31, and already a NYT best selling author, investigative journalist
and television presenter. That's Simon Reeve for you. Reeve is coming
to Indian screens on BBC World on July 10, when he begins a four-part
documentary series on Central Asia. While the journey through the
four Stans, is itself a riveting and eye opening presentation, Reeve
is better known as the author who first warned the world of apocalyptic
terrrorism and Osama bin Laden in his 1998 book The New Jackals:Ramzi
Yousef, Osama bin Laden and the future of terrorism.
has been known for his painstaking research that underlines all
his work. Whether it was spending hours in disguise searching for
a Lebanese arms smuggler for his book or fending off secret police
in the Stans documentaries, Reeve underscores the need for verified
fact and deeper meanings to enhance an already riveting story.
in London, Reeve has been studying terrorist groups since the early
1990s. After starting work as a post-boy on The Sunday Times, he
became a researcher at the paper and then a Staff Writer - the youngest
on a British broadsheet. He now works as an author and writer, and
as a consultant on international terrorism, counter-terrorism and
his latest assignment, Reeve traveled from the far northwest of
Kazakhstan, by the Russian border, to the eastern fringes of Central
Asia, by the Chinese border, south through Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan
to the Afghan border, and west to Uzbekistan and the legendary Silk
Road cities of Samarkand and Bukhara. In a telephonic chat with
indiantelevision.com, Reeve talks about his work, the state of investigative
journalism today, and more. Extracts -
started you on this assignment?
BBC has always been taking up issues and areas that I was concerned
about. This series also explores similar issues that I had pondering
over, and finally we filmed it last year, over a period of six months,
requiring three trips to the region.
it must have been an exploratory journey even for you, to venture
into a region you had not been to before?
it was more of an exploratory trip for me. Although I had been writing
about terrorism and related issues, I had never been to Central
Our journey started from the northwest, near the Russian border,
and led us through trains, helicopters and assorted means of transport
to the south, towards Tajikistan. The motive of course, was to explore
the issues that the region is grappling with and we met some really
incredible people along the way.
you face any problems on your sojourn through the region?
have traveled widely in the Islamic world, and my experience is
that people there are far more hospitable than people in Europe.We
had the standard problems one has while on such a journey, like
having four tyre punctures in the course of a single day! At times,
we also had the secret police following us, and we were racing against
time as we completed the assignment.
news channels and journals seem to be becoming more combative,
which I think is a sign of a healthy democracy"
must be one of the youngest investigative journalists on air today.
How did you start your career?
started with the Sunday Times, worked my way up to become a staff
writer. That was six years ago. I wrote several books in the interim,
based on my journalistic experiences. I even spoke with several
television companies, but not many were ready to take the plunge.
When BBC came up with the idea of exploring the Stans, I jumped
at the chance. While I had done a lot of punditry on talk shows
on the subject of terrorism (laughs), this was to be the first show
I did as a presenter.
must have been really young when you started, considering you are
only 31 now!
was 18 when I started. I did not go to university, prefering to
start working. While that may have seemed like a handicap some times,
I feel I have gained more with my experience on the job. And I have
worked on one of the best newspapers in the UK and with some of
the best journalists!
enough being done in the arena of investigative journalism on television
in the UK?
Not enough. Television is dominated by soaps and reality shows.
Personally speaking, the BBC stands out against this trend by offering
some good investigative journalism, perhaps because of its role
as a public service broadcaster. The Stans series, particularly,
is a good example of how you can make an effective and credible
programme on a strange part of the world.
kind of resources did the BBC offer at your disposal to fulfil this
had very good resources at our disposal. Besides, the BBC itself
is a powerful name that opened access to individuals and even the
powers that be, it opened doors that otherwise would probably not
have opened for us. Besides, it was quite an emotional experience
to see people respond to the BBC name in different ways. In Uzbekistan
for instance, there was this man who came up and actually said 'thank
you' to me, claiming that it was the BBC which he tuned in to on
an illegal radio set, during the communist regime which helped him
to live through those days!
must also have been some unpleasant experiences you encountered
in your travels?
Some, yes. There are several ethnic Russians who moved to Central
Asia during Stalin's regime. After the collapse of the Soviet Union,
pension payments were frozen over the decades, while hyper inflation
set in. On my journey, we met several perfectly respectable women
reduced to begging on the streets for a living. That was not very
pleasant to watch.
were one of the first to warn about the potential of the Al Qaeda.
when my book first came out in 1998 there was considerable reluctance
both in the UK and the US to believe that the Al Qaeda was capable
of launching terrorism in a big way, whereas after my research it
was fairly obvious to me that the organisation was quite keen, willing
and able to go ahead with its terrorism plans. One review of my
book even accused me of scaremongering, but I knew I had my facts
right. Today, sometimes I question myself if the situation would
have been different if my caution had been heeded...
investigative journalism on television not favoured much for lack
of demand for such shows?
That may not be true. It is basically a less attractive proposition
for makers of such shows as they cost a lot and need a lot of time
investment too. Which is why not many TV stations are ready to fund
major documentaries, at least in the UK.
the scenario is chaning now, thanks to viewer preferences. There
is a backlash against the continued onslaught of reality TV , and
we are now seeing a revival of serious programming.
from what I have been hearing and reading about the Indian media,
Indian news channels and journals seem to be becoming more combative,
which I think is a sign of a healthy democracy. In India probably
what is needed more is news in a language the people understand,
which could mean more of regional news channels would work better.
the next project on your plate?
is this new documentary that I begin shooting for the BBC next year.
In the next five years, I hope to have fanned out to various media,
rather than restrict myself to writing for one single newspaper!