GLOBAL AFFAIRS

GLOBAL AFFAIRS

Rebecca McLaughlin-Eastham - Credits: RME Media.

Rebecca McLaughlin-Eastham - Credits: RME Media.

Media dialogues: Rebecca McLaughlin-Eastham
She is one of the best-known faces on television in the Gulf and beyond, with a broadcast career spanning Euronews, CNBC and Bloomberg amongst others. Rebecca reports on business, energy, news, culture and entertainment in addition to running a global media coaching and advisory firm from her base in the UAE
15 Mar 2024

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. Rebecca McLaughlin-Eastham, News Anchor, Reporter and Executive Producer from RME Media, spoke to UN Today about her life and career in media.

What is your professional background?

Compared to many today, I probably came to the media industry in an unconventional way. I graduated from the London School of Economics & Political Science with a degree unrelated to journalism before doing an internship at CNBC’s European headquarters.

The on-the-job training was exceptional and I learned every role in the newsroom, from making coffee for CEOs like Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary in the green room to booking the biggest names in business for our live shows. A long list of incredible producers and presenters taught me how to analyze global markets, write scripts, build charts and rundowns at speed, and be a trusted voice in the ear of anchors from the gallery.

My next step was in front of the camera – doing stock market updates for CNBC US, before jumping at the opportunity to run CNBC’s Paris bureau and be the national correspondent.

One day, Bloomberg Television called and I accepted their offer to move to the Middle East – a place my family has called home for some 30 years. I loved covering regional stock markets, interviewing key figures, and eventually they added oil, gas, OPEC and energy to my beat. It was an incredibly busy and historic time for the markets and the MENA region, and it was a thrilling ride.

Anchoring news shows for the government-owned Dubai One TV was my next stop – before stints at Reuters, CGTN, The National, Vogue Magazine, Abu Dhabi Media & the Sky News Arabia Academy, where I built my digital, print and unaffiliated presenting portfolio, plus my media training consultancy, which I still run today.

In recent years, Euronews brought me on board to anchor their new flagship show, Inspire Middle East, which allowed me to further explore the region’s rich cultural offerings and sit down with its game-changers and captains of industry. I still freelance present and produce for the network today – in addition to NBCUniversal Catalyst of late, which has reconnected me with some CNBC colleagues from those early halcyon days. There’s a comforting symmetry to it all, and I feel tremendously blessed to be doing what I love in a region I feel deeply connected to.

Interviewing Emirates Airline Chairman & CEO, His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum. Courtesy – Dubai One TV (Dubai Media Inc.)

What’s the best interview you’ve ever done?

It’s impossible to say, there are many that I value for different reasons. Among the standouts would be Ray Dalio for his principles, kindness and candor on and off camera, Tony Robbins for his determination to democratize investing and empower people to leapfrog economically as he has.

Domenico Dolce & Stefano Gabbana for standing up to the fashion industry’s old guard and proudly crafting couture in Italy instead of Paris with Alta Moda. Vivienne Westwood for her fearless spirit and opposition to fast fashion ten years before the world woke up to its devastating environmental impact.

Others include Sylvester Stallone for his humility and genuine warmth, Martin Sheen for his playfulness & joie de vivre, Gerard Butler for his irreverence, plus Garou & Nancy Ajram for humoring me and bursting into song for our promos.

And while there are too many to mention, I’m grateful to the countless ministers and heads of state for the rare access and trust they extended to my team by inviting us into their world for a day.

I’ve also loved interacting with the rising stars, future leaders and titans of tomorrow – from the first young Emirati aspiring astronaut to the region’s youngest inventors and self-taught musical virtuosos. The assuredness and enthusiasm of these teens is remarkable, and it’s wonderful to watch them rise.

Interviewing His Royal Highness Prince Turki Al Faisal Al Saud. Courtesy – Euronews NBC.

What’s the interview you’d like to do but not been able to?

I don’t have a wish list per se, but like many media consumers around the world, I would like to hear from those currently making headlines in the Middle East region.

While interviewing famous faces is a big part of my job, I’m not there to soft-soap them, pander to them, or write puff pieces about them. You’ll always get a good story if you’re bold enough to ask the respectful, but tough questions. It’s also interesting to find out what really makes a guest tick, what motivates them, moves them, or mystifies and even maddens them.

We’re better informed when we know the people, not the personas; the brains, not just the brands; and the leaders away from their lecterns. Learning who these high-profile figures truly are, is always more illuminating than the spin, hype or celebrity that surrounds them and their entities.

On a more nostalgic note, I would have loved one final conversation with my father, who died too early, and before I got to know him in the way I feel I should have.

Interviewing Tony Robbins. Courtesy – Euronews.

What is your view in the role of media?

Primarily, and with my business and current affairs hat on, its role is to inform, educate and present the balanced truth. It’s a powerful tool for raising awareness, exposing injustice, inequality, corruption, suffering and sometimes enacting positive social change.

That’s not to say that all media outlets have this intention or outcome, as the influence and control some platforms exert in delivering the “news” through their particular prism of truth is well known.

I’m hugely proud to be a journalist but have occasionally found myself having to defend the industry to its critics. At times, good media organizations and journalists have been tarred with the same brush as the supposedly bad ones – demonized with accusations of poor fact-checking, propaganda or weaponization.

The journalists I call friends, those I work with, and those I watch or read all have one thing in common – integrity. The truth is their North Star and therein lies their credibility.

Separately, I must say that another important function of the media is to provide entertainment, escapism, light and levity. It highlights the magnificent creativity, beauty and diversity of our world. As an antidote to the 24-hour news feed, it’s essential to have this balance.

For nothing transported me faster to the Oval Office like The West Wing did in its day, or takes me to rural Ambridge today like The Archers on BBC Radio 4, and has me laughing out loud in a quiet departure lounge like John Stewart helming the Daily Show.

Oil, gas & energy markets correspondent. Courtesy – DMG, ADNOC, ADIPEC & SLB.

What is your vision of media 10 years from now?

It will continue to evolve and expand, with next-generation technology, quantum computing and AI playing important roles. Collectively, I hope this will lead to refined and optimized distribution, with the sifting out of fake news, misinformation, inflammatory content and persistent advertising.

The way many people consume media content is increasingly bite-sized. It’s glossier, it’s punchier, it’s faster – but some things should never change. There’s no point in being first with the news if you’re not accurate. The relentless pursuit of truth, unbiased storytelling and accountability – on the part of the interviewer as well as the guest – is paramount. It’s a big ask, but a worthy undertaking.

Worthier still are those who report from the front lines, risking and devastatingly losing their lives to show the world what’s really happening. So many truths & untold stories have come to light because of these brave journalists, and AI will never rival nor replicate their courage, compassion and tenacity.

Ever the optimist, I’m convinced that journalism will still be an attractive career option for students ten years from now. And I’m doing my best to encourage them, having taught the subject at universities in the UAE, and by continuing to mentor those who will ultimately be the industry’s custodians decades from now.

Could you share an interesting work-related anecdote?

There have been many heart-warming and heart-stopping work moments over the years. From being a very young journalist and watching the first live news feeds of 9/11 pour into our studio, to feeling the heavy weight of responsibility when updating the live news ticker during times of war and conflict.

I also remember the electric atmosphere as I went live with Pope Francis over my shoulder, celebrating Mass for more than 135,000 worshippers on the first papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula. Equally, I’ll never forget the tears in Imam Gamal Fouda’s eyes as he spoke to me following the Al Noor Mosque attacks.

With the serious side of the job, there’s no denying its surreal moments too, from my hair being chewed by overly friendly camels and falcons making deposits on my outfit during takes, to a nervous guest fainting live on air, and sustained press-scrum bruises to my ribs and toes when chasing energy ministers for soundbites. No two days are the same, and it’s still an enormous privilege to do this job, no matter how you slice and dice it.

A particularly clear memory of the past four years was when the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions were fully imposed in the UAE. At the time, I was anchoring Euronews’ weekly global magazine show, which was filmed on-location around the region, and edited at Sky News Arabia in Abu Dhabi. 

With neither an option, and everyone required to isolate, I converted my Dubai home into a TV studio and gave my husband a crash course in television lighting and filming. With my mother on sound duties (mostly feeding an endless supply of treats to our then-puppy to keep it quiet), I presented and produced the show’s links and main interviews from home.

The programme’s DOP/editor then masterfully blended the elements together, from his lockdown location, to brilliant broadcast effect.

As the weeks turned into months, it felt like something of an achievement given the tough circumstances and uncertainty of the times, which included the discovery I was also carrying twins. 

A wise person once said the show must go on, and go on it surely did.

Some audiovisual interviews and reels from Rebecca:

TV Showreel. Courtesy – RME Media
The Falcon Takes Flight. Courtesy – NBCUniversal Catalyst & Abu Dhabi Global Market. 
Inspire Middle East (United Arab Emirates). Courtesy – Euronews NBC.
Labour Market Report (Saudi Arabia). Courtesy – Euronews.

* Julián Ginzo is a member of the Editorial Board of UN Today.
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