Jour­nal­ist abroad

Paper Boy - - Front Page - TEXT JULIE HILL — PHO­TOG­RA­PHY TODD EYRE

In­ter­view­ing an­other jour­nal­ist re­minds me of the fa­bled Ir­ish ten­dency to an­swer a ques­tion with a ques­tion. It’s all about de­flec­tion and keep­ing your cards close to your chest. Plus, Al Jazeera an­chor and for­mer Auck­lan­der El­iz­a­beth Pu­ranam says, it’s a great way to avoid talk­ing about your­self. “You’re a jour­nal­ist for a rea­son. I don’t know any jour­nal­ists that like an­swer­ing ques­tions, un­less they’re in it for them­selves be­cause they’re an ego­tist.”

Pu­ranam has been at Al Jazeera for four years, based in the Qatari cap­i­tal Doha. The in­ter­na­tional news jug­ger­naut, which re­cently cel­e­brated its 20th an­niver­sary, has come a long way since the Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion wrote it off as a mouth­piece for Is­lamic ter­ror­ists (and since, ac­cord­ing to a no­to­ri­ous memo, Bush pon­dered bomb­ing its head­quar­ters un­til Tony Blair dis­suaded him). Since Al Jazeera English launched a decade ago, it has be­come one of the three big­gest in­ter­na­tional news or­gan­i­sa­tions, along with the BBC and CNN. “There was a re­ally big

Right El­iz­a­beth Pu­ranam, right, at her par­ents’ Auck­land home with her fa­ther Charles, nephew Ab­hi­jeet, sis­ter Ruth and niece Ale­sha.

Back in Auck­land, Al Jazeera an­chor and jour­nal­ist El­iz­a­beth Pu­ranam talks live TV, life in Doha and be­ing trolled on­line.

per­cep­tion change. Peo­ple could un­der­stand it and see how good it was,” says Pu­ranam. Now there are 65 global bureaus and a fan­tas­ti­cally di­verse work­force. “Our news­room is amaz­ing be­cause it’s filled with jour­nal­ists from all over the world. When I have to quickly know about what’s hap­pen­ing in Mau­ri­ta­nia or some­thing, there’ll be some­one in the news­room from Mau­ri­ta­nia who can give me the con­text and tell me ex­actly what’s go­ing on.”

Pu­ranam was born in the Ma­hatma Gandhi Hospi­tal in Hy­der­abad, In­dia, then came to Auck­land with her fam­ily when she was 10, where she lived in Avon­dale, then Glen Eden, then Piha. (“I’m a to­tal westie,” she says.) She didn’t go to jour­nal­ism school, but stud­ied pol­i­tics and me­dia at univer­sity in­stead. She worked at TVNZ in the cap­tion­ing de­part­ment be­fore trans­fer­ring to the news­room to mon­i­tor the po­lice and am­bu­lance ra­dios and for­eign newswires. Then TV3 of­fered her a job on their news desk. She quickly found her­self an­chor­ing mid­day news bul­letins.

She had al­ways wanted to work at Al Jazeera, study­ing Ara­bic and even writ­ing es­says about it while at Vic­to­ria Univer­sity. She got in touch with the chan­nel, of­fer­ing to work in any ca­pac­ity at all; they flew her to Doha for a screen test, then of­fered her a job as an an­chor. Hav­ing only done a mod­icum of pre­sent­ing for TV3, she says of her first time on air, “My God, it was so ter­ri­fy­ing.”

She has since cov­ered the Gaza wars of 2012 and 2014; the hunt for the Bos­ton marathon bombers; the Rabaa al-adawiya mas­sacre in Egypt; the ter­ror attacks in Paris. “The hard­est part of the job is when there’s re­ally big break­ing news that you have to roll on for hours

Hav­ing only done a mod­icum of pre­sent­ing for TV3, she says of her first time on air, “My God, it was so ter­ri­fy­ing.”

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a fea­ture ar­ti­cle about the vi­o­lent protests against In­dian rule. Al Jazeera has had a some­what strained re­la­tion­ship with In­dia for the past few years be­cause, for rea­sons In­dia hasn’t re­vealed, it has de­nied Al Jazeera staff visas to work in the coun­try. But, Pu­ranam says, “I re­ally, re­ally felt like I needed to be there.” So she trav­elled to Kash­mir un­der her own steam.

Ini­tially, there was a fan­tas­tic re­sponse to her story. “Kash­mir hasn’t got a lot of at­ten­tion in the in­ter­na­tional me­dia be­cause there’s Syria and there’s Iraq and there’s Ye­men. So a lot of peo­ple, es­pe­cially Kash­miris, were re­ally happy that an in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tion would go and do a very long fea­ture.” But, af­ter Hindu na­tion­al­ists in In­dia dis­cov­ered the story, she was bom­barded by trolls. “The mildest [mes­sages] were that I’m stupid and I’ve got no idea what I’m talk­ing about, and what do you ex­pect from Al Jazeera, it’s a Mus­lim ter­ror­ist net­work. Then there was hate-filled abuse of Mus­lims and threats to me, say­ing I bet­ter be care­ful next time I step into In­dia, that I de­serve to have my cit­i­zen­ship revoked. Then rape threats.”

None of this has put her off re­port­ing though. In fact, she would like to be out of the con­fines of the stu­dio more of­ten. “I re­ally miss be­ing out in the field re­port­ing. I feel like I have to do it while I’m young and don’t have any chil­dren.”

As for the cur­rent chaotic state of world­wide jour­nal­ism, Pu­ranam says not even the mighty Al Jazeera has been im­mune. Be­cause of Qatar’s de­pen­dency on oil, a re­cent drop in prices has not been kind to the state­funded broad­caster. “Ev­ery­one’s feel­ing it. No one’s ex­empt. We’ve had huge cuts. There have been lay­offs. There’s al­ways a hir­ing freeze but for the most part we are still func­tion­ing.”

Pu­ranam was back in New Zealand over sum­mer, pri­mar­ily to meet her new niece, but also to spend time with fam­ily, catch up with friends and soak up some Aotearoan rays. “I haven’t been home in over two years and it is my first New Zealand sum­mer in four years, so I’m pretty ex­cited.”

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“Kash­mir hasn’t got a lot of at­ten­tion in the in­ter­na­tional me­dia be­cause there’s Syria and there’s Iraq and there’s Ye­men.”

Above Pu­ranam, cen­tre, moved to New Zealand from Hy­der­abad when she was 10 years old. Here, back for a visit to New Zealand, she is pho­tographed with her sis­ter Ruth, left, niece Ale­sha, her fa­ther Charles, and her mother Jyothi, hold­ing Ab­hi­jeet.

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