Narrating the world - Issue 110 - Magazine | Monocle

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Voice of reason

Iñaki Gabilondo, journalist

El País, Madrid

As the secessionist saga in Catalonia continues apace, a collage of searing commentary has splashed Spain’s identity crisis across the front pages. The measured voice of veteran Basque journalist Iñaki Gabilondo adds a much-needed antidote to the fray.

“At moments like these it takes courage to be a moderate,” says the 75-year-old former radio host, TV news anchor and now esteemed commentator. “Suddenly, something once considered a virtue has become an insult.” For years, José Ignacio Gabilondo Pujol (who goes by the affectionate mononym “Gabilondo”) has decried the coming political tsunami in Catalonia. “Now, more than ever, we need an elevated discussion.”

Four mornings a week, his video monologue La Voz de Iñaki (Iñaki’s Voice) is published by El País and aired on Cadena ser’s radio show, addressing everything from foreign crises to looming challenges on the home front. His often-stern sermons put the nation’s conscience on loudspeaker. Leaders don’t always heed his counsel but everyone seems to hear Gabilondo’s voice. “How can it be that in the year 2018 we are still having a conversation about the idea of our country? I often say that Spain is the name we have ascribed to our will to be together. The moment we call this will into question, the country trembles.”

Yet he is cautious. “We’re in the midst of a dangerous moment, which means that I don’t say anything that could ignite the powder keg and keep my distance from politicians. I describe it like two hedgehogs in winter; they seek each other out for warmth but risk injury if they get too close. Journalism and politics have to live in close proximity. The key,” he says, “is getting the distance right.”


Musical taste-maker

Nick Findlay, music director

Triple J, Sydney

The ears that hide beneath Nick Findlay’s wild curls wield enormous power in the Australian music industry. They help decide which artists make it onto the country’s most influential youth radio station: Triple J. Established in 1974, the state-owned broadcaster has an impressive reputation for discovering and promoting local talent, including Flume, Midnight Oil and Courtney Barnett. Findlay, who was recently named Triple J’s new music director, is the man responsible for advancing the station’s cultural mission as it moves further into the digital age. He oversees a small team who source nearly every song that is played on air. It’s the type of role, he says, he dreamed about as a boy. “When I was five, I had a dual-cassette player and I used to pretend to be a radio DJ with tapes that I’d copied from Triple J. When I think about that I realise that the warning signs were there all along.”

Findlay’s appointment as music director marks an important watershed for Triple J. His predecessor, Richard Kingsmill, held the job for 15 years and played a central role in transforming the station from a grungy relic to a slick international brand. If Findlay feels the pressure of expectation, however, there are no obvious signs. He says his preparation for the role has been thorough; during the past nine years he’s worked closely with Kingsmill as a producer, researcher and assistant music director, and built a deep connection with the station’s young listeners. “The most important lesson I got from Richard was to always put myself in the listener’s head,” he says. “I also learnt that there’s a hell of a lot of music out there and it’s really easy to get lost in it all so you’ve got to lean on the team of music heads around you.”

So far, the most obvious marker of Findlay’s stewardship at Triple J has been a renewed focus on diversity, both musical and social. But the constant throughout each playlist is a respect for skilled songwriting and innovation. “It’s at the point now where I’m coming across more amazing local tracks than ever,” says Findlay. “I’m just glad to be able to play them.”


Going digital

Martin Krasnik, editor

Weekendavisen, Copenhagen

The grand old lady of Danish newspapers has a new editor. Last year, former current-affairs TV host, Martin Krasnik, took over the editorship of Weekendavisen, which has its roots in the oldest newspaper in the world (Berlingske Aftenavis, founded in 1845).

“When I was at Weekendavisen many years ago as an intern, it was the main cultural newspaper for all Scandinavia,” he says. “We have to re-estabilish Weekendavisen as that beacon of cultural journalism in Scandinavia.”

Happily, Weekendavisen is already one of the few Danish newspapers on an upward sales curve thanks, Krasnik says, to having stuck to its guns of “doing exactly what we have always done and doubling up on journalism and perspective”.

Published every Friday, it contains five sections: Society, Culture, Books, Ideas and a children’s section. Pieces are typically long-form, offering in-depth analysis, background and comment, and the broadsheet tends to hang around people’s coffee tables for the week. “Weekendavisen sits a bit away from everybody else. Some say it’s a newspaper, others would say it’s a magazine, I say it’s both.”

Krasnik believes the paper’s readers, who currently number 217,000 and are typically well-educated and often high earners, are moving away from increasingly parochial English-language online sources of news and their morbid obsessions with Brexit and Trump, leaving a gap for his paper to fill. “It is crucial to give our readers a European perspective. We look at ourselves as a Danish-European publication – that’s very important.”

Of one thing Krasnik is certain. Readers will have to pay, even when Weekendavisen becomes available online for the first time this year. “It costs money to create good journalism. Everybody else knows this and they are having to change the bad habits of the past few years. What made people buy magazines and newspapers when I was young was many things: to know the weather, what was on in the cinema or on television, the financial markets, to find a date. Everything of that sort has completely gone and will never ever come back. The only thing we have left that people are prepared to pay for is the relationship between the journalist and the reader. This relationship is crucial and everything we do is to develop that and protect that.”


Public service

Lilli Gruber, presenter

La 7, Rome

“I think I am perceived as a guarantee of fair information, even when the political seasons change,” says Italy’s fiery talk-show host Lilli Gruber. Over the past decade her programme, Otto e Mezzo, has served as the nation’s best arena for grilling politicians. From Berlusconi’s golden years to the short-lived governments of Mario Monti and Enrico Letta, all the way to Renzi’s self-destructive referendum, her fearless interviews have chronicled the nation’s flurry of political developments.

Gruber debuted as a cub reporter at South Tyrol’s private channel TeleBolzano before moving onto the region’s papers L’Adige and L’Alto Adige. “I used to think print was the only ‘real’ journalism,” she says. “But in the 1980s radio and private TV channels were booming and there were lots of jobs for young people.” The diversion to screen proved fundamental to her success; by 1987 she had become the first woman to anchor a prime-time news bulletin on national television. “It was a small revolution for Italian TV,” she says. Viewers took to her direct style; in the 1990s her 20.00 news show would, at its peak, bring in 40 per cent of the national audience share – about 10 million viewers.

While a gig as a foreign correspondent led her to report from Berlin, Iraq and Israel, her longest absence from the presenter’s chair was due to a four-year stint as a MEP when, as an independent candidate for a centre-left coalition, she beat Silvio Berlusconi to the post. When the time came to return to journalism, she chose privately owned channel La 7. “I have led a 20-year battle inside public- service broadcasting to make sure it really did provide a service for the public,” she says. “That’s the characteristic of my journalism. And I brought it with me to private TV too.”


Asking difficult questions

Soichiro Tahara, TV presenter

BS Asahi, Tokyo

The cameras are rolling and Soichiro Tahara is grilling Japan’s minister of economy, trade and industry. He slaps the table and jabs a finger at the minister. This is not how officials are usually spoken to. But Tahara, who is widely credited with popularising the fast-paced debate format on Japanese TV, is not one for niceties. Now 83, he has spent his career confronting politicians and corporate chiefs and disregarding the norms of decorum. “My mission is to protect freedom of expression and I’ll do so with my life,” he says. He means it: in the 1990s he faced death threats from right-wing ultra-nationalists. He requested a meeting, then wrote about it in the weekly magazine Shukan Shincho. “If people want to criticise me, fine. That’s their right.”

Tahara seems incapable of slowing down. He’s written books on politics and diplomacy, has a million Twitter followers and is a columnist for four monthlies and two weeklies. Tahara started off directing TV documentaries. While in his fifties, he became the host of Asa made nama terebi! (Live TV Until Morning!), leading debates on taboo topics such as the emperor and nuclear energy. It was a hit and two years later Tahara was taking on bigwig politicians on the debate programme Sunday People and more recently on Gekiron! Crossfire (Intense Debate!).


Society gatekeeper

Naphalai Areesorn, editor

Thailand Tatler, Bangkok

For most people, worrying who someone’s parents are or where they went to school is an outmoded pursuit. But Thai society remains class-obsessed and for insiders and wannabees one woman rules the roost. “To me every single bit of experience that you’ve had, no matter how difficult, adds to the person that you’re going to be,” says Areesorn Naphalai, editor in chief of Thailand Tatler. Areesorn, whose name is synonymous with the Thai good life, certainly lives up to that adage. She grew up in Singapore and Malaysia as part of an expat family, which followed her banker father’s various postings. This upbringing was supplemented by an early career as a journalist and later in public relations. She then ran the exclusive spa Chiva-Som and, since 2001, has been the gatekeeper of Bangkok’s who’s who as the boss at Thailand Tatler.

If you’re on Thailand Tatler’s annual Society 500 list it means you’re doing something to “make people sit up” (this list is Thai-only but there is also an expat 300). This year’s Society 500 ranges from the scion of a notable jewellery house to an up-and-coming Central Saint Martins graduate and fashion designer. “In the past it really was very, very clear,” says Areesorn of the list’s criteria. “You have to have come from a well-established family. You’ve got to have the right education. Today there is more of an emphasis on your actual achievements. But your background still matters, of course.”

The rest of Thailand Tatler is a road map, invaluable for this status-obsessed society, about where to go, not least through Areesorn’s snapshot of her calendar on Tatler’s website. For those hoping to rub shoulders with this Queen Bee, she has a no-fuss checklist for the events she chooses to attend: “Who the host is, our connections with them, especially if they’re one of our supporters and a good friend.” There’s one other factor for ambitious Thais hoping for an appearance at their Bangkok party from Areesorn. The location. “Because traffic is so bad I tend not to go to events that are out of the way. I have to work as well, don’t forget.”


Voice of the people

Karen Davila, presenter

ABS–CBN, Manila

Filipinos wake up to Karen Davila’s news show Headstart and go to bed to her newscast. Both are aired on the powerful network abs-cbn. The hardworking journalist also squeezes in a radio show – a popular medium in traffic-clogged Manila. “I’ve been taking melatonin for 12 years,” says Davila, with a signature raspy laugh.

She sees her role as helping Filipinos develop a better understanding of the news, an elevated calling since president Rodrigo Duterte’s 2016 election win. Davila chaired one of the debates and asked Duterte if his support for the death penalty for drug users applies to his own family. She also attacked the Senate for not calling the president’s son to its hearing on the controversial drug war, despite his name being mentioned by a key witness, an oversight that politicians later reversed.

Is she scared of Duterte? No. But the same may not be true the other way around. He has avoided a one-on-one interview and threatened to let the network’s licence lapse when it comes up for renewal. “It’s downright wrong and threatens freedom of the press,” says Davila. “Duterte’s put much more on the line for us.”

The 47-year-old started out as an investigative reporter before presenting monthly documentaries. One award-winning programme highlighted the plight of child prisoners. Hungry kids caught stealing fish were ending up in crowded cells alongside adults. The statutory age limit of criminal responsibility was subsequently raised but Duterte supports lowering it again.

Davila, a self-confessed extrovert, has no plans to stop broadcasting. Ratings are vital since her switch to news anchoring and she embraces opportunities to reach new and younger viewers, including getting out from behind the desk. Every week she leaves the studio to conduct interviews for a TV programme about entrepreneurship. “I like the show because it is a different side of me that caters to a different audience,” she says. “It’s not investigative in nature but it is inspiring.”



Playing it for laughs

Gregório Duvivier, presenter

Greg News, Rio de Janeiro

While politics in Brazil may look bleak, Gregório Duvivier has been giving his countrymen reasons to smile with his irreverent journalism. The 31-year-old embarked on his career in an unusual way: he made a name for himself in 2012 as a scriptwriter and actor in Porta dos Fundos, a comedy troupe he helped found. Duvivier became a household name with his humour and irreverence, which are also present in the column he pens for daily newspaper Folha de São Paulo.

“I try to speak from the point of view of the chronicler, the layman. The newspaper is filled with facts – my aim is to ask questions,” says Duvivier. Approached by hbo Brazil, Duvivier launched his own political talk show, Greg News, in 2017. The show is a half-hour satirical take on the week’s news where no one is spared. And in a country where religious fundamentalists and gun activists hold sway in government, poking fun at certain orthodoxies is a bold move. “I think humour is a great tool to speak truth to power.”

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