Human rights to me is the basic respect to human dignity: Stephen Sackur
Stephen Sackur is a senior journalist and the regular host for BBC’s news program Hard Talk. After taking over the show from veteran journalist Tim Sebastian in 2004, Sackur has interviewed an array of prominent international leaders and personalities like–President Felipe Calderón of Mexico, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, President Shimon Peres of Israel, Chairman Mahmoud Abbas of the PA, President Jalal Talabani of Iraq, Greek former minister of Health Adonis Georgiadis, Prime Minister of Moldova Iurie Leanca, US vice-president Al Gore, former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, to name a few. The Association for International Broadcasting (AIB) awarded him the ‘International TV Personality of the Year’ in November 2010.
The Oslo Times International News Network had caught up with Sackur in Oslo a few days back and unlike what we are usually used to, this time round, it was Sackur who was in the hot seat as the Editor-in-Chief of the Oslo Times International News Network, Hatef Mokhtar spun questions at him in an exclusive interview focused on global human rights issues.
The excerpts below are a concise version of the interesting talk that followed:
What does human rights mean to you?
Human rights to me is the basic respect to human dignity and that involves everything from right to life, which I think is the most fundamental right to all the things we need to thrive as human beings, shelter, sufficient food and water, but then obviously political rights the right to have a voice in a society, the right to express ourselves, the right to have a role to shaping the politics of our society with a vote, with a ability to hold our politicians and people who are in power to account. Those are all the things that to me are fundamental to a full human life.
My next question, can you tell me a little about media freedom in the United Kingdom?
I think we are lucky in the UK, we have a pretty free media, though it’s not perfect. You know we have issues about the degree of secrecy there is in the government, about the amount of access we have to all of the information about our own government. But, when I compare the situation we have in the UK with the situation I have seen in so many countries that I have travelled to as part of my job, I feel fortunate that I work as a journalist in Britain because we have the ability to criticize our government, we have the ability to say what we want to say in the media and as a practicing journalist for me that means I am able to do my job without fear. That is very important.
I am certain you know a lot about various regimes across the world, what are your views on totalitarian and dictatorial regimes that exist today?
Yeah, I have worked in authoritarian and totalitarian regimes. They do not respect the rights of journalists and frankly speaking they don’t respect the rights of their own people. They don’t believe in the idea that the public should be informed in what is truly happening in their country and in their government. I find this extraordinarily depressing and I find it very difficult to do my job in those totalitarian societies. It is difficult for any journalist, local or international, to operate in such societies and I would not want to live in such societies.
Can you tell me a little about yourself, who are you?
I am just somebody, who from a very early age wanted to do two things; to travel around the world and see different societies, different places very far from my own, and the way different people live. And also I am somebody who had a great deal of curiosity. I always, even as a kid, asked the question like , why were things like this, why were people behaving that way and those two things have kept me going as a journalist, throughout my life. You know I am still a very curious person, I cannot resist asking questions .My wife would tell you I’m a very argumentative person. I like a good argument, a good debate and I’m still somebody who loves to travel the world, because I love measuring what I know against what other people know and I am learning all the time. Even today, I do travel and I still learn an awful lot.
What is your view on the Nobel Peace Prize, today?
It is a symbolic moment, isn’t it? Every year the Nobel Committee gets a chance to recognize somebody, not just as an individual but also as the symbol of a movement, a cause or a particular conflict zone that has been either, you know addressed or needs to be addressed, by the international community. So the committee of the Nobel has real power to help us focus on a particular challenge and this year I actually liked their choice, because the rights of children around the world and the abuse of children around the world is perhaps an issue that many of us ignore or find it easy to look the other way to. So, Nobel have taken the opportunity this year to ask us all to think about it and to focus on it and they found two wonderful individuals to embody the cause.
This year, obviously having met both of the winners, spoken to them and learnt more about their particular campaigning work, I am impressed with both of them. And what is interesting is that they both belong to very different generations. At first I was quite skeptical about how could a schoolgirl of 17 be worthy of this global award, but there is something very special about her. You know I have seventeen year olds of my own, I have twins who are seventeen and then to meet Malala and she’s 17 too and to consider what she has been through and the strength, determination and the courage she has and the ability she has to reach out to people around the world with her message, that is something quite extraordinary.
One last Question, there are hundreds of human rights activists who have been imprisoned in countries like Iran, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and in many other countries including the African countries, what message do you have for the totalitarian regimes?
My message to them is release yourselves and your societies from fear. Don’t fear people but try to embrace the people you claim to represent. And the first thing you should do is empty your prisons of political prisoners, and the human rights campaigners. These are the very people who are seeking to express a voice to find a path to freedom and democracy in countries that need it badly. I have no illusions about whether my voice makes any difference or not. But also I want you to understand that I salute these people, who work in impossible circumstances, trying to pursue human rights causes, trying to speak out for their own citizens, in places that are fundamentally dangerous. I have the luxury of sitting in London and working for the BBC and knowing that I will not get locked up or anything for what I say. So I truly salute the brave people, both men and women, who do that work in very dangerous circumstances.
Editor’s Note: Stephen has been my idol and he is not just a wonderful journalist but is an even more wonderful person.And I personally feel that the world of investigative journalism should take pride in him.
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