The Barefoot Broadcaster
Muhammad Affan Zamir
17 January 2006
An intrepid academic was once quoted as saying, “Television news is like a lightning flash. It makes a loud noise, lights up everything around it, leaves everything in darkness and then is suddenly gone.”
That ‘flash’, however, requires an enormous amount of graft and hard work, as the perpetually fatigued backstage staff will no doubt reveal. And it is the contemporary news presenters who transpire as the fundamental architects to ensure that a coherent news bulletin is presented. They now emerge as the epitome of modern professionalism, smooth, articulate and occasionally photogenic.
And they do not come better than Asad Ahmad, the young Muslim Asian anchor for BBC London News. A natural, Asad has appeared on several current affairs programmes, both on radio and television, impressing many personalities along the way with his intuition and unflappable demeanour. His interview with LondonPakistani.com took place in the elegant but unassuming studios of BBC London News located in central London alongside the chic and trendy outlets of international fashion brands.
National acclaim for such a proficient correspondent was inevitable and, notably, he has already been nominated for a prestigious Ethnic Multicultural Media Award. During his time at BBC Midlands Today, he was part of the team that collected the title for the 1998 Royal Television Society News programme of the year and the 1998 Sony Radio Station of the year award.
Asad represents a minority in the trade and unsurprisingly he has achieved cult status in both the Asian and Muslim populations. This is demonstrated by the increasing number of lectures and talks he gives around the country and the countless times he has been stopped by amicable autograph hunters and well-wishers. A trip to his local ASDA though, brought up a previously concealed appeal to another element of the community: a middle-aged Asian woman accompanied by a young lady approached him, friendly at first, but upon hearing that he was betrothed, beat an awkward hasty retreat, much to his amusement.
All this when Asad had thought that a profession in journalism and the media was not within his grasp, that it was a profession ‘other’ people did and, most importantly, that it was not a profession for Asians. As a child, he had always been fascinated by television and its assortment of presenters but it was not until after finishing a Law degree from Bristol University that he began to consider career pathways. He happened to be sitting at home one morning watching the news presented by Matthew Amroliwala (presenter for BBC News 24), and this unexpectedly stirred him into looking at life into journalism. He took his first step by joining the BBC Trainee scheme and has never looked back.
In a career that has spanned the best part of a decade, Asad has seen it all. He has travelled the world countless times and encountered umpteen dignitaries; from the highs of Singapore 2005, where the city of London was granted the 2012 Olympic games (a story which also won BBC London - News ‘The Story of the Year 2005’ at the Royal Television Society Awards), to the lows of South Africa, where he witnessed firsthand the human tragedy and suffering instigated by the use of so-called recreational drugs. Asads subsequent report for BBC London News dismissed the illusions many had that cannabis was a ‘soft’ drug, not likely to inflict damage on users and their social network. This also underlines how Asad measures success: when ignorance is dispelled and people are made aware of the reality.
Asad has now reached a stage in his livelihood where he considers the newsroom to be his living room, so much so that he takes off his shoes, reclines and enjoys himself. It’s just the camera and himself. He has never felt nervous before a transmission and, unlike some other presenters, he works best under pressure, whether its the lights failing, the producers panicking, the autocue crashing or deadlines looming. This is what he thrives on.
In his numerous talks, Asad has underlined three main attributes that aspiring journalists, reporters and hosts should possess: confidence, determination and humility. The confidence and determination are required for the numerous setbacks and kicks in the teeth; humility is mandatory since superficiality and vanity will not help in the wee hours of the morning, or indeed through 16 hour shifts. He also stressed the importance of ‘being yourself’ and not trying to emulate or copy others.
Asad was born and bred in London but his parents both come from north India, namely a town called Aligarh, famous for the Aligarh Muslim University, the first centre of higher education established for Muslims in British India.
In spite of his heritage, Asad has been an ardent England supporter - through thick and thin, at Lords or Wembley, contrary to the rest of his childhood Asian friends who supported their native countries. Norman Tebbit would no doubt laud Asad as a protagonist.
Even today, Asad remains one of a kind. He has illustrated the means to achieving something that would normally be considered unachievable, and in the process has illuminated the way for many Asad Ahmads in the future.