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Malala Yousafzai and the BBC

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Jon Williams Jon Williams | 16:27 UK time, Friday, 19 October 2012

In recent days, much has been written about Malala Yousafzai - the 14-year-old Pakistani girl shot in the head by the Taliban. But in 2008, when the Taliban imposed a ban on girls' education in Pakistan's Swat Valley, no-one had heard of the schoolgirl from Mingora.

Candlelight vigil for Malala Yousafzai


Often in conflicts, news coverage focuses on bombing and killings. The stories of those caught up in violence are lost. So our colleagues at BBC Urdu set out to capture the impact the conflict in Swat was having on the pupils involved - their thoughts about their future, and how they were dealing with their day-to-day life.

BBC Urdu reporters made contact with teachers at a number of schools, including Malala's father, Ziauddin Yousufzai. He ran a school in Mingora, and suggested that his own daughter could write a regular diary. But in order to reduce the risk to Malala, we agreed she would write under a pseudonym, Gul Makai.

Her weekly blog started in late 2008. It proved to be such a hit, the blog was translated into English.

Her writings were non-political, but clearly reflected her desire for female education. They mostly talked about her school, studies, life at home and friends. Neither she, nor her father was paid.

In a January 2009, she wrote:

"I was getting ready for school and about to wear my uniform when I remembered that our principal had told us not to wear uniforms and come to school wearing normal clothes instead. So I decided to wear my favourite pink dress. Other girls in school were also wearing colourful dresses. During the morning assembly we were told not to wear colourful clothes as the Taliban would object to it."

Malala's diaries were published for 10 weeks. The diaries stopped when Malala and her family left the Swat valley before the launch of a military operation in May 2009. That was end of her association with the BBC.

After the Pakistani army regained control of Swat, Malala was able to return to Mingora later in 2009. Her father decided to disclose her real name when he nominated her for an international peace prize.

Malala began appearing on Pakistani TV news channels under her real identity, named as the girl behind the BBC Urdu blog. She was awarded a national peace prize by the Pakistani government, nominated for an international award and made several public appearances as a campaigner for girls' rights to education. Her fame spread far beyond Pakistan, as she stared in a documentary filmed by the The New York Times.

The BBC is incredibly proud of its association with Pakistan. BBC Urdu began broadcasting in April 1949, less than two years after the country's independence. Today, the BBC is still one of the most trusted news sources in Pakistan - precisely because we're committed to telling all sides of any story. Malala's is an important voice in the debate about Pakistan's future.

Jon Williams is the BBC world news editor.


  • Comment number 1.

    Earlier this week in the American press, there was news of several individuals, posing as Malala's relatives, being arrested in the hospital where she was being treated.
    I haven't seen that reported elsewhere.Was it false information?

  • Comment number 2.



    False alarm.

  • Comment number 3.

    Jon, I found this post after reading an interesting article about Yousafzai and the human right to education - this for me, is the reason why the BBC is great and so much more than a news provider. Kudos for providing the opportunity for a young girl to make a much-needed mark

  • Comment number 4.

    @2. Scotch Git,
    Thanks for clarifying.

  • Comment number 5.

    This story has great momentum and we hope for a happy outcome for all concerned-in the immediate family and the females looking for a chance to go to school back home in Mingora.Keep us up to date.

  • Comment number 6.

    @1.mscracker - the Taliban faction claiming responsibility stated that they won't stop until she's dead so likely the security threat is real even if it wasn't the case at the hospital.

    @3.Michelle Summers- agree with you about BBC on this count.. it's a shame that it takes such a tragedy to bring an important issue to the fore. Good article link by the way.. thanks

  • Comment number 7.


  • Comment number 8.

    BBC is still one of the most trusted news sources in Pakistan
    Not just there, as these pages keep telling us. All things are relative.
    Speaking of whom, when big media outfits drop by & dabble in local issues, maybe one's Dad is not the best sole option to rely upon when the cameras depart. With great ratings comes great responsibility. Especially where kids are involved. Guys & gals.

  • Comment number 9.

    @JunkkMale - agree with the comment in terms of responsibility but if the Dad chose to make her name public it is hardly something the BBC can be held accountable for. I don't think it's something the BBC could have been proactive about. In any case he should have been aware of the risks given that anonymity was in place during Malala's initial stint with BBC.

  • Comment number 10.

    This is a sad story Jon... I hope Malala recovers well and pursues her cause. Hopefully the public also realizes that this Taliban attack and other recent expressions of Islamic anger is representative only of a small minority in the Muslim faith and is frowned upon by the rest of us.

  • Comment number 11.

    @10. Mzwelindiwe - Interesting article you linked to there.. a balanced view but the poll on it suggests otherwise in terms of public perception of Islam. I agree that in reality it might be just a small minority holding such extreme views but sadly it looks like the public is quite happy to brand all Islam as violent. This Malala incident won't help the cause of the majority any either.

  • Comment number 12.

    9. Pratish - I don't think it's something the BBC could have been proactive about.
    Be interesting if a renowned global news broadcaster advised in any way a simple rural teacher on the consequences of bringing his daughter's story to the attention of the world in face of PR-sensitive opposing views.

  • Comment number 13.

    @12. Junkkmale - I imagine the BBC probably did have that conversation otherwise her name would not have been kept secret during her 'diary' experience with the BBC when she started. Jon?

    @10. Mzwe... Islamic anger or not, I think this whole story is quite sickening - that women can still be treated in this way in this day and age.. it's shocking and sad.

  • Comment number 14.

    13.Emma Richards Clearly concerns existed at the time. I am more interested in the duty of care having initiated a media process that may have been 'handed on'. Simon Cowell gets held to account for much less. TV exposure can lure kids & adults into unwise relationships offscreen too, as we are learning.

  • Comment number 15.

    SKY report onscreen currently estimated 50,000 kids a year in India who 'go missing' each year, feared to be for human trafficking. With luck much may be written about this too. To capture the impact. Or maybe... see things done.

  • Comment number 16.

    The BBC doesnt appear to want to face the fact that if a girl cannot write in her own name she is de facto in danger and the process should not have been initiated as it was inherently provocative. There are ways of reporting issues which can avoid a teenage girl ending up shot and in a foreign country on her own with continuing threats being made.

  • Comment number 17.

    Article raises questions:
    1. Malala Yousufzai is adulated for exposing the Taliban's terrorism & & advocating for girls' education. How was an 11 year-old selected?
    2. Lone gunman walked up to bus taking children home from school in N. Swat Valley & was able to identify & shoot Malala in head & neck. Being ruthless-terrorist Taliban, why did he not just shoot up entire bus?

  • Comment number 18.

    3. In MILITARY hospital, Peshawar, Dr. Tariq Mohammad, said wounds weren't life-threatening, but the next few days would be crucial. Why was she taken to a military hospital?
    4. Malala began writing blog FOR BBC when she 11 under pseudo: "Gul Makai". She began public speaking in 2009 - strongly opposed by Taliban. How was 11-year-old selected BY BBC? Did her father offer her up?

  • Comment number 19.

    5. Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan allegedly said: "This was a new chapter of obscenity, and we have to finish this chapter." Sophisticated come-back from Taliban terrorist, don't you think?
    6. United State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland called the shooting "barbaric" & "cowardly." From where, inside Pakistan?

  • Comment number 20.

    Chairing children's assembly (UNICEF in SWAT) 13-year-old championed greater role for youth. She said (UN article): "Girl members play an active role...especially promoting girls' education." She was nominated for International Children's Peace Prize (Dutch org: KidsRights). How did this 13 year-old become well known internationally? Again, why did shooter need help identifying her?

  • Comment number 21.

    8. Malala - on way home from school run by father, Ziauddin. R. Shah, Mingora's Police Chief: Bearded man asked wich girl was Malala. One girl pointed to Malala; activist denied; gunmen then shot both. Again, why didn't he just do the terrorist thing & shoot up the bus?
    9. Militants began influence in the valley in 2007. Malala began her journal almost immediately?

  • Comment number 22.

    10. Taliban militants destroyed around 200 schools. Most were girls' institutions, though some boys' schools were struck as well. The private school owned/operated by Malala's father was temporarily closed under the Taliban. Malala's father as well as Malala must have been well-known to the Taliban? Why did beared man not recognize Malala on sight, or just shoot up bus?

  • Comment number 23.

    11. K. Hayat, Official, Human Rights Pakistan, said Malala's activism sent message Pakistani girls could fight for their rights, but she worried shooting would prevent other parents from letting their children speak out. Pakistani girls could fight for their rights, or Pakistani girls could demonstrate need for protection against Taliban, & then what - fresh support for American droning?

  • Comment number 24.

    12. "This is an attack to silence courage through a bullet," Hayat said. "These are the forces who want to take us to the dark ages."
    And the name of these forces is....?
    I have 12 questions; surely others have more?


  • Comment number 25.

    Have to admire the way found round the BBC's 'we want your... very... very short views to our nice long broadcast spiels'. And the patience it took. Sadly you are asking questions of them. That... is deemed bad form by all accounts.

  • Comment number 26.

    @Jon Williams - agree with 25. JunkkMale - how about please reverting to the old commentary length or at least making the restriction long enough to leave a decent comment/ ask relevant questions? The workaround (for those with enough time and patience as Bluesberry!) makes for a worse user experience for writers and followers of these blogs.

  • Comment number 27.

    25 and 26

    You could always have a cup of tea and instead of dunking biscuits throw your old cookies away then time flies

  • Comment number 28.

    I think this is a shocking story and cannot believe that people (of any religion!) can hold such oppressive views against women. Hopefully Yousafzai recovers and continues on her quest.



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