We’ve all seen TV pictures of the BBC newsroom in London, as they form the backdrop to the corporation’s TV bulletins. Charu Shahane works in its hub, the nerve centre where the critical decisions are made as to what constitutes the news on any given day.
The day we interviewed Charu, she was South Asia Editor, deciding on the news stories from that region.
Charu Shahane is a Senior Broadcast Journalist at the BBC’s World Service -- the international radio operation. Part of the role involves being Central Duty Editor, a deputy to the Senior Duty Editor, who “Decides what stories are going in; what is, and what isn’t important. This team takes all the decisions and sets the global news agenda for the day.
We get correspondents round the world to file stories that are considered important enough to be highlighted by the BBC.”
The BBC has a set of domestic radio networks but the World Service is the international one. It has the biggest global audience of any network in the world- and Charu loves her post at this critical international platform.
Often, in lonely dark corners of the planet, the World Service is the only means by which listeners can learn about the outside world.
Charu writes stories on the basis of the global headlines, and produces bulletins. “Every hour, at one minute past the hour, you get a five minute bulletin- we are the people who do that,” she explains.
Charu has had an exciting career to date - with much more to come. She says, “I’ve been to many conflict areas which have been personally and professionally challenging. I have been to Chechnya, Colombia, northern Uganda and Kashmir among others - all conflict-ridden. But the highlight, really, was Afghanistan. I was part of a BBC scheme to do with skills- sharing and I worked with a women’s organisation for three months. It was the time when the Taliban had just been ousted. It was a life- changing experience for me.”
Moving or Upsetting Experiences During the Working Career
Charu Shahane is a modest person and doesn’t reveal that making a series called “I have a Right to...” about human rights in countries like Rwanda, Ingushetia and Colombia put her in the path of danger. In Colombia she interviewed rebels in their hideout. And it was in Colombia that she had her most upsetting experience. She remembers;
“The only time in my career that I have ever broken down and cried after an interview was when I spoke to the mother of an 11-year-old girl who had been kidnapped in Colombia. I was speaking to her many years after the child had been kidnapped. The mother had not stopped looking for this girl and I just imagined a child who had been trafficked, or been put to work as a sex slave. At the same time, somewhere, that child must also have been thinking the same thing; that ‘one day I am going to try to find my mother.’ But neither would have been certain they would meet again... Heartbreaking.”
The Hardest Challenge?
As challenges go, Charu found that “getting into Chechnya from Ingushetia was really difficult. Most people in the BBC, indeed all reporters, were being refused permission by the Russian authorities but I got them to agree. We didn’t stay long in Chechnya. We just stayed in overnight, did our story, and came out again.”
So how did Charu overcome the hurdle of getting permission where other BBC journalists had failed?
“With dogged persistence. Of course I was helped by a researcher who had some Russian.” Reflecting on how she did what she did, she adds, “You learn ways of talking to people. And of explaining what your story is. For some reason the Russians were difficult with others from the BBC but were not so with me.”
And finally, what is needed to get to the position that she holds now?
“Resilience; a lot of it. Of course you need to be good at the job but the BBC is stuffed full of very good people. You have to keep going for opportunities; you can’t stop. There are many knock backs and knock downs. You just have to pick yourself up and keep going.
Everybody has knock backs...the job that you wanted that you didn’t get, and so on. For me, there have been many of those. You have to identify why you didn't get it, correct that and keep trying.”
We’re glad you keep trying, Charu! Keep up the good work!