ALL around the world, people who are serious about keeping up with international news (and want that news delivered without the western priorities of networks like CNN and the BBC) turn to Al Jazeera (AJ). The Qatar-based network (whose name translates literally as “the island”, but refers to the Arabian Peninsula) has been broadcasting in Arabic since 1996, launching Al Jazeera English (AJE) 10 years later.

These days, when viewers of the English-language channel switch on, they will often be greeted by Halla Mohieddeen, the acclaimed Scottish news journalist who is one of AJE’s principal presenters. Working out of the network’s headquarters in the Qatari capital, Doha since 2019, the 42-year-old will be remembered by many in Scotland as the anchor of the ­path-breaking programme STV News Tonight, known as the “Scottish Seven” (on account of its 7pm broadcast time), on the short-lived STV2 ­channel in 2017-18.

The Scottish Seven was distinguished by being the first Scottish news programme to deliver international, UK-wide and Scottish news. Mohieddeen became the show’s presenter following ­considerable ­broadcast experience in China and with French channel France24.

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Now, as Al Jazeera celebrates the 25th ­anniversary of its inaugural broadcast in November 1996, ­Mohieddeen is enjoying life in Qatar, where she has become one of the best known, and most respected, journalists at the network. Speaking to me, via Zoom, from her apartment in Doha, the Edinburgh-born presenter expresses some surprise that the Sunday National should be running a major piece about her life and work.

“I honestly don’t think I’m that fascinating a ­subject,” she protests. “The most interesting thing about me is my cat, and he’s actually having a well-deserved snooze.”

Fascinating feline or not, Mohieddeen’s modesty (which is genuine, not concocted) conceals a ­brilliant and interesting career that has taken her from a ­“normal” childhood in the Scottish Borders to becoming one of the best kent faces in international television news.

The daughter of a Lebanese father and a Scottish mother, she studied languages (interpreting and translating) at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh.

Which is not to say that Mohieddeen arrived at ­university committed to a career as a translator. In fact, she says, she still hadn’t decided on what she wanted to do when she “grew up”.

She “fell into journalism quite late”, she recollects. Her career began “by chance”, at the age of 25, some years after she had completed her university degree.

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She and her then boyfriend ended up living in ­Beijing (above). Their intention was to teach English and learn Chinese. However, Mohieddeen discovered that she was – she says, with typical self-deprecation – a “very bad teacher”. Consequently, she snapped up the ­opportunity to be a proofreader for a Chinese ­publisher that was bringing out an English-language guide to Beijing.

It proved, she says, to be her “in” to journalism. She moved on quickly from proofreading for the guide to writing for it.

There followed time working for one of Beijing’s leading listings magazines, followed by a move into broadcasting by way of weather presenting on TV and some radio work. All-in-all, she spent six-and-a-half years in the Chinese ­capital.

Beijing was, she says, “very exciting… a city on the move”. She remembers ­returning there in January 2005, after a fortnight’s holiday back home in Scotland for Christmas, only to find that an entirely new road had been built in front of the offices of the magazine where she worked.

“The pace of change was just astonishing,” she says. She recalls Beijing – the ­energy of the city, and her great experiences of the people and the food – with great affection.

AFTER China came a job in Paris presenting for the English-language arm of the state-funded global broadcaster France24.

Although Mohieddeen’s Wikipedia page says she is “fluent in English, French, Mandarin Chinese and German”, the journalist insists that her language skills fall some way short of that description. For instance, she regrets the fact that she never learned Arabic from her dad – a consequence of English being the only language spoken in the family home.

It is, she implies, her skills as a journalist and presenter, rather than any great fluency in languages, that account for her stellar career. Mohieddeen enjoyed her time at France24, but she remembers one incident at the channel with a ­mixture of cringing discomfort and typically ­self-deprecating humour.

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She was, she remembers, “caught out” when her colleagues at the channel were watching a live press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel (above), but were unable to get translation. Having put down a grasp of German on her CV, the Scot was called upon to translate.

Mohieddeen can, she says, “order a round of drinks” in German, just don’t ask her to “dissect monetary policy for the European Union.” She recalls ­“flagging” as she attempted to carry out the task.

Fortunately, a colleague who did speak German fluently was able to step in and, as she puts it, “save my arse”.

It says a lot about Mohieddeen, who is a leading figure in global broadcast news, that she should choose to tell this ­particular anecdote from her almost four years at France24. A serious news ­journalist she may be, but no-one could accuse her of taking herself too seriously.

From a great job in Paris, Mohieddeen was tempted home to Scotland by the launch of the STV2 channel and, more specifically, the programme STV News Tonight. The only Scottish television news show to take on London-based ­bulletins like the BBC Six O’Clock News and Channel 4 News, “The Seven” was, Mohieddeen remembers, “such a fantastic concept, I couldn’t say not to it”.

Although both the show and the STV2 channel itself lasted just 14 months, the presenter has, she says, “only good things to say” about the programme and the ­people who worked on it.

“It’s still a concept that I believe in,” she says of the Scottish Seven. “I really think, ‘why shouldn’t Scotland be ­producing ­local, national and international news in one show?’.”

Following the demise of STV2, ­Mohieddeen was soon offered her ­current ­position in Doha. “I’m not going to lie,” she says, “Al Jazeera is a channel that I’ve always wanted to work for.”

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She grew up, she comments, “watching, and not understanding” Al Jazeera’s original Arabic-language channel. When AJ began operations in 1996, her late father quickly installed the satellite dish required to receive the world’s first global news channel in Arabic.

“It was transformative, certainly for Arabs,” Mohieddeen recalls. “News had never been delivered for Arabic-speaking nations before.”

A decade after the game-changing launch of its Arabic channel, the ­broadcaster took the audacious step of establishing Al Jazeera English. Since its launch in 2006, AJE has become an ­important and distinctive voice in world TV news.

The channel is certainly distinguished from its western competitors by its ­concern to reflect events through the experience of people who are typically marginalised and voiceless. During then Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s assault on the Gaza Strip in 2014, for example, CNN and the BBC reported from Israel. Of the major international broadcasters, only Al Jazeera had a ­correspondent in Gaza itself.

Al Jazeera’s independence from the agenda of the western powers and their ­allies has made the network some ­powerful enemies. The list of ­attacks on AJ bureaus and journalists is a ­depressingly long one.

The US missile strike that destroyed the network’s office in Kabul in 2002 is just one of many physical assaults on AJ premises. The release, in February of this year, of journalist Mahmoud Hussein, following more than four years in prison in Egypt, was a reminder of the human price, in death, torture, injury and loss of liberty, that has been paid by many Al ­Jazeera journalists.

To this day, the Daily Mirror ­newspaper stands by its assertion that it saw a leaked memo of a meeting between then US President George W Bush and ­British Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2004 ­during which Bush proposed the bombing of Al Jazeera’s Doha HQ. During the 2017-18 diplomatic crisis in which Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and ­Bahrain blockaded Qatar, the Saudi-led coalition openly demanded that the ­Qatari government close down Al ­Jazeera.

Most recently, on May 15 of this year, then Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu ordered the bombing of the building that housed the Gaza bureaus of both AJ and the Associated Press. It is an event that Mohieddeen remembers only too well.

The Scot was on shift in Doha when the Israeli bombing of the building took place. Before she went on air to read the news bulletin at 12 GMT she knew that the Israelis had given her colleagues in Gaza one hour to evacuate their ­workplace.

“It was surreal,” she says. “I was sitting at my desk, trying to read out the five-minute news headlines.”

Meanwhile, her colleagues had AJ’s Gaza producer on the line explaining the situation, while the channel set up a ­camera, fixed on its own building, ­waiting for Israeli missiles to destroy it.

Ultimately, she remembers, “we were going backwards-and-forwards [between Doha and Gaza] as the rockets came in. There’s nothing to compare to watching your own building getting bombed live on air.”

When the missiles hit, Mohieddeen recalls, “you could just hear the gasps in the newsroom. There were a lot of very distressed people in the office that day.”

In Gaza itself, where AJ journalist Safwat Al Kahlout was reporting, matters were, of course, much worse. “You could just hear it in Safwat’s voice,” ­Mohieddeen recollects, “he was ­crestfallen.”

EXPERIENCES such as this bind journalists to an organisation, especially if they believe it is under attack for its commitment to the truth.

“I love the journalism that we do,” Mohieddeen comments, “it’s fearless and outward looking… The ethos of the channel is that we cover what matters to a global audience.

“You only know what’s happening when you’re there. We’ve got at least 69 bureaus around the world. We’ve been in Kabul since 1998.”

She and her colleagues “often feel quite lucky,” she says, to be working for a channel that maintains its focus on important stories, such as the situation in Afghanistan after the recent evacuations by the western powers. That focus contrasts, she observes – in a mischievous dig at the BBC – with those who “have to cut, for example, to the culling of an alpaca”.

An enthusiastic internationalist, Mohieddeen loves working alongside people from such countries as Ethiopia, the US, Australia, Afghanistan and Sudan. Al Jazeera is, she says proudly, “the most diverse place I have ever worked.”

This diversity is, she reflects, just one of many reasons why she is “thrilled to be part of” Al Jazeera as it embarks on its second quarter century.