Twelve-year-old Maya Sathi becomes ABC’s youngest journalist
Reading off the autocue on ABC’s Q and A stage, with host Tony Jones right beside her, has been one of Maya Sathi’s most memorable experiences in recent weeks.
But it’s not the only one.
As Rookie Reporter on BTN (Behind The News), the Year 7 Hornsby Girls High School student from Sydney got to be a journalist on the campaign trail at the recently concluded federal elections.
In the two weeks on the job, she interviewed star candidates across all the major political parties, as well as young voters on the issues that mattered to them this election.
Maya won the job of BTN’s Rookie Reporter when a teacher at school urged her to apply. She sent in an audition tape of why she wanted to be Rookie Reporter. She learned she had won the job, famously live on air with Leigh Sales, host of ABC’s flagship current affairs program 7.30.
A three-day bootcamp prepared her for the role. She learned from some of the best in the industry including Leigh Sales, Annabel Crabb, Jeremy Fernandes and of course Tony Jones, with whom she got to pretend to be Bill Shorten, just before the man himself appeared on Q and A.
“Yes, reading off Tony Jones’ autocue was fascinating,” Maya told Indian Link. “Even being in the audience afterwards was amazing.”
Another unforgettable experience, was being in the press pack to interview Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
“I’ve never experienced anything like that before. There was lots of jostling and yelling, but really the guys there were all talking with each other and cooperating. It was interesting to see how it worked.”
She was nervous as she waited for the PM to arrive, and managed to get ahead of the pack as his car pulled up. “Why should young people vote for you, Prime Minister,” she asked. He ignored her as his security ushered him away.
“Securitymen don’t like 12-year-olds,” she said with resignation, to camera.
But minutes later, she managed to get her question answered finally.
Maya’s questions were about education, migrants, the environment and the like, and came from a survey conducted with young people. As a young woman she was also keen to ask women politicians about women in politics. (“Find your own voice,” was Penny Wong’s studied response.)
Her best interview, Maya recounted, was with Richard Di Natali, leader of the Greens. “Perhaps because I got to prep for it properly. There were some interviews for which I was given two minutes’ notice!”
That was the toughest part – prepping for interviews, especially those snared at the last minute. One interviewee was kept waiting, back at the studio, while she was out at the PM’s press conference. As she scrambled to do this interview via phone, the stress of it all was apparent on screen.
“I’m so glad I had people with me all the time, telling me what to do, where to stand, guiding me on what to ask.”
How does she feel now, looking at her own interviews?
“I feel happy to see myself on TV, but I think I could have slowed down in some parts… and maybe used some better words in places.”
She needn’t worry, because her mentors at the ABC thought she did a fine job.
“I can see you hosting Q and A,” Tony Jones said to her. Leigh sales mumbled, “Don’t take my job…”.
She emerged with grace and poise that belie her young age, with a gentle but determined manner in her interviewing style. Perhaps most importantly, she seemed genuinely interested in what her interviewees had to say.
There’s no doubt Maya learned a lot. “The advice, tips and practice sessions all gave me much confidence. My parents watch Q and A and 7.30 all the time, and to see these shows from the other side, was a wonderful experience.”
Her parents make a cameo appearance on one of her interviews.
“I’m so grateful to Mum and Dad,” Maya revealed. “They both work full time so we had to ask my nanny to drive me everyday. It was nice to have my grandparents with me at the Bill Shorten press conference.”
Malli Iyer, Maya’s maternal grandfather and a veteran Indian Linker, passed away earlier this year.
“I missed him a lot, because he liked watching the ABC too,” Maya said fondly. “He made this happen for me, I think. He always encouraged me to get involved – go for it Maya, he would say. I’m so proud to be his granddaughter.”
So how about journalism as a career?
“I’m not sure. I’m not even 13 yet so I’ve got loads of time. But I have thought about it. I’m involved with debating at school, and I’ve begun to enjoy the news!”
Getting them thinking
Some questions Maya asked her star interviewees
Scott Morrison: Being treasurer involves funding different activities to cater to everybody’s needs. How do you do it?
Chris Bowen: Why do you want to be treasurer? (Also, How much money do you give your kids?)
Bill Shorten: What is your party going to do to protect our environment for future generations?
Malcolm Turnbull: There’s been a big push to get students into science and technology subjects. How do you think this will affect the future of Australia?
Penny Wong: You’re a migrant and you came here as a child. Does that change your views on migrants?
Anthony Albanese: What’s it like being leader?
James Mathison, TV celebrity and first-time candidate who took on Tony Abbott in Warringah: What was something you didn’t expect when you got into politics?
Michaelia Cash: Are women properly represented in politics?
Richard Di Natale: Where do you see Australia in 50 years?