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Q&A: ABC Correspondent Avani Dias

Sri Lankan-Australian journalist Avani Dias has been on the ABC’s South Asia beat since early 2022, covering the rise of right-wing politics in India and the fallout of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. She chats to Aditi Kutty about the unpredictability of being a foreign correspondent, and what makes a good international news story. 

Was being a foreign correspondent something you always knew you wanted to do? 

I always wanted to become a foreign correspondent. Journalism is a great industry because there are so many different avenues you can take. You can be a producer, you can work behind the scenes, you can be a camera person. I've always wanted to try different areas, but being a foreign correspondent was definitely [something] I wanted to pursue. I guess the excitement of being overseas, being able to witness things for yourself… basically having a front seat [to] historical events. 

What does your typical day on the job look like – if there is such a thing? 

It’s really different depending on what's going on. Some days, it will be pursuing different story ideas and making calls and looking into … what's interesting within my region, what's interesting to an Australian audience … organizing assignments – trips [to] places that I could be going and how many stories I can gather, what I can gather in those places, who we're talking to, and working closely with my producer as well as fixers who are in overseas countries. 

Then some days, it's a breaking news story. You get called up in the middle of the night and you have to jump on a plane and go somewhere. As soon as you hit the ground, you're filing for all different platforms across TV, radio, and digital. Those are really tiring and difficult assignments. 

A large part of the job is being out in the field. It's varied and it does change often; especially in a patch like South Asia where there's just so much going on, you often don't know what the next day will entail. [It’s] a fun and exciting part of the job, but also makes it hard to plan your life. 

South Asia is so diverse. Every country has a multitude of cultures within them. How do you pick what assignments to go on when it isn’t a breaking news story? 

We're [mostly] looking at big stories. In India at the moment, there's a lot to do with the Modi government, or communal violence between different religions, or India's growth as a superpower – these are the bigger issues. And then you're looking for areas where you can find stories about them and people who can reflect those stories. You can't do a good story, in my opinion, without real life people who are telling you what it's like on the ground. That's the beauty of being a foreign correspondent – you can interview those people who may not get a voice. 

Recently, we did a story about India's population control methods. People [are] being forced to be sterilized. That's something a lot of people in Australia may not have heard about. 

Also thinking about places that we haven't been. Bhutan is a part of my patch which correspondents haven't been to in a long time. 

You're constantly … trying to figure out what's going on and what is worth covering, because there's so few people in our bureau covering a very large patch. You have to pick and choose, because you could be working 24/7 and that still wouldn't be enough to cover the news in this area. 

Do you feel like your background makes it easier for you to know what to report on? 

It's twofold. In some ways, it's easier – you blend in more. When you're going out on assignments, when you're going into protests or into tricky areas, it means that people aren't as suspicious of you. 

But there's difficulties as well. Sometimes having that point of difference, being a person who has white skin, means that you get privileges over people in this part of the world. It's the unfortunate reality. 

[Also] reporting on your own background … means that there's a lot of pressure on you to figure out how to tell this story. There's an increased amount of opinions from people who are close to you. Navigating that is definitely something to think about. 

What advice do you have for someone who might be aspiring to be a South Asia correspondent? 

I would suggest reaching out to anyone who you think might be relevant to getting there. I started off doing admin work at the ABC, and then I worked my way into a cadetship. I worked regionally in Australia for a while, [and then] I went back [to] Sydney. Getting that experience across the board is really important once you go for a position as foreign correspondent. I think learning different skills in the industry – digital storytelling, TV, learning how to use a camera to VJ … We are multi-platform reporters. I'd suggest trying everything as much as you can, because that helps when you actually go for the position.


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