Ahmed Versi: My Life In Media

'I realised there was no medium for British Muslims to raise their concerns and contributions to society'
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The Independent Online

Ahmed Jafferali Versi, 57, is the publisher and editor of The Muslim News. Reaching over 140,000 people in the UK, it is the largest circulation newspaper for Muslims in Britain. Its website www.muslimnews.co.uk receives up to 1.6 million hits a month. Versi has interviewed world leaders from the late President of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Alija Izetbegovic, to the late President Aslan Maskhadov of Chechnya, to Tony Blair. During the first Gulf War, he was part of a British Muslim delegation to Jordan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia mediating for the release of British hostages. He has campaigned for the rights of female students refused admission to university for their decision to wear the hijab. In Palestine, he was the first journalist to document evidence of armed Jewish settlers inside the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron. He lives in Harrow with his wife Tahera.

So what inspired you to embark on a career in the media?

I have been interested in politics and community affairs since childhood. I found that there was a lot of injustice in the world and one of the ways of influencing change was via the media. I started a newsletter for the Islamic Society while at Portsmouth Polytechnic and later wrote for a youth monthly, Islamic Echo, and various other Muslim magazines. I realised there was no medium for British Muslims to raise their concerns and contributions to society, so, with a few friends, founded The Muslim News in 1989.

When you were 15 years old, which newspaper did your family get, and did you read it?

I was then in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and read the local, Daily News, as well as American magazines - Newsweek and Time.

And what were your favourite TV and radio programmes?

There was no TV then in my country of birth. As to radio, the only programmes I listened to were news as most of my time was taken up with sports and social life, visiting family and friends, and going to the cinema and theatre.

Describe your job

I am editor and publisher of the under-resourced newspaper The Muslim News and muslimnews. co.uk website. I find and write exclusive stories and editorials, and sub the paper. I do my own research and PR work for the paper and take lots of calls. I also mentor students, mainly from university, on journalism. In addition, I organise annually The Muslim News Awards for Excellence to acknowledge contributions of British Muslims to society. Until last year, I organised training for Muslim women so they could play sports and participate in the international Muslim women's Olympic-style games.

What's the first media you turn to in the mornings?

I listen to the Radio 4 Today programme. I read the Daily Telegraph, Times, Guardian and Independent.

Do you consult any media sources during the working day?

I surf the internet for two to three hours, visit many news websites in different parts of the world. I watch Sky News, Al Jazeera English, BBC News 24, CNN.

What is the best thing about your job?

It gives me a unique insight into the workings not only of the Muslim community but also the Government. Most importantly, I meet people from different backgrounds, in the UK and in various parts of the world. It broadens my understanding of people.

And the worst?

Working 18 hours a day, seven days a week.

How do you feel you influence the media?

I am consulted by numerous journalists, and I try to help them understand Muslim issues and sensitivities.Many of our stories are taken up by other media.

What's the proudest achievement in your working life?

FoundingThe Muslim News and its Awards scheme.

And what's your most embarrassing moment?

After interviewing Kate Hoey, when she was Sports Minister. I found out later that the tape was blank and she refused to be interviewed again.

At home, what do you tune in to?

It depends on the schedules. Spooks, good films, the news, of course.

What is your Sunday paper?

Sunday Telegraph, Sunday Times, Independent on Sunday and Observer.

Name the one career ambition you want to realise before you retire

Editing a daily Muslim newspaper.

If you didn't work in the media what would you do?

Study Islamic civilisation.

Who in the media do you most admire and why?

The Independent's Robert Fisk - a principled and courageous journalist.

The cv

1971 Founded and editor of al-Nur newsletter for Islamic Society, Portsmouth Polytechnic

1974 Islamic Echo, monthly magazine for the Muslim Youth Association

1984-1985 Encounter section for Muslim minorities, Afkar-Inquiry magazine

1989 The Muslim News

2000 Founded the annual The Muslim News Awards for Excellence to acknowledge British Muslim contribution to society

1998 Advisor, The Muslim Council of Britain Media Committee

2001 Founded British Muslim Women's Sports Foundation