George Alagiah obituary


The international correspondent and newsreader George Alagiah, who has died aged 67 of most cancers, was certainly one of Britain’s most revered tv journalists, with a popularity constructed up over a few years of overlaying world occasions.

In a enterprise typically seen as cut-throat, George was regarded by colleagues as likable and first rate, a view shared by thousands and thousands of viewers. For the BBC he reported on the famine and the US intervention in Somalia within the early Nineteen Nineties, and on the genocide in Rwanda and its aftermath. He was one of many information workforce who in 1999 secured photos of ethnic cleaning in Kosovo, for which they gained the Bafta for finest information and present affairs journalism.

George’s reporting and evaluation had been all the time enhanced by private expertise. He noticed Africa’s “wind of change” at first hand, rising up in Ghana within the 60s when hopes had been excessive for the newly impartial states; and later, as a BBC international correspondent, reporting on the bloodshed, famine and illness because the African dream collapsed. At residence, he was not afraid to touch upon problems with race and multiculturalism within the UK, or on the position of the BBC itself.

He was a migrant twice over, transferring from Sri Lanka to Ghana on the age of six, after which to Britain when he was 11. Born in Colombo, he was the son of Therese (nee Santiapillai) and Donald Alagiah.

“My dad and mom moved us first to Africa after which to Britain, all the time searching for one thing higher for his or her kids,” he wrote. His father was a civil engineer who determined to go away Sri Lanka after anti-Tamil riots. George arrived in Ghana as a boy in December 1961, 4 years after the nation had gained its freedom from Britain. It was the period of African liberation.

In his ebook A Passage to Africa (2001), Alagiah described how his father was interviewed for a job by the chief government of Ghana’s water division, noting it as a small signal of change: “An African was recruiting an Asian, with no white man mediating between his erstwhile prices. The brand new order was asserting itself over the outdated.”

“For me,” he wrote, “the earliest proof of our new, elevated standing was the acquisition of our first automotive in Ghana, a Mercedes-Benz, simply days after setting foot on the continent. Seven years later, by the point I used to be despatched to boarding college in England, I used to be calling Ghana my residence. I appeared like a Ghanaian and thought like a Ghanaian.”

At St John’s faculty in Portsmouth, Hampshire, a Catholic college, he was certainly one of a handful of youngsters of international dad and mom. The boy from Sri Lanka wished to slot in, as he had in Ghana. “You do that factor that the migrant does,” he informed an interviewer in 2004. “You’re determined to shed one pores and skin and tackle the pores and skin of the place you’re in, and subconsciously that’s what I did.”

He gained a level in politics from Durham College, the place he met his future spouse, Frances Robathan (they married in 1984), after which utilized unsuccessfully to affix the BBC’s graduate trainee scheme. The rejection “damage quite a bit” on the time, he stated, however looking back he was glad of it, saying it gave him a breadth of expertise that many BBC trainees didn’t have. As a substitute, in 1982, he joined South journal, which lined the creating world with the philosophy that “an unequal world is an unstable world”.

He grew to become its Africa editor, and in 1989 joined the BBC as a international correspondent, specialising in Africa and the creating world. Over the following few years, his stories on the famine in Somalia gained awards from the Royal Tv Society, Amnesty Worldwide, the Broadcasting Press Guild, the Monte Carlo TV pageant and the James Cameron Memorial Belief.

In 1994, George was almost killed whereas overlaying the civil warfare in Afghanistan. About to knock on the door of a authorities official who lived close to the place the place he was staying, he remembered he had left one thing behind and turned again. Twenty seconds later, a rocket destroyed the official’s home. He wrote later: “There have been plenty of occasions in Sierra Leone, Somalia, Liberia once I placed on a bulletproof vest and mentally ready myself for hazard. However right here, demise would have come out of the blue. It was a really unusual, destabilising factor.”

That yr, he started a four-year posting because the BBC’s southern Africa correspondent, primarily based in Johannesburg, overlaying the genocide in Rwanda and the occasions that adopted, together with mass migration and cholera. “To be in Goma presently was like being transported again to a scene from the Outdated Testomony,” he wrote. “In lower than every week, about one million individuals trudged throughout the border from Rwanda into Zaire [now Democratic Republic of the Congo].”

He discovered it probably the most difficult task that he had skilled. “The crux of the matter was whether or not to deal with the exodus as primarily a humanitarian or a political drawback,” he wrote. “Cholera, that almost all indiscriminate of killers, was about to be unleashed on a inhabitants of one million individuals who had no technique of escape. The genocide was forgotten and cholera grew to become the story.”

Additional afield, he lined the commerce in human organs in India, avenue kids in Brazil, the persecution of Kurds in Iraq and the Asian tsunami. In 1998, Alagiah was voted media persona of the yr within the Ethnic Minority Media Awards. The next yr noticed his stories from Kosovo, a narrative during which he took satisfaction. Shortly after, he gave up travelling to “don the sharp fits of the studio-based presenter”, as he put it, first on the BBC Information Channel, then on the One O’Clock Information.

In 2002, when BBC4 was launched, he introduced the BBC’s first nightly information bulletin devoted to international information. A yr later, he joined the presenters of the BBC Six O’Clock Information. In 2008 he was appointed OBE.

For seven years, he was a patron of the Fairtrade Basis, a charity that lobbies governments to realize a greater deal for smallholder farmers in Africa and elsewhere. In 2009, regardless of his and the charity’s protests, the BBC made him hand over the position, citing a possible battle of curiosity. He was about to current a BBC Two sequence known as The Way forward for Meals and there have been fears his impartiality may very well be seen to be undermined.

George took situation with the BBC’s director normal, Greg Dyke, when he described the BBC as “hideously white”. Commenting in 2001 that the BBC’s drawback was certainly one of tradition, not race, George stated that though the higher echelons had been nonetheless “overwhelmingly white, male and center class”, he noticed the rising variety of black and Asian reporters as an indication of progress. He stated these he knew who had moved on from the company “did so for more cash and higher jobs, not as a result of they discover the place unwelcoming or racist”.

There was controversy when his ebook A Residence from Residence (2006) was serialised within the Every day Mail below the frontpage headline “My fears for apartheid UK”. In a single passage he wrote that multiculturalism was partly answerable for the emergence of segregated areas similar to these “apartheid’s social engineers dreamed of”.

Interviewed within the Guardian, he accepted the analogy was provocative however insisted he had been cautious to restrict it: “Whereas in South Africa it was by design, right here we seem to have blundered into it.” His ultimate ebook, The Burning Land (2019), was a political thriller primarily based in post-apartheid South Africa.

He was a passionate believer within the significance of the BBC. “I’ve been to locations the place they don’t have a public service broadcaster, the place they tune in to the BBC on the dot every single day as a result of they see one thing that’s reliable and authoritative,” he stated. “It’s a very treasured flower that we in Britain have gotten and I can’t for the lifetime of me perceive why anybody would need to trample on it.”

His prognosis of bowel most cancers in 2014 led to an operation. He returned to work the following yr, however additional absences for therapy adopted, and he stepped down from presenting late in 2022.

He’s survived by Frances and their sons, Adam and Matthew.


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