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Yalda Hakim says Sky News are ‘insurgents’ as she leads primetime hour of foreign coverage

And why social media has made reporting on Israel and Gaza a nightmare.

By Bron Maher

Yalda Hakim says she has “fire in her belly” and has found a “natural home” at Sky News where she is leading a nightly hour of foreign news coverage in primetime.

She told Press Gazette that the show, which airs at 9pm Monday to Thursday starting tonight (22 January), aims to be more than a foreign news bulletin.

“By nine o’clock in the evening, most people will know what’s going on domestically and internationally,” Hakim said. So The World with Yalda Hakim “is about offering something that is slightly different, that’s edgier”.

She said the programme will have the first goal of holding people in positions of power to account. But the second will be to “humanise what goes on internationally so that they’re not ‘the other’ in some faraway place”.

Hakim noted that in recent years, world news stories have quickly become domestic ones. Shipping containers under attack by Houthis in Yemen, she said, “have vacuum cleaners, have toys, have TV sets in them. It’s going to eventually impact us.

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“How do you help the audience understand that what goes on over there, and foreign news that goes on somewhere else, is actually directly impacting our lives? I think that’s what this hour of television is going to be.

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“It’s not about trying to be earnest or worthy. These are issues that impact every single day what goes on globally, impact people here in Britain, impact an ever-more interconnected world.”

Sky News has shuffled its primetime line-up recently, installing Sophy Ridge at the 7pm slot on Mondays to Thursdays with her show Politics Hub.

Hakim said the evening offering had been “revamped”: “We’ve got politics at 7pm. We’ve got the UK and [domestic] news at 8pm. And then at nine is a global offering.”

She also appeared to nod at international ambitions for the show, saying: “This will be a show that will be streamed online, it will have a digital footprint – so people globally will be able to watch.”

Yalda Hakim on BBC exit: ‘I would see Sky vehicles zooming past, and I envied that’

Hakim’s move to Sky News came after 11 years spent at the BBC – and only a few months after she was named as one of the chief presenters on the new BBC News channel that was formed from a cost-saving merger of the corporation’s domestic and World News channels.

The merger required long-established presenters to audition for roles on the new channel, which features both UK and international stories.

Asked whether the consolidation influenced her decision to leave, Hakim said the BBC “is deeply embedded in my heart. I still have a very soft spot for the BBC. I love it deeply, I think it’s essential, both in the UK and internationally”. She added the BBC was “a set of values”, and that she is still aligned to those values.

She also fondly described the respect that the BBC name bestowed, recalling once entering al-Qaeda territory in Yemen to cover an uptick in the group’s recruitment success following a US drone operation.

Wearing an abaya and her face fully covered, Hakim said “suddenly my vehicle was encircled. I was terrified. That was a life-or-death situation – it felt like that at the time.

“I came out of the car and I said: ‘BBC!’ And immediately they were like: ‘Oh, the World Service!’ and they wanted to talk. And we sat on the side of the road and we talked for more than an hour.”

The Sky News international team, she said, “are the best in the world. They are the best in class. They are fearless and they’re courageous.

“When I was standing at checkpoints for hours on end because BBC bureaucracy had kicked in and we couldn’t go over because, you know, 56 managers needed to make a decision about whether we go or not, I would see Sky vehicles zooming past. And I envied that.

“I described them as insurgents and this kind of hunger that they have in their belly… When I talk about values, that’s also where my values are aligned. I have a fire in my belly. And I have found a very natural home for myself here at Sky.”

‘I think that you can be aggressively impartial’

The war in Gaza has brought intense scrutiny to the editorial choices of news providers and allegations that coverage favours either Israel or Hamas.

Hakim said that what marked the current conflict out from others she has covered was the influence of social media.

“No matter what you do, you’re unfair to the other side. No matter how you report this conflict, you’re unfair in how you’re doing it. No matter what the angle of your interview, whatever angle you take, you’re being unfair. And I think that that has been a challenge.

“At the end of the day the only thing I can [ask] myself is: am I being truthful and true to my values, my journalistic high standards?

“Every time I go into one of these interviews – whether it’s with a hostage family or a Gazan family that’s fled or is in Gaza, or trying to understand the tragedy of the Palestinians or the pain of the Israelis… and what they felt after October 7 – am I being true to the standards that I hold myself to?

“I go in and I prepare, prepare, prepare, and I go in and try and have empathy with whichever side.”

Although she described herself as a “ferocious” believer in journalistic objectivity, Hakim said: “I think that you can be aggressively impartial. You have to seek the truth. You have to go after the facts. These are the things that are under attack and are being threatened right now.”

The audience “don’t need to hear what my feelings are,” she said, but “my job is not just to sit on a fence. My job isn’t to try and be balanced. My job is to seek the truth”.

As for her own social media use, she said: “I think it’s best not to look. When I was coming through the ranks a very senior journalist, and a very famous anchor in Australia, said to me: ‘Kid, don’t read it. Whether it’s good or bad. You don’t want to be praised and you don’t want the hate. Just do your job and do it to the best of your ability.’ And that’s what I think I focus on.”

‘The backbone of what we’re doing is reliant on Gazan journalists’

Hakim wouldn’t be drawn on whether, like CNN correspondent Clarissa Ward, she would attempt to enter Gaza without IDF accompaniment.

“I think it’s really important for journalists to be able to get on the ground and be able to report from places like Gaza, where obviously Western journalists are not allowed to go. 

“But the backbone of what we’re doing is reliant on Gazan journalists, Palestinian journalists right now risking their lives, dying en masse to report on what’s going on in their territory.”

On a recent trip to Doha, Hakim said she met a senior Gazan journalist with whom Sky worked and who had been evacuated out of the strip with four of her children.

“She was adamant: ‘We want to continue, we have teams on the ground, we want to continue to ensure that information does come out.’

“And we are seeing information come out. We are seeing, despite the deaths that they are facing, despite the injuries, despite being homeless and living out of tents or in the streets in quite cold conditions, they continue to work.”

She said it was important, working with journalists elsewhere in the world, “to remind them that, even though we’re in the West, we’re here, and we hear them, and we know what they’re going through and they are our colleagues. And we stand with them”.

[Read more: Israel-Hamas journalist deaths]

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
  • Business owner/co-owner
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  • Manager
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