A young Lankan voice makes waves in British broadcasting awardsView(s):
By Shaveen Jeewandara
The strongest stories are the stories of survival – and Natasha de Silva, 22, wanted to show just that in her documentary ‘Overcoming the Waves of Destruction’. So strong were they that they won her the gold award as Student Journalist of the Year given by the Broadcast Journalism Training Council (BJTC) of the United Kingdom, in October last year.
Bringing out the story of survival in an eight-year-old saga that has been swamped by facts, figures and politics, Natasha knew that she had to tap into the emotional side of the 2004 South-Asian Tsunami to convey a message that would tug at the heartstrings. The Broadcast Journalism Training Council accredits journalism courses across universities in the UK. The student journalism awards are held every year to recognise the work done by student journalists and are judged by successful industry professionals who look for something fresh within the standards and quality of British broadcasting. With the 2011/2012 awards having over 70 entries, Natasha’s win was a remarkable achievement.
“I made the documentary as a part of my final project to complete my degree and since I got a very high grade for it, my lecturers recommended that I apply for the BJTC Awards. I wasn’t even expecting to get nominated let alone win the Student Journalist of the Year so it was a big surprise for me, and it was the first time that a student of Coventry University got an award for Journalism,” Natasha said in an email interview with the Sunday Times Magazine.
“I was excited about the project but also nervous; it was a chance to showcase my skills but it was also the determining part of my degree. Initially I wanted to do a documentary on domestic violence in Asian communities, however my supervisor who is a veteran broadcast journalist working for BBC Radio suggested that I did something I was passionate about.”
“I think the tsunami was a shocking tragedy not only to Sri Lanka but the whole of South-East Asia, the amount of lives lost was record-breaking, but when I was researching what was already out there, I found that everything on the tsunami were mere facts; how many were displaced and the number of lives lost and the magnitude of the earthquake. No one asked that simple question; what did one feel?” Natasha said.
The story of two inspiring teenagers particularly highlighted in her documentary – was she believes what stamped the fact that the documentary was worthy of the award. Documenting a tragedy as monstrous as the tsunami, is a challenge given the deep human emotions involved. “The biggest challenge I had to face was talking to people about such an emotional and personal subject. Even though the tsunami happened eight years ago, the wounds were still fresh. The hardest thing was to hold my composure when the interviewees got emotional. To make documentaries like this you need to be empathic but also strong.”
The passion for journalism, or rather the knack for cross-questioning people and getting them to bring out their views had been very much a part of her since the age of 16 – when she headed her school newspaper back home, but Natasha knew that her calling in life needed to be backed by qualifications. Heading for Coventry University in the United Kingdom, Natasha earned her bachelors degree in Journalism and Media with a first-class, and is now doing her Masters in International Politics and Human Rights at City University, London.
“Nowadays, to be successful in the industry it is important to be a multi-platform journalist and I’m happy that I have had the training to do so,” she says. Broadcast journalism has had a special spot in her heart since the day she sat in the studio to present a news report during her bachelor’s. “It requires you to be spontaneous and think on the spot. It also challenges you so much that once you have produced a piece for broadcasting, nothing feels better. I also did a four-week work experience at BBC Local Radio in Coventry, which made me more passionate about broadcast journalism,” she says
Broadcast journalism in the UK differs from radio back at home because of the element of speech radio. “This is hard to find in Sri Lanka because radio in Sri Lanka is mainly commercial. What speech radio allows you to do is not only focus on news and debates but also tell amazing stories by using sound,” she says. It would be a great element to add to the Sri Lankan airwaves, she feels.
“Overcoming the Waves of Destruction” is an attempt at taking a tragedy and drawing the positives out of it. “The target outlet for my documentary was the BBC World Service, so in my mind I was making this for an international audience. I wanted to take their thoughts toward something different, something that would inspire them and touch them. My objective was to show the audience this part of Sri Lanka that they haven’t seen; the strong individuals, the organisations that were making a difference and the development,” she tells us with a sense of pride.
You can listen to Natasha’s award winning documentary by visiting http://soundcloud.com/tashds
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