My Life In Media: George Alagiah

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The Independent Online

George Alagiah, 49, presents the BBC Six O'Clock News. Born in Sri Lanka, he spent his early years in Ghana before coming to British boarding school aged 12. A specialist on Africa and the developing world, he lives in London with his wife, Frances, and two sons, Adam and Matthew.

George Alagiah, 49, presents the BBC Six O'Clock News. Born in Sri Lanka, he spent his early years in Ghana before coming to British boarding school aged 12. A specialist on Africa and the developing world, he lives in London with his wife, Frances, and two sons, Adam and Matthew.

So what inspired you to start a career in the media?

Watergate: I fancied myself as a Bernstein, smoking 20 cigarettes an hour and getting a scoop. As a young teenager, it was the collar undone, tie hanging round your navel, cigarette in mouth, banging away at a typewriter, and bringing down a government or a president. I thought that was cool. Later on, I saw journalism as combining ideas about social justice with writing.

When you were 15 years old, what was the family newspaper and did you read it?

I didn't live with my family - I was sent to boarding school here. I don't think I ever saw newspapers in my boarding house. When I went home, I saw Nigerian papers .

And what were your favourite television and radio programmes?

At school it was limited, but I remember Top of the Pops on a Thursday - lots of adolescent boys stuck in a badly heated and ventilated basement room. By the time Pan's People came on, it was getting pretty steamy. We watched sport on Saturdays, followed by R White's lemonade, cola cubes and sherbets.

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

BBC Radio 4, Today. I read The Guardian at home, but make sure that I look at a selection of the others at work, always the Daily Mail. I tend not to bother much with The Sun.

Do you consult any media sources during the working day?

I flick between Sky News and News 24.

What's the best thing about your job?

Knowing that it matters I guess. If you get the journalism right - stick to the facts and give both sides - it can be a civilising thing for a country. Having decent information is at the core of a good society.

And the worst?

As a news presenter, never really being able to say what I think, because otherwise nobody would trust me.

What's the proudest achievement in your working life?

I am proud of having got where I am now, given where I started off. I came to this country when I was 12 and, if I can give myself a little pat on the back, I think that I've worked hard and achieved a good deal. As for stories, one of the best was when we managed to get some of the first pictures of the ethnic cleansing going on in Kosovo in 1999.

And the most embarrassing moment?

We do a "Six O'Clock Special Report". About a year ago, I came out with the "Six O'Clock Sex Report". The whole studio, including my on-air partner Sophie Raworth, were bent over laughing, and I had to hold it together to go into the next queue. It might have been good for audience figures...

At home, what do you tune in to?

Sometimes Newsnight, but I don't watch much TV. I'm more likely to listen to music. I have a lot of African jazz, people such as Abdullah Ibrahim. Right now, I'm listening to Ry Cooder - one of his fusion things with Manuel Galban.

What is your Sunday paper? And do you have a favourite magazine?

The Observer and Sunday Telegraph, so I have as broad a spread of opinion as possible. I tend not to get magazines.

Name the career ambition you want to realise before you retire

I'd love to do something creative - I'd like to be on the other side of the camera. I've written books on Africa and on multiculturalism, but I'd love to try my hand at fiction.

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

I might have been tempted by politics and the idea of trying to do something, but I wouldn't have lasted a minute in the adversarial atmosphere.

Who in the media do you most admire and why?

I like Jonathan Ross a lot: fast, furious and slightly dangerous. And Lenny Henry, because he makes me laugh to the point of tears.

CV: THE NEWS PRESENTER

1980: An editorial assistant at a technology publication, paid £3,800 a year.

1982: Works at South magazine - founded on the notion "an unequal world is an unstable world" - where he becomes Africa editor.

1989: Joins the BBC, working as a foreign correspondent specialising in Africa and the developing world. In 1992 he wins the Critics Award and the Golden Nymph Award at the Monte Carlo Television Festival. In 1993 he wins the Royal Television Society's Best International Report and a commendation at the Bafta Awards for his reporting on the famine and American intervention in Somalia.

1994: Appointed South Africa correspondent, based in Johannesburg. Wins Amnesty International's Best TV Journalist award. Reports on the genocide in Rwanda and civil wars in Afghanistan, Liberia and Sierra Leone. In 1998 he is voted Media Personality of the Year at the Ethnic Minority Media Awards, and in 2000 he is part of the BBC team to win a Bafta for its coverage of the Kosovo conflict. Publishes his first book in 2001, A Passage to Africa.

2002: Moves in March from BBC1's One O'Clock News to help launch BBC World and BBC4's international news programme.

2003: Joins the BBC Six O'Clock News, which he co-presents with Sophie Raworth.

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