Q&A: Wayne Hay, Al Jazeera correspondent based in Bangkok

Former TVNZ reporter Wayne Hay moved to Kuala Lumpur in 2006 to take up a job with the newly launched Al Jazeera English channel. Now a senior correspondent for Al Jazeera based in Bangkok, Hay has spent over a decade covering the biggest stories in Asia. 

Did you always want to end up in Asia?

It just kind of happened. I guess I always had an interest in Asia — I first got a proper taste for it when I was sent to cover the Commonwealth Games in Malaysia in 1998 when I was working for radio. Then the opportunity came up to live and work over there.

Al Jazeera is quite famous for hiring New Zealanders, isn't it?

Yes, I was part of that first group to go over. I started with the English channel just before it launched. There was a former boss of mine from TVNZ, Trish Carter, who was the bureau chief in Malaysia. That certainly helped, knowing her, and I knew a couple of other people who’d gone to Doha already. That opened the door at the start and got me in there.

Wayne Hay

Wayne Hay, covering the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami. IMAGE: Supplied

What is Al Jazeera’s presence like in Asia?

We used to have a very large broadcast centre in Kuala Lumpur. For quite a few years after the launch, they had four broadcast centres where they would broadcast the news and present shows in Doha, Kuala Lumpur, London and Washington, D.C. Since then they’ve changed and do most of the presenting from Doha and London now. Over the years, Kuala Lumpur has been downscaled in terms of its editorial staff, but it’s still our Asian headquarters for administration and finance, things like that. We have bureaus in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Manila, Seoul and Beijing. So we have a pretty big presence there.

What are some of the challenges of being based in Bangkok?

There’s only two of us — both of our roles are to cover the whole region, so not just Thailand. We have the whole Asia-Pacific, really, as our patch. So it’s a lot of travel, and it’s busy. But it’s fascinating — you can literally be covering China one day, then you’re in Myanmar the next. It’s difficult, but obviously very exciting. You have to learn a lot very quickly when you’re moving from one country to the next.

You've covered some of the biggest stories in the world. What have been your most memorable experiences?

I’ve been to North Korea a few times, and I’m about to go again. Other memorable things are natural disasters when you are going into these places where people have lost absolutely everything. It’s challenging — you’re working in conditions where there’s no electricity, it’s dangerous, and you just have to hit the ground and start trying to describe what you’ve seen and what people are going through there. For example, last year with the earthquake and tsunami in Sulawesi, Indonesia — that was pretty remarkable in terms of the devastation. I guess the other memorable event was when I was arrested in Egypt, covering the aftermath of the military coup. That was memorable for the wrong reasons.

Wayne Hay

Wayne Hay with General Saw Johnny, a commander with the Karen National Liberation Army in Myanmar. IMAGE: Supplied

Has that experience put you off going to certain places, or changed the way you do things?

It would make me think twice about going to some places. It’s certainly always in the back of your mind when you’re going to an area and reporting on things that the government or military or police don’t want you to report on. That’s happened recently in Myanmar — obviously journalists there have been arrested and detained for a long time for uncovering stories the authorities don’t want them to uncover.

What is your advice for aspiring foreign correspondents?

I think just going in with a complete open mind about places you’re going to. Write your pieces based on seeing things from all particular angles and listening to people. That’s what I’ve tried to do over my career reporting in Asia — just to report what I see, and through having an open mind, it’s easier to do that. I’ve been in situations where media organisations who are reporting alongside me have been criticised for reporting a particular way. I think I’ve managed to avoid that over the years because I’ve just reported the events that have unfolded in front of me without trying to put any sort of opinions or viewpoints over the top of that.

- Asia Media Centre