Monday, June 30, 2008

Maria Shriver

My inspiration for the day - to be 2 things: (1) a journalist, and (2) a good mother.

Here is an excerpt from an article I read in Time Magazine on Maria Shriver, the First Lady of California, aka Arnold Schwarzenegger's wife.

Source: Time
Q: Do you ever find yourself at odds with being from a prominent Democratic family and being married to a Republican?

A: It's definitely different to be married to someone from a different political party. It has really taught me to look beyond labels, which is something my dad [Sargent Shriver] was really adamant about. Get rid of all that and look at who the person is, and you're much better off.

Q: If you didn't get into broadcast journalism, what do you think you'd be doing today?

A: I have no clue. Maybe writing poetry. I was so relieved when I discovered journalism. When my dad was running for Vice President, [I would] sit in the back of the plane with the journalists, and it opened my eyes. I thought at the time that politics and how people view politicians will be made by the people in the back of the plane a lot more than the people in the front.

Q: Now that you've written a book about becoming who you are, how do you help your children become who they are?

A: I try to say to my children, I love you for who you are. You don't have to get into some fancy college. You don't have to go off and become President of the United States. If you want to go off and open a coffee shop or a bakery, I love you. And you, and you alone, are good enough.

Q: You credit a lot of your success to your relationship with your parents. Do you use the same techniques with your children?

A: I try. I said to my mother, I pray to God that I'm half as successful with my children as my parents have been. For any parent, to sit back and see your kids really enjoying each other, understanding each other, accepting who they are, is a huge joy.

Q: What do you want to be doing in 10 years?

A: At 16 I said, I want to be a journalist. I want to work on a newsmagazine. I want to do a documentary. I had it all planned out. Now I'm gentler with myself. I say, I'm a work in progress. I could be writing books in 10 years. I could be living on an island. I could be traveling around the world.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Quotes for today

"What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality."

- Greek author, Plutarch

"If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped transform for the better. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better."

- JK Rowling

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

War Journalism

Dealing with dangers of war reporting

As a new memorial is unveiled to journalists killed while carrying out their work, BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen describes how war reporters deal with danger as a routine part of their job.

Source: BBC News (

If you asked most journalists whether a story was worth their life, they would say absolutely not.

But then I have never met a journalist (and in that I include all varieties of news people) who goes out on a day's work in a dangerous place expecting to die.

I am always struck by what is left of a person's last few hours when I see bodies in mortuaries and back alleys and wrecked buildings and all the other places where people end up who have died violently.

Small, even trivial thoughts can find their way past the overwhelming and hideous fact that their lives are over.

What about their clothes? Did they think they were going to die when they put on their socks? And the knots in their shoelaces, tied by fingers that now are dead. What were they thinking when they were doing them up?

Perhaps the day was already going badly. Was fear already pulling at their minds and their guts? Or did they have no idea what was coming?

The answer is that when the day began most of them did not expect to die.
If, as a journalist in a dangerous place, you worry that you are getting dressed for the last time every morning before you go to work, then you are probably in the wrong business.

You need to know the risks, and to take precautions, but to be calm about them too, and even to deny them.

That cannot be done without believing that you will make it through the day, and that if you have some close calls you will be able to make jokes about them when you are having dinner.

You have to believe that you will stay alive because you are being careful, or because your experience will see you through, and it helps too if you are young and feel indestructible and the sun is shining and you just know it could not possibly happen to you.

When journalists no longer feel at least some of that, they tend to stop covering wars.

Listing the dead

The chances are that it will be OK. Most journalists who work in wars do not die, and do not get wounded. But some do, and these days more people target journalists, when in the past the main problem was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

With so many risks out there, the unfortunate truth is that surviving in a war, even for the most experienced and best trained, requires a strong element of luck. And people's luck runs out.

Sometimes they do not have it at all. Journalists need to know that if they go to places where people are getting killed they could get killed too.

Every journalist who has made a habit of going to wars has a list of dead friends and colleagues, people who did the same stories in the same places until they went to work one day and were killed.

The other night a photographer who covered many of the wars of the 1990s told me that about 10 years ago he was one of six ushers at a wedding. All of them were in the news business. Now only two of his fellow ushers are still alive.

Permanent memorial

My list has more than a dozen names. I only include people who were friends or close colleagues. If I added the names of people who I knew only by sight the list would be longer.

I had to do obituaries for some of them, and everyone who works in news knows how the caravan moves on to the next story. It is good that there is going to be a permanent memorial to our dead friends in the middle of London.

My friend and colleague Abed Takkoush had been a driver and fixer for the BBC in Lebanon for 25 years when he was killed by a shell fired by an Israeli tank crew on 23 May 2000.

With Malek Kanaan, our cameraman, I got out of Abed's car a few minutes before the shell hit it. He stayed in there because he was on the phone to his son.

The area did not seem dangerous, but it was. Abed did not expect to die that day.

I could have been in the car with him, because I had been on the phone too. But my call ended as we parked, and his did not. That is the only reason why he is commemorated by the new sculpture, and I am not.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Human beings are not things – you don’t ignore it when you are upset and pick it up again when you are fine. Human beings have emotions, thoughts and reservations – that once bruised or broken, can only be bridged with communication. You don’t just stroke it – you have to take a step further to talk, communicate, apologise and make up. Words can either mend of break. But silence - it only damages potential make ups.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Life on the Line - A Tribute

An Afghan journalist was shot dead over the weekend (7-8 June 2008). Below is a news story/tribute lifted off BBC News (

A tribute to Abdul Samad Rohani

Abdul Samad Rohani, the Pashto service reporter for the BBC in the Afghan province of Helmand, was shot dead at the weekend. His friend and colleague Bilal Sarwary pays this tribute.

"Fish is fresh when it is in the water," Rohani used to say.

It's an Afghan saying which means here that Rohani felt most alive when he was working in the field.

In the eight years that I have been with the BBC in Kabul, I have been constantly in touch with BBC reporters located in some of the most dangerous and remote areas of Afghanistan.

These brave reporters work tirelessly away from their families so that the world may come to understand the desperate situation faced by the people of Afghanistan.

Rohani began working for the BBC in 2006. As well as reporting in the Pashto language, he provided crucial support and information to the BBC's English language staff.

Helmand province is one of the centres of the Taleban insurgency. Because of the large number of British troops there it is a particularly important news area for the BBC's audiences in the UK.

Household name

Rohani knew Helmand better than anyone I have ever met.

He was born in Helmand and, as well as being a journalist, was a poet of some local renown.

Hardly a day passes without an incident in Helmand and sometimes he would be on the phone to me all day. I will always remember his bravery.

His compassion drove him to travel into the Taleban-controlled areas to report about the lives of people there.

Sometimes he stayed at my house in Kabul, entertaining me and my roommate with his romantic Pashto poems.

But our evenings were constantly interrupted by his phones as he took calls from tribal chiefs, government officials or a local trader complaining about corruption.

He had a way with words and became the voice of the people of Helmand.

There would also be entire days when his cell phones were off when he would be travelling in a wolaswali (the Pashto word for district) where there is no network coverage.

First to call

At present I'm spending a lot of the year studying in the US.

Rohani would phone me regularly there - always calling in the early hours of morning US time when I was asleep. Whenever I pointed it out to him, his response would be simple: "It's day in Afghanistan." And then he would chuckle.

I always liked talking to Rohani and over the years our working relationship altered into something deeper - a friendship.

Whenever I returned home to Kabul, he would be one of the first people to call.
"Welcome to our Afghanistan and I am sending my regards from this village in Helmand province," he would say.

On Saturday I grew alarmed when I did not hear from him.

I enquired after him and was devastated to learn that Rohani was missing and his phones were switched off.

I knew something was wrong, but I was hoping that Rohani was again on a trip to some remote village or district, reporting the story of his people whom he loved so dearly.

Then the bad news came in.

An unknown caller contacted another BBC colleague in Helmand, asking for Rohani's body to be picked up.

As soon I heard the news, I felt the weight of a thousand broken hearts and I felt as if the entire world had come crashing down.

My memories of Rohani will always remain with me.

As an Afghan I will always be proud of being his friend and colleague.

He dedicated his life and time towards telling the truth and helping Afghanistan.

I don't know who it was who killed Rohani, but I know one thing for sure - there will be more of us telling the truth and truth will always protect itself.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

He could be the one

I think the American mindset is shifting towards the Democrats - particularly towards Obama. They could be tired of the ruling Republicans who disappointed them time and again (Clinton, Bush).

And now along comes Obama - a fresh, new face - a voice that speaks differently yet one that could identify with the people regardless of color. I think in the course of the next few months till November when Americans votes, the people could be persuaded to give Obama the opportunity of a lifetime - to be the first black president - and change the course of not just American history, but world history, leaving a powerful legacy for years to come.

Yours truly,

The search is over

Straits Times - June 4, 2008
Obama wins historic Democratic nomination
Clinton signals she would take VP slot

WASHINGTON/MINNESOTA - MR Barack Obama captured the Democratic presidential nomination on Tuesday, capping a rapid rise from political obscurity to become the first black to lead a major United States party into a race for the White House.

Rival Hillary Clinton, a former first lady who entered the race 17 months ago as a heavy favourite, did not concede to Mr Obama and said she would consult with party leaders and supporters to determine her next move.

A surge of support from uncommitted delegates helped give Mr Obama the 2,118 votes he needed to clinch the nomination and defeat Mrs Clinton.

Mr Obama will be crowned the Democratic nominee at the convention in August and will face Republican John McCain in November's election to choose a successor to President George W. Bush.

'Tonight, we mark the end of one historic journey with the beginning of another,' Mr Obama told a cheering victory celebration in St Paul, Minnesota, at the site of the Republican convention in September.

'Tonight, I can stand before you and say that I will be the Democratic nominee for President of the United States.'

'Tonight we mark the end of one historic journey with the beginning of another - a journey that will bring a new and better day to America,' Mr Obama vowed as US media said he had clinched the party's nomination by securing the 2,118 delegates needed.

'America, this is our moment. This is our time. Our time to turn the page on the policies of the past,' the Illinois senator pledged as he claimed the Democratic crown to run in the November general elections against Republican presumptive nominee John McCain.

'Our time to bring new energy and new ideas to the challenges we face. Our time to offer a new direction for the country we love.'

At the end of the gruelling 17-month primary campaign, the longest and most expensive ever, Mr Obama, 46, was effusive in his praise for his defeated rival, former first lady Hillary Clinton.

'Senator Hillary Clinton has made history in this campaign not just because she's a woman who has done what no woman has done before, but because she's a leader who inspires millions of Americans with her strength, her courage, and her commitment to the causes that brought us here tonight,' he said.

And despite their bitter differences as they tussled to secure the party's nomination, Mr Obama paid tribute to Mrs Clinton's 'unyielding desire to improve the lives of ordinary Americans, no matter how difficult the fight may be'.

But he rounded on Mr McCain, warning voters that the Arizona senator would represent four more years of the same policies of outgoing President George W. Bush.

'There are many words to describe John McCain's attempt to pass off his embrace of George Bush's policies as bipartisan and new. But change is not one of them,' he said.

'Change is a foreign policy that doesn't begin and end with a war that should've never been authorised and never been waged.'

Longest and closest fight

Mr Obama's win over Mrs Clinton, projected by US networks, came in one of the closest and longest nomination fights in recent US political history. Five months of voting concluded on Tuesday night with votes in Montana, won by Mr Obama, and South Dakota, won by Mrs Clinton.

Mrs Clinton, who would have been the first woman nominee in US political history, won more than 1,900 delegates over the course of the campaign.

She told New York members of Congress she would be open to becoming Mr Obama's vice-presidential running mate, and her backers began to turn up the pressure on Mr Obama to pick her as his No. 2.

Mrs Clinton congratulated Mr Obama after he clinched the nomination, and told a cheering crowd of supporters in New York City that she would work for party unity. But she did not concede.

'This has been a long campaign and I will make no decisions tonight,' she said. 'In the coming days I'll be consulting with supporters and party leaders to determine how to move forward with the best interests of our party and my country guiding my way.'

Mr McCain held a rally in Louisiana to kick off the race against Mr Obama. He sought to distance himself from Mr Bush and questioned Mr Obama's judgment and his willingness to put aside partisan interests.

'He is an impressive man, who makes a great first impression,' Mr McCain said of Mr Obama. 'But he hasn't been willing to make the tough calls, to challenge his party, to risk criticism from his supporters to bring real change to Washington. I have.'

Mr Obama questioned the extent of Mr McCain's independence and tied him to Mr Bush.

Not that independent

'While John McCain can legitimately tout moments of independence from his party in the past, such independence has not been the hallmark of his presidential campaign,' he said.

'There are many words to describe John McCain's attempt to pass off his embrace of George Bush's policies as bipartisan and new. But change is not one of them.'

Mr Obama, 46, is serving his first term in the US Senate from Illinois and would be the fifth-youngest president in history. He was an Illinois state senator when he burst on the national scene with a well received keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic convention.

Mr Obama's campaign had urged the last 150 or so undecided superdelegates to make their endorsement before the voting ended, so the delegates he wins in the two states voting on Tuesday could allow him to clinch the Democratic race.

A steady flow of superdelegates complied, making their announcements throughout the day.
Mr Obama lavished praise on Mrs Clinton after beating her.

'Senator Hillary Clinton has made history in this campaign not just because she's a woman who has done what no woman has done before, but because she's a leader who inspires millions of Americans,' he said in his prepared text.

'Our party and our country are better off because of her, and I am a better candidate for having had the honour to compete with Hillary Rodham Clinton,' he said.

Mrs Clinton and her campaign have sent mixed signals over the last two days about how long she would stay in a presidential race that she began as a heavy favourite.

During the conference call with New York lawmakers on Tuesday, she was asked about running as the No. 2 to Mr Obama and said she was open to the idea.

'She said she would do whatever is necessary in order to make certain that we win, and serving as vice-president would be one of the things she would be willing to do,' Representative Charles Rangel of New York, a Clinton supporter who was on the conference call, said in a phone interview. - REUTERS, AFP