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Mainstream Media Takeover: South Asian Women Making Reigns

Mainstream Media Takeover: South Asian Women Making Reigns

The once white-male dominated media industry has seen some drastic changes in the past decade or so. Specifically, a sea of strong Indian skin along with these friendly and fierce women’s faces. The most important part of their success: they are not looked at as “Indian news anchors” or “women news anchors.” Instead, the first title that comes to mind when speaking about these individuals include “award winning reporter” “top newscaster in BC.” They are looked at for their hard work and determination. We present eleven success stories that has nothing to do with their ethnicity or their gender. These women are the ones who are making the older generation proud and also making the younger generation feel inspired to make a name for themselves. Who are these women? What struggles did they face? What behind-the-scenes secrets do they have to share about the industry? Read to find out!

Media Woman - Sonia SungerSonia Sunger:
It’s difficult to say when I actually started because I started to prepare for a future in the industry when I was 14. At that age I knew that I wanted to be a journalist and did everything I could to gain experience. I day-shadowed at CHEK 6 when I was 15 and hosted a lunch-hour radio show in high school. I got my real foot in the door half-way through the Journalism Program at Concordia University in Montreal. I was going to be in Edmonton that summer and got in touch with the news director at CTV Edmonton. I convinced him to let me shadow reporters for two weeks and after those two weeks were up, I just kept coming back. It turned into an internship and soon I was hired as a writer. That writing position set me on my path, and within 6 months I filed my first on-air report.

I am so happy to be part of such a large and talented group of South Asian women in broadcast journalism. Growing up, there weren’t many faces like mine on television, but I saw that as an opportunity instead of a barrier. The fact that I am joined by so many other South Asian women in the industry is proof that they too felt the same. While I am extremely proud to be South Asian I think of myself as being Canadian first believe my success has been based on merit, not my ethnicity.

Media Woman - Nira 2Nira Arora:
To anyone that wants a career in the industry: expect to work hard, diversify your skills and be patient. The industry is extremely competitive and you will be up against some pretty talented people for a handful of jobs in the country. There may be times you face rejection and I believe your success will be determined by the way you deal with that rejection. Will it push you to achieve more and improve, or will it make you bitter?

There were times when people expected me not to say certain things on the radio because I am south Asian- perhaps they believed it wasn’t appropriate- but I’m a broadcaster and I do my job as one. I’m not an ‘Indian Broadcaster’ – I’m a ‘Broadcaster’ who is Indian.  I don’t think other professions change the way they do their job based on their nationality, I was confused when people in our community expected me to behave differently because of my nationality.

My parents thought this was a crazy career choice at first-they didn’t understand what I was thinking or what I was doing. I worked for free for years and they couldn’t understand why I would do that after getting a university degree.  I was supposed to be a lawyer, yeah that path swerved in a completely different direction!  -But they are super proud now and support all the decisions I make.

One of the most amazing parts of my job is being able to be real and just be myself on the show- it is such an amazing feeling- yes there are regrets of things that may come out of my mouth- but hey- by the time I think about it- it’s too late- it’s already out there on the radio airwaves.

I think it’s amazing that so many South Asians are in the industry! I love the fact that our voice is heard and that we are here to represent our community and being able to this in mainstream media is a huge achievement!

To anyone wanting to be in the industry: you need to have a thick skin. You can’t give up if you really want it and make you have the drive and the passion- that’s how you make it.

Media Woman - NeetuNeetu Garcha:
I had thought of becoming a pilot, perhaps a nurse, or a teacher but it wasn’t until I entered a local pageant when I was in high school that I discovered my passion.

I was crowned Miss Penticton in 2008 and for the year that I held that title, I was given a lot of opportunities to hone my public speaking skills. My impromptu question on pageant night was ‘if you could add any course to your current school curriculum what course would you add and why?’

My response was the question was that I would add a course dedicated to current events because while we learn a lot about topics like history, science, physical education and chemistry in school, I didn’t think there was enough emphasis on what was currently happening around the world and even locally.

It was that year that I realized I wanted to speak to audiences, while making a positive difference in the community for a living (and just how much of a news and current affairs nerd I was). I thought broadcast journalism would be the best combination of those passions.

The Indo-Canadian community is also so supportive of their own. I’ve been so humbled to meet people who come up to me and tell me they’re so proud to see a Punjabi girl reporting the news in the Okanagan.

As for being a woman in this industry: I think it is more of an asset than it ever has been before. However, it does come with its challenges. For example, there have been several instances where I’m out on a shoot reporting and someone will yell out the unfortunately popular yet very derogatory term “FHRITP”! One time, I even confronted the man who yelled this to me and he wasn’t apologetic at all, he thought it was completely okay to say that to me.

I love seeing strong, independent women in media, leading the charge when it comes to informing audiences and taking on important topics. I’m happy to see how far society has come when it comes to diversifying work forces in this industry and inclusion for women overall; however, just like with many important issues, there’s still a lot of work to be done.

Media Woman - Anitha BathAnita Bathe:
I began reporting for a local TV show when I was in high school and through that, I fell in love with telling people’s stories. I volunteered and did whatever it took to get my foot in the door before attending school for broadcast communications.

I love the fast paced nature of radio and the challenges that presents. My job is different every day – covering crime, politics, health, education, business…everything really. Winning a Jack Webster Fellowship, a BCAB award and an RTNDA award for my coverage of the 2014 Science World/Yaletown shooting were huge accomplishments for me last year.

I believe I got to where I am through the work ethic my parents instilled in me at a young age.  When others said I wouldn’t make it in the industry, they were always my biggest supporters. Focus, drive and a willingness to learn have kept me going. No matter how good you are, or how successful you are, you can always learn.  I learn from those who are more experienced, those who are on my level and those who are just starting out. 

News is cut throat and stressful.  You’re always working to tight deadlines and some days you’re covering a story, braving whatever the weather has in store for you, outside for hours, soaking wet and trying not to drink water because there is no bathroom nearby. 

If you can handle it, journalism can be extremely gratifying.  The excitement of going live from the scene moments after something has happened is so thrilling, and it’s rewarding to be able to give people the stories that matter.

Relationships are key to success in this industry, so if journalism is what you want, be aware of every connection you make.

South Asian women have come far in this industry and I’m really proud of that. We all need to support each other and continue to help each other become more successful.

Media Woman - Sonia SidhuSonia Sidhu:
I remember one time when I was working on the radio in Kelowna. I was so excited because I had been offered the job to be a fill-in weather girl on the local TV station. I had turned to a co-worker and told her the news. Her reaction was unexpected. She told me the ONLY reason I got the job, was because I was Indian and they had to fill their “visible minority” quota. I was shocked. I took a deep breath and decided at that exact moment, I was going to be the BEST fill-in weather person they had ever seen and I would prove her wrong. Guess what…I worked as their weather person for seven years. 

It took a lot of sacrifice to get here. After taking the two year radio program at BCIT, I packed up my bags to do a morning show in Castlegar, BC. I had never heard of the place and it was terrifying. Keep in mind this is before smart phones and a GPS. I didn’t know where I was going or what to expect. At 22 years old I was moving out of my parents house. I had no idea what I was doing but I knew this was going to be the start of something exciting. 

I remember one Saturday night in Kelowna. I was on my way to dinner with some friends when all of a sudden, I looked up at the mountains and it was burning. Wow! The flames lit up the sky and even though the fire was on the other end of the town, my car was covered in ashes. I rushed into the radio station to join the rest of the staff and we went LIVE. I remember broadcasting non stop on our News / Talk station about the fires, the evacuations, stories and being up all night reporting. I’m pretty sure I was there from 7pm to 8am the next day, only to quickly take a two hour nap and go back on the air. People were glued to their radios listening for updates and it was at that moment I remembered why I do this. I want to be the person who can help others, provide comfort and be a source of information. I try to do that every single day.

Media Woman - Sonia BeeksmaSonia Beeksma:
I have always been a performer as far as I can remember. I was born in New Delhi and I spent most of my late teen years dancing professionally and doing commercials.  Around the time I amet my to-be husband and wanted to get married but my parents said, “Hold on you got to get something under the belt first.” I always wanted to get into the medical field, I completed the Medical Lab technician program, I got married at 21 and worked as a Lab technician, but I always kept the performing bit of me alive. Four years into my lab career, I knew there was more for me and I had to follow my dreams and with my husband’s support I ended up going back to school for broadcasting and I have never looked back.

A lot of hard work to get to where I am. In my second year of Broadcasting school I landed a great internship opportunity with Etalk in Toronto. For the first time I got an opportunity to grow as an individual, as I was on my own away from my husband and family. The entire experience forced me to learn things about myself and get comfortable in my own skin. I started with entertainment writing, and soon I got hired as a reporter for Warner Brothers and met many artists, actors and performers. Eventually I started missing my husband who was still here and made the choice to come back to Vancouver.

After coming home I got connected to Global and landed an internship position really quick. Like most serious interns, I hustled and made sure I was noticed for my abilities, and I was. I had my daughter around this time, Sushma Ji from RJ 1200 connected with me, she had an opening for a part time news reporter and talk show host. I quickly moved on to CKNW,  where I continued to report news and traffic. BC 1 24hr news station had launched around this time; I walked into Ian Haysom’s office (News Director at the time) and asked for an on screen test. That’s when my journey with Global BC started.

Media Woman - Robin GillRobin Gill:
My parents secretly were horrified because there isn’t a lot of money in this industry. They would subtly say “maybe you should think about law school.”

But they’ve also always said to their kids that we should do what we want and its really up to us to create our own happiness.

I know that my parents are very proud of me. Whenever my mother is out and about and there’s a tv screen around, she’ll tell the establishment to change the channel to Global because her daughter works there. My aunt will tell everyone and anyone what I do for a living. I often think they should be part of our marketing team at the office (smirk).

I paid my dues working in smaller markets before making the leap to the largest market and then eventually this job.

I wasn’t always patient and it took a long time. But I was very focused on what I wanted to do and it has paid off.

People will often say we have glamorous lives. It couldn’t be futher from the truth. I am constantly under the daily pressure of a deadline and it’s stressful. My favourite story to share is when I had to cover the aftermath of the tsunami in Japan in 2011.

There were no hotels that would take me and my colleague because of the damage. It was the middle of the night and it was cold. Our logistics producer back in Toronto was able to get in touch with a woman who owed a pub in the area that we were covering. She let us sleep on the floor of the pub. Hardly cosmopolitan. But so grateful that she was able to help us.

I’ve had a cross-country career. My first on-air job was in Yorkton, Saskatchewan. I had to report, anchor, produce newscasts, shoot and edit my stories. I paid my dues working in smaller markets before making the leap to the largest market and then eventually this job. It took a long time but I was very focused on what I wanted to do and it has paid off.

Media Woman - Simi SaraSimi Sara:
When I first started having an Indian person on tv was fairly unusual, there weren’t very many. Now, though, it is fantastic to see so many people of South Asian descent in the business. It means that the media is really reflecting our communities and where we live.

Back in 1993 I graduated from the two-year Journalism program at Langara and did a student practicum at a tv station called U.TV (now Citytv). I had done some reporting for The Surrey Leader newspaper but really loved television news. I did everything from writing for the news to reporting and producing and eventually anchoring. I was there for fifteen years, until 2008, and then was able to move into radio. CKNW had always been legendary in my home, I grew up hearing it and I am honoured every day to be working there.

I think the key to being successful in this business is to really love what you do and that means loving news. It’s not about being on tv or being famous, it’s about being a part of the news and media process and helping people to get filled in on what’s going on in their world. I still love that. That is still the advice I give to anyone who wants to do this. You have to love current events and the news.

My mother passed away in a car accident when I was still a teenager but she has always been my inspiration and I’ve always hoped that she would be proud of me. My dad has always been very supportive and I think it’s because I get my love of news from him. I remember going on vacation to places like Los Angeles as a kid and the first thing my dad always did in a new place was buy a newspaper and read it cover to cover, no matter where we were.  That stuck with me. Even when I think I know what’s going on in the world, my dad still knows more than me.

Media Woman - Karen Khun KhunKaren KhunKhun:
My mom would tell a story about when I was in Kindergarten and playing at the park, a TV news team came by to chat about Thanksgiving, she said I grabbed the the mic and talked all about my favourites things about the holiday, it ran on the 6 o’clock news that night and I remember them being so proud.

I always had an immense love for radio, I used to tape shows and re-enact them. Even though I was terrified, I went for it and I am so glad I did!


After that, I went to BCIT for Broadcast Journalism and started working on the CFOX promotions team. I made new demo tapes weekly and sent them all over the world and one day, the Program Director (Bob Mills) at CFOX called me and said that they had an opening for a traffic reporter on the Larry and Willy Morning Show. I grew up listening to them and it was really a dream come true.

One of the coolest perks of my job at CFOX was getting the opportunity to fly down to LA for interviews. Jim Carrey was so down to earth and awesome! I had the pleasure of interviewing Bradley Cooper, Kate Beckinsale, Ray Liotta, Heather Graham, Ed Helms and Seth Rogan to name a few.


We have also had the pleasure of meeting lots of fun rockstars, too. Just this past summer U2 stopped by the CFOX studio and Bono was the absolute sweetest to my 5 year daughter.

Growing up I never really saw South Asian women on mainstream TV. I remember the first time that I saw Monica Deol on Much Music. That was a huge moment for me. It really showed me that my dream was a possibility, there was hope!

Now we are so lucky to see it more and more every day. There is always more work to be done but the fact that Mindy Kaling writes and stars on her own Network Television show reinforces our growing role in the industry.

I have a total passion for what I do, I love radio and television and I believe that you should follow your dreams so that your job doesn’t feel like “work.”

Media Woman - Simone GrewalSimon Grewal:
Being the PNE reporter for CBC was amazing, who wouldn’t want to spend 17 days of summer at the fair? Interviewing musical artists at Z and Bollywood stars when I worked at RJ1200 like Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai, and Akshay Kumar were pretty incredible to.

When I started out it felt like there was only a handful of us. Now it’s so nice to see more and more south asian women contributing to radio, tv and print media. I was at BCIT enrolled in the Broadcast program, and saw a posting to work at Z95.3,  I applied and ended up working on the street team. 

I was at Z from 2000 – 2005 working in promotions and on-air, then an opportunity presented itself to go into Television so I left. I finally came back in 2010 and have been here since. 

My parents were extremely supportive. They knew the industry can be cutthroat so at first they did encourage me to try something a little easier, and suggested I be a school teacher. Which would have been an excellent choice, but something about broadcasting just pulled me in.

If I had to give any advice I would say: be open, try it all. You may not start with your dream job, and you may make some sacrifices along the way, but if you truly want to succeed, you have to be open.

I feel that the reason I have been employed in this industry for 16 years is because I never say no to trying different things. I started in promotions, then ended up doing traffic reporting, then live broadcasts, to hosting, writing and producing on television, and now even overseeing the social media for Z953 and working as a digital content producer. 

 

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