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Can Anila Baig change The Sun?
29th November, 2004

by Kalpana Mistry
Staff Writer

She's outspoken, a single mum, Muslim, and recently joined Britain's biggest selling newspaper. Considering Anila Baig wears a Hijaab (headscarf), and is more likely to be one of The Sun's victim of abuse than its newest columnist, she has done well since she started as a reporter in 1998.

Some might cringe at the fact that Baig's first column headline at The Sun read 'Let me go out mum... I'm 34', but it underlines the headstrong writer's willingness to try and play on her ethnicity and break down barriers through humour as opposed to simply complaining about the image of Muslims in the media industry.

One of Sun's desk editors told the Independent last week that the decision was more about her style than her Hijaab. "Humour is the key to it. Anyone who writes for the Sun has to hit the funnybone."

At a Society of Editors conference earlier this month she told of how difficult it had been for her to get into the industry. Not taking journalism seriously, her father had suggested she train as a doctor first and then become a health reporter. "Get her on an MBA and then we’ll talk," was what one potential marriage suitor told her family.

The question on everyone's mind will now be whether this plucky addition to the Sun's outspoken team can make a difference. Already she has raised subjects and written commentary that would normally not surface on the paper.

Last week she wrote a piece explaining the meaning behind the month of Ramadan. Previously she vehemently condemned the killers of Margaret Hassan, arguably more influential than anything the Muslim Council of Britain could do.

"Our religion reveres mothers, in particular, saying that heaven lies under their feet. The killers of this fine lady were not fit to clean her shoes. For the countless Iraqi children she has helped the only solace is knowing that she will be in heaven. The same cannot be said for the scum who took her life," she wrote.

Religion isn't the only topic that she covers. The BBC Eastenders press office was understandably furious a few weeks ago when Baig wrote: "I'm against extremism of any kind but within weeks of the Ferreiras moving in, even I was perilously close to voting for the BNP."

What infuriated them more however was the fact that she took personal potshots at the Asian actors, a move that resulted in the entire Eastenders cast writing a letter to the paper to complain.

Despite her shoot-from-the-hip approach, some have privately said The Sun's move to bring over Baig smells of tokenism. That could be true of course but the tabloid doesn't usually make an effort to be politically correct. It could be an effort to grow circulation within the Muslim community, but many get the distinct impression that it has more fun demonising them.

More amusingly for others, it robs Muslims of a traditional foe who was to blame for growing Islamophobia when required.

However all this speculation ignores Baig's competence as a journalist. She was snapped up by the tabloid soon after winning Columnist of the Year 2004 at the Regional Press Awards. The judges said she had an "easy, light touch" and got her message across because she did not take herself or her subject matter too seriously.

Other than not much is known about the journalist. She joined the Bradford office of the Yorkshire Post as a reporter and six years later has moved on from a column on the Post to Britain's biggest selling daily.

"Don't be put off by the picture of me," she said in her introductory piece in The Sun, "I'm just a gal who likes to hide her highlights under a bushel - or a headscarf."

The industry it seems, really is moving on.


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