Daljit Dhaliwal is currently the anchor of the PBS international documentary series Wide Angle, which starts its new season on Tuesday (9:00 p.m., WNET 13). A native of London, she got her start with the BBC reporting from Northern Ireland, then moved to ITN where in 1996 she became the anchor for ITN World News for Public Television which was produced for PBS. The newscast raised her profile on this side of the Atlantic and lead to her being named to People's 50 Most Beautiful People in the World list in 1999.
Later she jumped to CNN for two years in 2002, then moved to New York where she anchored the first season Wide Angle. She has also filled in on BBC World News, WNYC radio, and on the Charlie Rose Show. She returned to Wide Angle last year.
Can you tell us about Wide Angle?
Wide Angle is now in its sixth season. It is the only program like it on American television. It’s the only international current affairs documentary series and it runs between July through September. Frontline, which is on at the other time, comes off the air and Wide Angle replaces it.
We have between eight to ten films, usually about eight or nine films every year and the documentaries run for about forty-five minutes and they are made by filmmakers and producers from all over the world who explore an idea, explore an issue through the eyes of people who are actually living it in that particular part of the world. So it is global issues, but on a human scale is how we kind of how we like to describe it. We have been to about fifty odd countries, counting [up to] last season only, so now that we are in season six I would add another eight or nine to that. So it is an international documentary series which goes all over the world and picks a story idea that is current and explores it through the eyes of people who are living it.
What do you think of American television news and do you think Americans get too little exposure to international news?
Yeah, I really like to get on my soap box about that one because I have been doing international news for about fifteen years. I started out with the BBC and then I moved to the competition which is ITN, again doing international news, but it was a program that I was doing in London that was shown here in the United States.
And that is how I really first got this idea from people who would write and watch the show or e-mail us. They would say, “Thank goodness there is a program like yours, but we aren’t surprised that it coming from outside the United States because it is so difficult to get in depth international news coverage in this country.” And I think that sort of first alerted me to the idea and I thought, “How can that be possible? This is the United States, it is the world’s sole superpower and what it does is important and has ramifications everywhere else in the world. So why is it that Americans are saying that?”
So that sort of alerted me that there was definitely a problem, but at least PBS was doing something about it, that they were putting on this half hour newscast. And now you have the BBC, CNN International, you have programs like Wide Angle, but while they are there I still think that we could definitely do with a lot more in terms of the network newscasts. I know there are all kinds of issues around bureaus being closed, budgets being cut and so on and so forth, but I still think we have a responsibility in that timeslot in the evening where you have this one network newscast that each of the three networks do where people should know what is happening not just in their own country, but around the world as well.
So yeah, I generally agree with what you are saying, but at I mean the same time are other programs like The News Hour, like 60 Minutes who do a great job and cover international news, but I think it needs to be more consistent and I think it needs to be regular and especially more in depth.
When you were anchoring ITN’s World News for Public Television you wound up as number 37 on People Magazine's Most Beautiful People list, many fan websites sprouted up and you attracted the attention of David Letterman. Did all of the attention on this side of the pond surprise you?
You know it did. I guess to some extent when I kind of explored it and I thought about it. To some extent it seems to come with the territory. There is definitely in the United States more of an interest in the celebrity culture and perhaps to some extent news in this country has kind of fallen in that. I think that is sad and I think we need to be very very careful about the meshing of celebrity with serious news.
Most people hopefully can still make the distinction at the end of the day, but I think it is very dangerous to have those lines blurred. It was interesting, because for me news and sort of celebrity are kind of to me uneasy bedfellows I think. And when I have been asked that in the past I have always thought it was a strange kind of mix. But having lived here now for five years, I would say no, it doesn’t surprise me anymore.
There are so many countries that are kind of moving in that direction as well. I mean the United Kingdom even though there are big differences in terms of how we cover news and so on and so forth, but there is still this move towards celebrity and news.
You got your start with the BBC reporting in Belfast during the Troubles. Do you miss being in the field like that or do you like working in the studio?
You know I like doing both and I think to a large extent being able to do both things informs reporting and it informs anchoring.
I started out as a news reporter for the BBC and Northern Ireland was one of the places that I did my training and I was there for about a year, a year and a half. But, I also worked in Manchester, Leeds and Scotland, so they were all hard news patches. We never had any skateboarding ducks in any of those regions.
So I think it is important that you can be able to do both and I loved the three years that I spent reporting, going out there, working the story, doing your own research. You didn’t get the opportunity to work with producers, nobody did anything for you, you set everything up yourself, you went out and did the interviews and you produced the piece, you directed it and you drove yourself there and the rest of it. So there were all kinds of things that I learned about how to operate in the field which gives you kind of sharp elbows at the end of the day.
And then being in a studio is very different. That is more about doing sort of set piece interviews, and of course it is live and I love the energy of live television, and you get to deal a lot more with breaking news. But you also get, I suppose when you are a news anchor, is to be able to tell your audience about every single important story that has happened that day, whereas when you are a reporter you are working it from a very different angle, you are there on the ground. As a news anchor you are able to get round the world and give it to everybody in a half hour or in an hour. So that is a very important thing for me to communicate the essence of those stories in a newscast. So I love doing both and think I am very lucky that I had the opportunity to do both.
You have been living in here for awhile, how does New York compare to London? Is there anything you miss?
One thing I don’t miss is the weather, and I am talking about England now. Of course I miss my family. All of my family is still in the United Kingdom, I have four, five, six nephews and nieces, who I miss.
But, I think there are some differences between London and New York that now that I have been in the United States for five years and I have been back to London many times. I love getting off the plane at JFK because for me it feels like I am coming home. So New York is very much my home and I have taken it to heart and I have made a choice to be here. I was living and working in Atlanta. I left Atlanta because I wanted to be in New York. So it is a concisions choice I made to be in the city and I think that that also gives me a stake in being here.
And I think that New York is definitely a lot more of a 24/7 city. It is not entirely 24/7, but certainly more so than London. It has an energy that London doesn’t have. I think there is always this idea that in New York anything is possible, so long as you kind of keep working at it, eventually you have this great idea someone is going to listen to you and make things happen and they are going to be as excited as this idea as you are. And I think in London, yes you have an element of that, but it is certainly not on the same high octane level as New York.
I also think that New York, what I love about it is that it is to me very very diverse. I think it is a lot more cosmopolitan than London, even though London is amazing in a sense that it is truly multicultural and multiracial. But I think New York, you know you can go to Times Square and hear like thirty languages being spoken. I can’t think of a place in London where I would experience that. I love that about it.
Given the opportunity, how would you change New York?
New York is perfect. What is there to change? It is just one of those places where you go out and you experience it and it has so much to offer. You have your good days and you have your bad days, but I kind of take that all in my stride because to me that is part of living and working in New York.
I think you just have to take the city in its stride, because if you don’t it will just end up consuming you and you don’t want it to do that because in this city you got to learn have your wits about you. I see it as a challenge rather than things that are kind of wrong with it or that I would want to change. I think I really love it the way that it is.
What do you think of our two tabloids, the Daily News and the Post and has any of their headlines struck you as particularly funny?
Well there was that one headline that comes to mind, was it “Headless Torso in Topless Bar”. I thought that was a clever one, bar that one I can’t think of one that has resonated with me lately. But that was a New York Post headline from what I remember.
They are part of the makeup of the city, those two tabloids.
And now the quintessential New York question – Mets or Yankees?
Oh, Yankees! Absolutely. Nothing against the Mets, but for me as someone who lives in New York its got to be the Yankees and I have to admit I own a Yankees baseball cap and I have seen them play at Yankee Stadium, too. And I have seen two baseball games in the entire time that I have been here, too. One was in Detroit at Comerica Park and the other was at Yankee Stadium. Go Yankees!