“Growing up in Chester was the perfect place to be..” said the TV presenter and news reporter So Rahman to a packed lecture theatre in the Grosvenor Museum. So, who greeted every attendee personally spoke about his experiences both with Granada TV and in recent years with Al Jazeera English. The event was in aid of the Alzheimer’s society, with So’s ongoing support for the charity inspired by his care for his late father who had suffered from the disease.
So’s parents were from India and his father served with the army in Burma during WW2. After 21 years service he was eligible for a work permit and moved to the UK in 1963. His mother moved soon after and they later had a stall on Chester market for 25 years. So was born in 1966 , which he joked was his mother’s “favourite year” because of the combination of his birth, England’s world cup success and Miss India becoming Miss World. Responding to a question from Chronicle Reporter David Holmes, he said that he had never experienced racism whilst growing up on Ermine Road, and that Far Right parties, although popular in places like Oldham had little support here.
He attended Kingsway High School, Wrexham college (now Glyndwr university) and the University of Westminster and has enjoyed a 25 year career in TV at all levels. A well known face to people in Chester due to 10 years service with Granada Reports, a job that was supposed to be temporary for 6 months. He also worked for other regional news outlets at the same time including London Today. “Its never been a glam job” he commented with the wide range of stories he had covered “from the Manchester IRA bomb attack, to the death of Princess Dian, granny reaching 100.. your arm stuck up a horse’s bottom”.
I’m 2005 he left Granada and joined Al Jazeera English, after being spotted hosting a series of debates on Channel 4 about Islamic law. He said that Al Jazeera was often misunderstood, with former US Defence secretary labelling it as a “terror channel”. Hurt by criticism he said that “we are an international news service that just happens to be based in the Middle East”. George Bush criticised the channel for showing footage of civilian deaths following US bombing and the stations HQ in Quatar was also reportedly targeted before Tony Blair intervened.
He said that working on the channel had “opened his eyes to people, places and situations I would never have seen in my life”. Commenting that it was a “humbling experience” and that “many families I met live on less than 1.5 dollars a day”. So talked about visiting the homeless camps outside Pakistan during the harsh winter of 2007. Footage was shown of people attending a ritual bathing in the Ganges, as well as the Hindu festival of colour, showing the wide range of the station’s coverage and was a fascinating look into other cultures. The station is available in the UK on Freeview (133) and Sky (514) and “goes to places that the BBC and CNN don’t go to..” So covered the Bhutan election of 2008, and it was a “fascinating place to be” he says, describing a new democracy where there was no electioneering, no commercialisation, and no coke billboards, (or Coke trucks). Also on display on the night was So’s steel plated press jacket which is built to withstand a knife attack and a legal requirement for reporters to wear in hostile areas. One county with a poor human rights record including enforced evictions is Azerbaijan They hosted the (most expensive ever) Eurovision song contest in 2012, which So also reported on.
So spoke movingly about the death of his parents, particularly his father’s battle with Alzheimer’s. He says that this showed him the value of the NHS and he praised the care received from Northgate village surgery. He says that his Granada colleagues such as Lucy Meacock offered him invaluable care and support. His experiences caring for his father inspired So to share his experiences and let others know they weren’t alone, and he champions the work of the Alzheimer’s society.
The portrait of So which was acquired by the museum was originally displayed in the National Gallery alongside 12 other high profile British Asians. It depicts him in the Manchester Quay street studios with a green screen background, and he said that the artist may have picked up on the isolation he felt at the time when he was coping with his father’s illness.
“I’m never going to leave” concluded So about his love for his home town. An excellent evening for a great cause.