Posted Thursday 27 July 2023
Award-winning journalist and broadcaster Samira Ahmed has reflected on championing gender equality, the importance of graduate jobs in the news media and writing herself into the history of the Beatles while collecting an honorary degree from Kingston University.
Ms Ahmed was awarded a Doctor of Letters in recognition of her contribution to journalism and gender equality in a ceremony at Kingston's Rose Theatre. Having grown up in the borough, Ms Ahmed said she felt a particular affinity with the University, admiring its history, reputation and the support offered to students – especially those who were the first in their families to complete a degree.
In more recent times she has consolidated her connection with the University as a visiting professor – a role which has seen her deliver lectures on a range of subjects including the relationship between journalists and politicians, the art of news writing and the mavericks of the world of cinema. "What I've learned from working with the University's students has been infinitely valuable," she said of her experiences as a lecturer. "I'm very conscious that this generation lost their first year to the lockdown in the pandemic and it wasn't much easier in their second year. They've had a tough deal and should be very proud of themselves and their resilience."
Last week journalist and broadcaster @SamiraAhmedUK was awarded Doctor of Letters for her contribution to journalism and gender equality 🙌🎓— Kingston University (@KingstonUni) August 2, 2023
She spoke about how it felt to receive the award, her kingston roots and how trust is a key part of a great interview 💙#MadeInKingston pic.twitter.com/WqiuVMD0R8
With a career spanning 30 years, the broadcast legend currently hosts Radio 4's culture programme Front Row and Newswatch on BBC News, and writes a column in New Humanist magazine. She was a reporter and presenter for 11 years on Channel 4 News and has written extensively for The Guardian and Observer. Her accolades include being named Stonewall Broadcaster of the Year and the British Broadcasting Press Guild Audio Presenter of the Year, while her documentaries, on both television and radio, explore the intersection of popular culture, science, politics and social change.
In 2020 Ms Ahmed won a landmark sex discrimination employment tribunal against the BBC for equal pay. "Once I discovered the pay gap on Newswatch was 700% I couldn't let it go," she said. "I wish I could say my case has made everything different, but one thing it has done is made people more aware of the situation."
Looking back at the media landscape when she graduated, Ms Ahmed emphasised the importance of entry-level jobs for media graduates and lamented the demise of local news, which often provided those opportunities. "My first job was work experience at the Kingston Guardian and I still have my cuttings," she said. "These days, we're losing important things local journalists do, like covering court cases and council planning issues."
Young journalists were, however, now able to make a mark quickly with blog posts or by capturing news as it unfolded, she said. "As a reporter you can be on location, cover a story yourself, put it on your feed and people will start noticing. I've always been excited by the potential of live streaming on social media," she said.
One of her recent stories that gained worldwide attention saw Ms Ahmed uncover the earliest known complete concert recording of The Beatles when reporting on a story about the 60th anniversary of the legendary band's performance at Stowe School in 1963. "The person who made the recording had kept it for 60 years, making a decision not to talk about it. However, he knew my work, trusted me and gave me the scoop of my life," she explained. "It was a really moving story about the impact of the band and the moment just before they became world icons."
The Beatles connection doesn't end there, she was invited to interview Sir Paul McCartney at an event for the release of his book, The Lyrics. Madonna, Adam Ant and Depeche Mode remain on her interview wish list. "I am really lucky. I go to the theatre, watch films, attend art exhibitions and read amazing books," she said. "Being a news journalist at heart has been essential to treating every story well while expressing the joy of covering great art."
The University's Head of Journalism, Publishing and Media, Beth Brewster, said Ms Ahmed exemplified the type of journalist Kingston students should aspire to emulate, always questioning assumptions and seeking the truth. "Samira Ahmed embodies an abiding belief in the value of ethical journalism – something that is needed now more than ever," she said. "As the media hugely influences our perceptions about the role of women in society, Samira's battle for gender equality in broadcasting and journalism is vital. Inequalities undo the transformative power the media can have in creating inclusive societies that give access to information empowering women around the world to claim their rights and make better decisions."