Dispatches reporter scoops One World broadcast journalism award

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy has become the youngest-ever winner of broadcast journalist of the year at the One World Media Awards, celebrating coverage of the developing world.

At 27, Obaid is best known in the UK for work on Channel 4’s Unreported World and Dispatches.

Born and raised in Pakistan, her work has tackled the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in her home country, the women’s movement in Saudi Arabia and the Catholic Church’s pro-life movement in the Philippines.

The awards, presented by Channel 4’s Jon Snow at a ceremony in London on 14 June, are the work of the One World Broadcasting trust, which promotes coverage of the developing world.

Obaid’s broadcasting career began while studying print journalism in the United States, when her documentary pitch about the effects of the Afghan war on child refugees was picked up by New York Times Television.

The film, Terrorist’s Children, went on to win two top journalism awards in the US and led to Obaid working for NYTT for three years. She said of the experience: ‘I think I quite baffled them [the television station] to be quite honest. They didn’t expect an educated Muslim woman from Pakistan to walk in with a proposal, ideas and an entire budget written out. And honestly, I took a chance.”

Obaid was originally hired as a director, but after one month of filming she discovered that she hadn’t recorded any audio. When the executives in New York asked her to go back and refilm they suggested that she front the piece, launching her career as an on-screen reporter.

She said her sex had helped her gain access to people that a man might not. ‘It helps tremendously that I’m a woman. If I was a man, I don’t think I could do the kind of journalism that I do; not in the kind of countries I go to and the people I speak to. They open up to me. They don’t perceive me as a threat because I’m a woman. If I were a man and said something to a militant in Kashmir that he would deem offensive he would retaliate.”

Obaid met Channel 4’s Kevin Sutcliffe when seeking for funding for a co-production on an American project, which led to her work on Unreported World. She said British television audiences were more knowledgeable about global affairs because of more coverage.

‘In America they try and skirt around the issue whereas in England they are direct about what is happening in parts of the world. If you are doing a film about Pakistan for an American audience, first you have to tell them where the hell Pakistan is, what Pakistan is, its history – by the time you get into the story 10 minutes of the film is gone.”

Other winners in the awards included the Mail on Sunday’s Damien Lewis, recipient of the Popular Features award for his Darfur coverage, and ITV News’s Chris Rogers, who won the Children’s Rights award for his work on Romania’s unwanted children.

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