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Emmy Award-Winning Journalist Habiba Nosheen on her Role as a Storyteller

3 min read

by Foram Mehta

SAJA@20: Newsmakers

This post is part of a series of profiles for the South Asian Journalists Association (SAJA), a non-profit journalism organization celebrating its 20th anniversary with a national convention on October 11th, 2014. For more details, please click here.

Emmy award-winning filmmaker and New York-based journalist Habiba Nosheen can be best described as a storyteller.

The Pakistani-Canadian mom and professor, who signed on with “60 Minutes” earlier this year, has an impressive portfolio of emotionally complex and hard-hitting stories. Each story is representative of her knack for combining investigative journalism with the ability to humanize a headline.

The subject of her Emmy-winning documentary, “Outlawed in Pakistan,” follows one Pakistani woman’s struggle to seek justice for allegedly being victim to a gang rape at 13-years-old. She was later subsequently ostracized by the community because she was “tainted” by it.

Difficult for anyone to watch, it’s almost hard to imagine how someone like Pakistanborn Nosheen was able to maintain neutrality, the hallmark of a journalist’s work ethic, while making the film.

It’s a question she’s posed with often, Nosheen said, sometimes even laced with accusations for being a disloyal expat. But Pakistani or not, woman or not, Nosheen’s dedication to responsible storytelling calls for a standard that goes beyond bias or personal opinion.

“People always ask how you stay neutral especially when I have reported on rape cases and interviewed murderers and alleged terrorists.” Nosheen said. “My answer is your job as a journalist is to sit in for your audience and to ask the questions the audience wants answers to.”

Nosheen added: “And if I ever report on a story from Pakistan that’s hard-hitting, there are always plenty of critics who say, ‘Oh, that story is making Pakistan look bad.’ And my answer to them is: I never shy away from doing an investigative story in the United States because I think it would make Americans look bad. My obligation as a journalist is to give a voice to stories that are underreported and to expose wrongdoings.”

As she gears up to join a panel of other recognized journalists at the South Asian Journalist Association’s 20-year anniversary convention on Oct. 11th in New York City, Nosheen feels very fortunate to have the platform she has today to give voice to those who need it the most.

Also a busy mom to an 18-month-old son and an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, this award-winning journalist’s own story is not complete without the mention of SAJA, which has helped her reach the level of success she’s experienced.

“SAJA has supported my work in many ways, including giving me a reporting fellowship to report from Pakistan,” Nosheen said. “I am so grateful to them for supporting my work and my reporting.”

On handling her duties at home, Nosheen’s honorable mention to her family’s support is encouraging for other South Asian women journalists who may doubt their abilities to “do it all.”

“I hope we’ll have more South Asian women entering journalism and bringing unique perspective to news outlets,” Nosheen said. “I get asked all the time, ‘Who is watching your kid when you are traveling?’ — which is so funny because the assumption in that question is that dads are not able to be in charge of childcare.”

“I recently went to Guantanamo Bay for a reporting trip, and I had people ask me if I was taking the baby with me,” Nosheen added. “I assured them that he was staying at home with his dad.”

Tomorrow’s journalists stand to learn a thing or two from this multi-dimensional, multiple-hat-wearing storyteller.

Feature Image: Screenshot from “Outlawed in Pakistan.”

Follow SAJA and Habiba Nosheen on Twitter. 

Foram is a Texas transplant working and frolicking in The Big Apple as a freelance journalist. Known to many of her friends — and Oprah, who she had the whirlwind experience of meeting in 2010 — as “Foprah,” Foram still dreams of the day she’ll land her own talk show. When she’s not writing, volunteering and snapping pics for her NYC coffee table book project, Foram is hard at work discovering the best new brunch spot and eating her weight in Indian food in Curry Hill.


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