He was one of the most recognisable faces on TV during the Iraq War in 2003, delivering nightly BBC bulletins over the bombing of Baghdad. Now war reporter Rageh Omaar is trying to make his voice heard closer to home, promoting greater diversity in British journalism.
The journalist, currently presenting ITV’s current affairs series On Assignment, says he is still worried about the lack of diversity in British media, and believes the BBC is struggling to change its image from what he once called a “white man’s club”.
“What I meant was that it’s much easier to get on in the media if you’re from a middle-class background, so inevitably people from different backgrounds don’t make it in,” he explained in the new issue of Radio Times.
“I can’t say a lot has changed,” he said. “I think the will is there, but it’s a bit like turning an oil tanker round – it takes a lot of commitment.”
Omaar, who also worked with Al Jazeera before joining ITV in 2013, added that it wasn’t just journalism that was failing when it came to equality and diversity: “There needs to be a focus on drama scripts, making roles reflect society.”
The Somali-born reporter won a Bafta for his coverage of the Iraq War in 2003, although he has since said he believes he and other journalists reporting from the conflict could have done more to reflect the reality for the Iraqi people.
“I didn’t really do my job properly,” he said in 2010 documentary The War You Don’t See. “I’d hold my hand up and say that one didn’t press the most uncomfortable buttons hard enough.”
Omaar claims his ITV series – “a bit like Radio 4’s From Our Own Correspondent” – shows a different side to reporting on conflict zones.
“It allows reporters to tell the stories that end up in our notebooks but never make it to air,” he said. “For example, I did a story about two Afghan women training to do an ultra-marathon across the Gobi Desert.”
Read the full interview in the latest issue of Radio Times magazine, in shops and on the Apple Newsstand from Tuesday 20th October