CV: ZEINAB BADAWI Presenter, `House to House'


I was never one of those people who had a burning ambition to be a journalist since childhood; I wanted to be a doctor until I was about 15. But I did PPE at Oxford, and when I graduated in 1981, everyone was going into the City, the Civil Service or the media. I suppose broadcasting must have been at the back of my mind as I'd joined the Oxford University Broadcasting Society, though I wasn't a particularly active member. Also, my father had been a newspaper editor in the Sudan, and when we moved to England - when I was three - he got a job with the BBC Arabic Service. After I left Oxford, I did another year's studying in languages, and it was during that time that I thought I'd try television because I felt it was the most powerful medium. I was interviewed for a research job at Yorkshire Television on the science programme Where There's Life, but instead I was offered a screen test for the Yorkshire TV local news programme Calendar, on the basis of which I was offered a job as a reporter. But because I hadn't done any post-graduate journalism, they sent me to the National Broadcasting School in London to do a very intensive three-month course.

I stayed on Calendar for about a year, until I decided local news really wasn't for me - the subject matter had to be more edifying. So I moved on to a researcher's job on a political programme called 7 Days, made by Yorkshire TV and the very new Channel 4, and in 1983, I presented, researched and reported for a series of 20 half-hour programmes on the British economy.

After that I went into the documentary department at Yorkshire TV, and did a series on the developing world called The Politics of Food. I also worked on a film about the Sudan, which gave me the chance to spend four or five months doing intensive research in the country where I was born, and so was a personal voyage for me. And it was a great time to be involved with something like that: it coincided with Live Aid, and so there was a great deal of interest in the developing world in the media. Now though, sadly, these kind of programmes are the casualty of the new ratings-driven atmosphere of TV, and things on the foreign news agenda tend to be either relegated to the backburner or covered from the coup-war-famine angle.

After that I was approached by the BBC to join as a reporter on Brass Tacks, and I moved to Manchester having lived in Leeds for five years. I covered domestic and social affairs this time, which was a very good grounding for me, because it gave me access to very deprived parts of the country and made me see first-hand a lot of the things people often talk about having never been north of Watford.

Sadly, Brass Tacks wasn't recommissioned, but I was then approached by Channel 4 to be a newscaster on the new night shift they'd just set up. I was happy to do that, and be based in just one place after years spent on the go, and I also wanted to do an MA - on the history of the Middle East - at that point. In TV you often flit from subject to subject, and I just felt I wanted a substantial piece of research to get my teeth into. As a newscaster I worked seven days on and seven days off, and on the days off I was able to do my studying.

After that I did some foreign affairs reporting for ITN, just before the outbreak of the Gulf War, and then I became the deputy presenter on Channel 4 News to Jon Snow. And then, literally a few weeks ago, I came on to a new political programme from the ITN stable called House to House.

Presenting a political interview programme after 18 years of one party ruling the country is absolutely fascinating. I've been involved with British politics during the Major years, which were only really consolidating the Thatcherite revolution. Now, with the new Labour government - a party that's refashioned itself completely since 1992 - it's new territory and a lot more challenging.

One of the things we want to do on this programme is talk to ordinary people on the receiving end of politics. In the run-up to an election campaign the media always brings out Joe and Joanna Public, but at the end they are put back in their boxes and not really heard from again. We want to get away from the formal, Westminster-centric approach to politics, and I think the mere fact that I'm presenting it - and not a white male in a suit - sends a message out to viewers that they are included in what's going on.

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