This article is part of a series of interviews with people who work in the media to provide the news and views that shape our perceptions of world affairs. Martina Fuchs spoke to UN Today about her life and career in television.
What is your professional background?
I was very lucky to be born in the alpine, landlocked, and multi-cultural country of Switzerland, and to find out very early in my life that I wanted to travel, study languages, and explore the world to bring people together.
For university, I went to study the furthest away from my hometown of Zurich as possible, which is Geneva in the French part of the country to pursue a master’s degree in economic history and international relations, and Arabic and Portuguese as a minor. I wrote my thesis on the impact of small arms on the sustainable development of Yemen and had the opportunity to visit the country several times before the devastating civil war started in 2014.
In 2007, I left for Egypt to study TV Journalism at the Kamal Adham Center for Television and Digital Journalism at the American University in Cairo (AUC). Today, I’m a one-woman show and look at my professional life like a mosaic of different colourfulstones.
I currently work as a freelance Europe business correspondent for China’s official news agency Xinhua, international media ambassador and board member of the Montreux Jazz Festival China, as an advisor for the world’s leading initiative for cross-generational dialogue the St. Gallen Symposium, and as a consultant for the world-renowned IMD business school and the Lang Lang International Music Foundation. Coming from chocolate nation Switzerland, I’m also the brand ambassador for premium chocolatier Läderach.
More recently, I picked up the hobby as a music DJ and was thrilled to perform for the first time at the second edition of the Montreux Jazz Festival China in the city of Suzhou from Sept. 27-Oct. 2. Previously, I was a CNNMoney Switzerland TV anchor and CGTN senior business reporter in Beijing, and worked as a Reuters economy correspondent for the Gulf Arab region in Dubai and Reuters Financial TV producer in London.
I speak 9 languages, including German, French, English, Chinese, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Swahili.
I’m very happy to work as a freelancer, as it allows me to avoid politics and geopolitical issues and focus on topics that actually unite and bring people together, such as business, culture, sports, the environment, technology and innovation.
What’s the best interview you’ve ever done?
I have been privileged and proud of many interviews and video and text stories over the span of my career, especially reporting from off the beaten track and under-reported countries and locations such as Djibouti, Senegal, Rwanda, Mongolia, Yemen’s Socotra island, Pakistan or Tajikistan. I love grabbing the camera (nowadays it’s simply my iPhone, but I started off shooting TV pieces on P2 cameras for Reuters) and the whole process of filming, editing and producing my own packages, it’s very creative work.
Over the years, I have interviewed many presidents, prime ministers, CEOs, music superstars – such as Grammy Award winner and innovator “will.i.am”, Grammy winner Jon Batiste or Chinese star pianist Lang Lang, sports icons likefreestyle ski champion Eileen Gu, and other exclusive interviews including with Jane Goodall, Sadhguru, or Black Lives Matter Co-Founder Ayo Tometi.
However, the most challenging was probably live on stage during the 1 Billion Followers Summit in Dubai in December 2022 with “Like Nastya.” The 10-year-old girl is YouTube’s biggest kid star and counts 350 million subscribers across social media platforms. Interviewing a child requires a lot of preparation work and cognitive empathy as it’s an unpredictable endeavour and can quickly get out of control. It also showed to me how crazy the influencer and social media universe has become.
As I often moderate at many top global conferences and events around the world, such as: the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Web Summit in Lisbon, Collision in Toronto, Nas Summits in London and Dubai, Global Tourism Economy Forum in Macao, St. Gallen Symposium, START Summit in Switzerland, GLOBSEC in Bratislava, or the Bled Strategic Forum in Slovenia, and the upcoming World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) Global Summit in Rwanda this November, I can use these platforms to gain access and conduct many more important and hopefully impactful interviews in the future.
What is the interview you’d like to do but haven’t been able to yet?
I’m very grateful for the opportunity to interview many global changemakers over the past decade of my career. Right now, most journalists want an interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin and of course Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukraine’s President. For me, it’s Chinese President Xi Jinping. A mission impossible, however, as he never gives media interviews and is untouchable. Elon Musk is another one of my targets, but as you can imagine he also hardly gives media interviews.
If I got a chance, I would ask him: What is your driving force and vision for mankind? What do you really hope to achieve here on the planet? And in space? How do you want to be remembered in history? Where do you see the biggest threats and opportunities for the world right now?
Slightly easier will be Khaby Lame, the Senegalese-Italian media personality and content creator. Although I know a few of his friends, I am still waiting for my chance to come. I find it fascinating how he has been able to amass 162 million followers (more than triple the population of Senegal) and become the most popular TikToker in the world in just three years – without uttering a single word!
But to be honest, there are so many interesting and inspiring people in the world that I just take it day by day, go with the news flow and keep working hard.
What is your view on the role of media?
It may sound stereotypical, but it’s to change the world for the better and raise awareness about a whole array of crucial issues ranging from climate change, wars, food security, to the threats of artificial intelligence (AI).
Journalists have a social responsibility and the duty and task to informgovernments, business leaders, members of civil society and academia, aswell as ordinary people,and show them all sides of a story and different opinions in order to shape their own perspectives and influence decision-making to improve the state of the world.
The role of the news media is also to report accurately and bear witness. That is what I try to do. But beyond that, personally, my goal as a journalist is to connect people from different cultures and make a social impact for the next generation.
I see my job as opening the eyes of people to the unknown and exploring places where many can’t go to show them another side of the story. When I lived in the Arab Gulf, the Al Jazeera programme “الرأي والرأيالآخر” (“one opinion and the other opinion”) was very popular and inspired me to portray unlike facets and fresh angles in my assignments and coverage.
But investigative and quality journalism requires time and financial resources, and with the demise of outlets such as Vice, MTV News, Buzzfeed News, the future for the media industry looks grim. Furthermore, the rise of social media, influencers and content creators has disrupted and shaken up mass media and the overall communication sector and is blurring the lines between real information, entertainment, paid advertisement, and self-promotion.
When I started my career as a journalist at Reuters, we used the “Handbook of Journalism” as the cornerstone for our standards and values, which included the 10 absolutes of Reuters journalism such as always holding accuracy sacrosanct, always correcting an error openly, and always striving for balance and freedom from bias. These principles have become increasingly difficult to uphold, observe and monitor. In our world full of challenges ranging from climate change and natural disasters, geopolitical tensions and wars, we need to be on the guard of fake news and misinformation. There are growing threats from AI-generated disinformation, unregulated social media platforms, and cyber hackers. The role of traditional media and professional social media content has never been more paramount than today.
What is your vision of media 10 years from now?
Every single one of us is a reporter nowadays: on TikTok, LinkedIn, X, Weibo, and all the other social media platforms. But is this real news and reliable, trustworthy information or shameless self-promotion and misinformation? With the content creator economy (I blame myself as I’m part of it too), influencers and paid partnerships, the quality of information has decreased sharply and fake news is still spreading like wildfire.
The cost-of-living crisis, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, climate change, and the aftermath of the COVID pandemic have created fear and uncertainty for journalists and the future of our profession. Even the big tech companies have come under pressure and laid off thousands of people due to economic downturn.
According to the Reuters Institute and Oxford University report “Journalism, media, and technology trends and predictions 2023”, inflation and the drop in household spending is putting further pressure on the news industry.
It showed that publishers are much less confident about their business prospects going forward. For example, only 44% of editors and CEOs surveyed are confident about the year ahead, and 19% expressed low confidence. 72% of publishers worry about increasing news avoidance – especially around depressing topics like Ukraine and climate change.
Sadly, I believe that more newspapers will stop print production due to rising print costs, there will be more layoffs in the TV and broadcast business, and the creator economy will see a correction as people realize that the pressure of constantly delivering can’t last for long. Citizen journalism will become more widespread and prevalent.
More recently, I have noticed a social media fatigue as the first-generation social networks like Facebook and X are struggling to retain audiences and people have realized with the mental health crisis that there are more important things in life than spending time online.
Technology will function like a scale: On the one hand, opportunities are rising. On the other, risks increase as well. In June, the WEF’s flagship report “Top 10 Emerging Technologies of 2023” focused on Generative AI, ChatGPT and Bard and showed that their integration in our daily lives triggers both excitement as well as concern. It will have a huge impact on the journalistic profession and how we need to better build public trust, meet professional and ethical standards, and protect individual privacy.
For me, one of the biggest concerns remains the digital divide in the world. According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in Geneva, 34% of global population (2.7 billion people!) still does not use the internet. Universal connectivity should be a top priority before we talk about generative AI.
Could you please share an interesting work-related anecdote?
After graduating from the University of Geneva and two internships at the United Nations Institute of Training and Research (UNITAR) in Geneva and the Swiss embassy in Damascus, Syria, I failed my first job interview as an Arabic-speaking foreign agent and spy for the Swiss government’s Federal Intelligence Service. Although I passed the oral and written language tests, I messed up the psychology part as the interviewers determined that I was too extrovert and couldn’t keep information to myself. Therefore, I figured out that journalism was probably the better choice and best profession to combine my passions for travel and communication. It also showed to me that whenever one door closes and another one opens.