There is room for improvement in how media portrays Africa – Asher

Zain Asher is an anchor for CNN International based in New York. She anchors the new global news program, One World with Zain Asher, weekdays at 17:00 WAT on CNN International

In this interview with IFEOMA OKEKE, she speaks on her experience working with CNN in the last eight years and her new programme on CNN, ‘One World’.

How long have you worked with CNN and what has been the experience for you since then?

I can’t believe it’s been about eight years since I first joined CNN as a business reporter in New York. At the time, I had very little TV experience and no idea what to expect from a career at one of the world’s largest media companies. They threw me in the fire right away. I did live reports from the New York Stock Exchange, explored global economic trends, and interviewed CEOs. Around eighteen months later, I became an anchor. Now I host my own show One World which is a childhood dream come true. Working at CNN has been a glorious ride that has taken me all over the world and allowed me to be of service in a way I never imagined.

Being a Nigerian by blood, British by birth, and American by residence, how has this influenced your news reporting of various cultures and continents?

My background has allowed me to relate to people from all walks of life and see stories from multiple perspectives. It’s also pushed me to focus on diversity in the kinds of stories I cover and in the faces and voices we decide to feature on my show each day. My link to multiple cultures and continents is the guiding force behind ‘One World’.

Could you share some of your success stories as a Nigerian reporting for CNN and what lessons can upcoming journalists and those trying to find their feet learn from these successes?

This is something I tell everyone who asks me to mentor them: Make sure you find a specialty in journalism. It’s an incredibly competitive field, so having a specialty in something like, say, sports reporting, political reporting or business reporting will help aspiring journalists stand out. My focus on business reporting opened a lot of doors early on and gave me the big break that led to CNN.

There are assumptions that the international media mostly portray negative sides of Africa while reporting. What is your opinion on this?

I think there is a lot of room for improvement in how the media in general portrays Africa. As a Nigerian, I work hard to ensure my show highlights the fact that Africa is dynamic, diverse, and incredibly creative. Of course, the continent has suffered, and it has its fair share of obstacles (like any continent) but its potential is incredible, and its resilience is unparalleled.

Are there deliberate efforts made by CNN in reporting successes in Africa, especially Nigeria? Could you explain with examples?

This is something I’m really proud of. CNN has showcased Africa’s successes through feature shows like Inside Africa, Marketplace Africa, and African Voices.

My show, One World has only just launched and already we’ve covered African successes like Africa’s growing space program, the new NBA Africa entity, Nigeria’s Olympic dreams, social media giants making a play for Africa, and the fact that 3 of the top UFC champions are African-born — and we’re only just getting started.

Tell us about your new programme on CNN, ‘One World’ and why did CNN see the need to introduce this programme?

We’ve always had a breadth of Africa content through our feature shows, but my show really puts African news coverage shoulder-to-shoulder with Europe, the United States, and Asia. Our goal is to break through some of the stereotypes that still exist about Africa, educate viewers on the continent’s rich history and showcase its vast and varied potential.

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Who is your target audience for ‘One World’ and how do you hope to measure impact on viewers?

One World is a global news program in the truest sense of the word. It features every continent equally and creates room for the forgotten stories. As a result, we hope our viewership is as diverse as the stories we tell.

You were part of the CNN team that won a Peabody Award for its coverage of the 2014 kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls in Chibok, Nigeria. How was the experience for you and did this in any way influence your perception of Nigeria since then?

I consider the Chibok kidnapping one of the most heartbreaking stories I’ve ever covered. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare; losing a child in such a terrifying way and being unable to get any answers from the government. It opened my eyes to the reality of what people are going through in the northern part of the country, where there is growing insecurity, inequality, and youth unemployment for very complex reasons. I love Nigeria deeply and I just hope we figure out a solution.

What is your advice for young females looking to build a career with the international media as well as build a family of their own?

It takes a lot of juggling, planning, and careful time management. I’m also lucky that my husband is extremely hands-on with our son, so I have some flexibility if there’s breaking news or if I get called into work on a weekend. I’m not sure how I would manage without such a giving partner. As an aside, there’s a much larger conversation to be had on equality around this point. So many of the barriers that exist for women in every workplace revolve around childcare, so giving serious thought to issues like paternity leave and flexible working for both parents is essential to progress.

What differentiates CNN from other foreign media outlets in delivering timely and data-based reports?

In my experience, it’s really more about accuracy than speed. There’s a saying we hear often at CNN, “better right than first,” which is a guiding principle for all of us. To make sure we’re getting it right, we meticulously review reports, articles, sourcing, and scripts. I’m not saying other outlets don’t take it seriously too, but CNN’s standards are exceptionally high.

Could you mention some of the modern technologies CNN deployed in professionally covering events and happenings across the world?

So much has changed during my time at CNN. In the studio, our digital and HD technology has been replaced by sophisticated IP-based systems that allow us to communicate easily and instantly with teams around the world. I’m not a tech person, but I’m constantly in awe of the engineers in our field teams, especially when they’re reporting from conflict zones or natural disasters. One thing that distinguishes CNN from other international broadcasters is our seamless ability to anchor in the field, and a lot of that expertise comes from the knowledge our teams have picked up when working in extreme situations.