where they had the foreign and the news desk, such distinctions have fallen into disuse. News broadcasting has become a much more immediate affair, with news being broadcast through such a variety of media. In her personal life, her children knew of the death of Michael Jackson, for instance, much before the BBC came out with the news. Today, Twitter, Facebook and the other social media can be said to have contributed to the downfall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

She explained that the BBC has changed its operational mode over the past years: it now has a team that searches and vets some 35,000 different news websites and since there have been cuts in the number of foreign correspondents, the BBC is now sourcing more local sources.

At the same time, however, the BBC takes extra care to ensure that the news it carries is double-checked. Later on, this issue would be the focus of many questions from the audience with some claiming the BBC has introduced so many cuts to its operations that this is disturbing the BBC’s claim of impartiality and correct news. Ms Badawi disagreed, arguing the BBC has redoubled its efforts to get the news right.

There is also a different perspective on the same issues. For instance, migration is a very important issue in Malta, but in the UK, where migration is also an important issue, the people’s perception is split between migrants who do the jobs the British do not want to do, such as baby-sitting or collecting rubbish, and illegal migration. Even if there is a strong xenophobic streak, people tend to close their eyes to economic migrants, although on the other hand there is strong public opposition to migration from other EU countries, which is legal.

News media must be on their guard against stereotypes and pandering to prejudices. That is where the media must educate rather than follow the line of least resistance or succumb to the most popular soundbites.

This paper’s content director, Pierre Portelli, asked Ms Badawi whether the BBC is pressured from the government of the day regarding the stories it carries. Ms Badawi answered that on the contrary the BBC included among its employees people who have resisted pressure from the government of the day. She reminded the audience that the top levels of the BBC had resigned rather than succumb to the government pressure at the time of Tony Blair’s war on Iraq on the weapons of mass destruction issue.

MEP Roberta Metsola pointed at the BBC’s coverage of Europe and asked why is it that any time she switches TV on there is Nigel Farage at his worst eurosceptic. Ms Badawi defended the BBC: UKIP is one of the most popular parties and their views interest many people. He has captured the euro-sceptic Zeitgeist in Britain.

Malcolm Naudi referred to the recent tragic end of a young girl and asked whether media self-restraint would have been better. Ms Badawi assented, insisting on the need of balanced reporting. There should be media self-regulatory bodies as there are in the UK. The situation in other countries is different: in the UK it would not be allowed for the media to speculate as it is doing on the Pistorius case since there are no popular juries in South Africa.

On the other hand, the media must be careful not to provide oxygen to terrorists, as Margaret Thatcher used to call the showing of the tragic end of terrorist attempts. Actually, the BBC monitors very closely the dramatic pictures from some news stories and much more is excised than is allowed to be published. The killing of Col Gaddafi, for instance, can be found on YouTube but not on the BBC.

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