Magnetismo mediterraneo

The Italian excellence lives also in Al Jazeera English

An old Arabic proverb says that a woman’s beauty is not in her face. Those that have had the good fortune of meeting Barbara Serra in person know that hers goes well beyond the Mediterranean features of one of the front faces of Al Jazeera English, the English-speaking version of Al Jazeera, the Arabic broadcast network headquartered in Qatar. Alluring, intelligent and radiant, Barbara Serra is a full-fledged Italian talent ahead of the times. The third millennium – an ever increasingly global village whose building blocks are information – is narrated by this award-winning journalist straight from AJE’s headquarters in London, the city she has called home for almost two decades. In many respects, Barbara has quite a bit in common with the television network where she works. While the channel was born five years ago in order to «offer a different image of itself to the world», Barbara, whose name the ancient Romans used for foreigners, in many ways has always been “different”. Of Italian descent, raised in Denmark, and an adopted Londoner, Barbara embodies a rare combination of Mediterranean warmth and Northern European mentality. This is a winning match for those who aspire to fit perfectly into an ever more multi-ethnic world. But let’s start from the beginning… Born in Milan of a Sicilian mother and Sardinian father, when she was eight years old she moved with her family to Copenhagen to follow her father, Giorgio. It is here that her path as a cultural ambassador of Italy, a country «from which I picked up a great sense of humanity, and from which», Barbara proudly declares, «I got my sense of duty». The latter rings as an echo of her father, one of the first chemical engineers that graduated from the University of Rome. Once having overcome an impasse early on, her years in Denmark catapulted her into a whole new society. «I was a shy girl, and as soon as I arrived, I was conscious of being the only dark-haired one and was afraid of being rejected», says Barbara. She then adds, «In some aspects, it is a society light years ahead of other European countries». They left her with a gift that may be defined as invaluable confidence as a woman. Barbara took well advantage of this confidence in her own abilities. «I had the chance to make choices that neither my grandmother nor my mother was able to make», she says. And so it was that at nineteen-years-old, Barbara moved to London, a city that, she tells us, «offers you the opportunity to become what you’ve always dreamed, while at the same time, it teaches you the value of meritocracy and how to face up to competition. A lesson to be learned». There she enrolled in the London School of Economics, where she studied international relations before finishing her master’s degree at the City University, where the prestigious “Wall of Fame” bears her photo which still today appears alongside that of other giants of journalism. Upon termination of her studies, she earned an internship at CNN just at the dawn of the Gulf War. In those days, holding this broadcasting station’s microphone live from Baghdad was Christiane Amanpour, «an alluring journalist and extremely inspiring figure». In 2000, she arrived at the BBC, where, after a period learning the ropes and «waking up at 5:00 a.m. in the morning and even making tea for co-workers right after getting to work», she was taken on as a reporter for BBC London News. Three years later, she moved on to Sky News where she covered major international events like the funerals of Pope John Paul II and the Michael Jackson trial. In 2005 came the first cherry on top of the cake in a career that was to yield great satisfaction; Barbara was hired by Channel 5 as anchorwoman. It was the first time in Great Britain’s history that a journalist that is not a native English speaker anchored the evening prime time news. The “foreigner” was accepted, and so entered softly into the houses of millions of people. «It wasn’t easy», Barbara confesses. At Sky they wanted to show her the door because of her accent after just a few months. «I said it was a problem that could be solved». When they objected, claiming she was playing at mission impossible, Barbara simply replied, «You’ve never come across anybody like me, linguistically speaking». And it was as good as done. She stayed on for another three years.  In 2007 her career at the London headquarters of Al Jazeera English, the satellite channel «that makes its focus on diversity and pluralism its main weapon», began. This plurality makes AJE the television network of reference on the major themes affecting the Middle East. The latest example was the coverage of the Arab Spring, for which Al Jazeera – as had also been the case right after September 11 – played a key role, said Barbara, «without meaning to downplay the part played by the Anglo-Saxon channels BBC and CNN». This heterogeneity is also reflected by the varied editorial office where Barbara works. «We are an Arabic broadcast network, but the editorial office is the workplace of Catholics, Jews and Protestants. This creates a much more balanced equilibrium», says Barbara. It also adds to the network’s freedom.  She adds, «We are a TV network that doesn’t hesitate to stand up to Middle Eastern leaders, and doesn’t stop there». With AJE Barbara has done reporting and international investigations from Washington to the Gaza Strip, often finding herself at the forefront alongside those that are writing history. She doesn’t back down from tête-à-tête confrontations with them in their own territory, as occurred with certain Israeli and Palestinian generals who were a bit annoyed by her questions. Her thoughts? «It is cause for pride for a journalist». In 2009 she covered Pope Benedict XVI’s voyage to the Holy Land as an accredited journalist of the Pope’s delegation. This was the first time this happened to a journalist from the Arabic broadcast network, an event that, for some, represents a small but genuine bridge between different cultures and religions. Naturally,    the collaborations with Italian television couldn’t be left out. She is the resident talk show host for TV Talk, the Rai 3 program on international television shows and since 2011 is the host for Cosmo, a show on scientific revelations that addresses major issues for the future, which even earned her the name “the science woman». Today, Barbara Serra, now seated on the sofa in an elegant and welcoming apartment in West London, can claim to have made her dreams come true. The once shy girl has become an internationally renowned journalist. I ask her what her secret is, her mantra. She flashes a smile that masks her embarrassment before this slightly cheek question and offers me her «bumper sticker wisdom» one of those phrases on stickers that in USA you see stuck to the bumpers of cars which is: «Winners do what losers don’t want to do». There’s no denying it, Barbara is an ambitious one, but honest as well, and, deservingly, is a woman of success.

Federico Gatti

Born in Milan in 1983, but an adopted Londoner, Federico  set foot in perfidious Albion in 2009 for his master’s degree in journalism at the City University. Following a brief, yet delightful stint as a food critic during his studies, Federico was “drafted” by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, where he learned how to carry out  an investigation as if going on an adventure. It was there that he performed investigations on organized crime, European funds and human rights for various international newspapers and broadcast networks. To name a few, he collaborated with the Financial Times, Channel 14 and Al Jazeera English as well as with the BBC, at which time he won the “Thomson Reuters Reporting Europe Prize 2011” for a documentary on Structural Funds. Since November 2011, Federico has been the London correspondent for the Italian news channels TGCom24 and ALL NEWS for Mediaset Group, not to mention being the cofounder of the first Italian “appzine”, “L’Indro”. When he has the chance, he is glad to share his viewpoint on current issues, and to date he has collaborated with various Italian press outlets such as the RAI, Mediaset, ANSA, La Repubblica and Radio 24 from London. Proud to call himself a journalist, Federico still has a lot to learn, and he’s making his way, one story at a time.

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