Interview: Sunny Hundal

Sunny Hundal came to journalism in a very different manner to most. In a world where the established media has been increasingly been trying to move online, Hundal succeeded in creating his own career by effectively using the Internet to build his own platform through blogging. Hundal started blogging at Pickled Politics but is most well-known for the blog Liberal Conspiracy, which became the UK’s most popular left-wing blog under Hundal’s editorship. Since then Hundal has proceeded to write for a number of publications in the print media, including for The Independent, The Guardian, Metro, New Statesman, The Times, and Financial Times.

Hundal explains how he came to blogging and then journalism through online publishing. “I used to run a magazine called Asians in Media that was entirely a web project. It became an online magazine which lots of people in the industry read, because it broke news. I was an unknown then. Online publishing gave me a chance to break out and get noticed – that would have been very difficult five to ten years before that. Blogging was simply an extension of this. I got into it because I saw blogs, at the time, while I was running Asians in Media and saw this fantastic conversation going on.”

Analysing why he started blogging, Hundal identifies his desire to provide a perspective that he thought was missing from most political debates. “I sought to bring to the blogosphere a point of view about progressive Asians with liberal ideas. I thought that voice was missing, so I wanted to bring that to the blogosphere especially, and as a medium; I thought a blog was a good way to do that.”

“With Pickled Politics, my first blog, the mission statement was to offer people a more progressive liberal voice from the Asian community and to illustrate that these voices existed even though they were being drowned out by the national media, the ethnic media and politicians themselves.”

When I ask him whether he believes that voice is still missing, he comments, “I certainly think that there is a tendency, especially in the news media, to see Asians as ethnic blocs or as a religious bloc and to assume that religious voices are representatives of voter opinion, when they’re not. Certainly, organisations that have put themselves forward as representing ethnic voices or religious voices, I have felt, were not progressive enough.”

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However, Hundal believes it is still not easy to challenge the conservative voices in the media. “I used to get criticism, all the time, for challenging the Muslim Council of Britain, the Hindu Forum of Britain, and the Sikh Federation. We published a manifesto in The Guardian about this, in 2007, saying that these so-called community leaders only speak for themselves and not for the communities they claim to represent. “Having a range of voices out there and allowing those people to tell their own stories is certainly the best way to tackle that.”

By the time of his second blog, Liberal Conspiracy, Hundal had already established a reputation for himself as a distinct voice online. Consequently, when he launched Liberal Conspiracy the aims were far broader. “With Liberal Conspiracy, the mission statement was to offer a hub for left wing opinion, views and campaigning in a way that wasn’t there before. When I launched it in 2007, there certainly wasn’t a place like that – now, there are obviously far more. In those days there were lots of bloggers working in their own spaces. There wasn’t a place people could go to – a collective space. I felt that someone had to create that so I did.”

Hundal has remained true to his roots by continuing to blog, but now also regularly writes for established media outlets. Recently, Hundal has written extensively on India, particularly about violence against women there. He published his first book, India Dishonoured, on this subject in May 2013 as an ebook with Guardian Books, which soon made it into the top five of Amazon’s non-fiction bestseller list. When I ask him, which direction he thinks India will go as its economy continues to develop, he responds “I think that India has a lot more cultural power than it has economic power. The diaspora is spread all over the world and those people are very active in the politics and economics of those countries. I think in that sense, India punches above its weight in some ways even China doesn’t. India is a very proud nation. They have this sense of history and they think that this country is great and always will be great. That’s one of the reasons why, in India, they always see themselves as competing against China, because they want to see the glory days of India becoming one of the world powers again.”

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“There is so much corruption there I think it is very difficult. Over the next few decades I think that India will plod along unless something drastically changes – and I don’t see that happening, unfortunately.”

Hundal’s work on India is interesting, because it seems to mark a new direction in his work towards anticipating the world’s emerging news stories and helping to bring them to the fore. Talking to Hundal, it becomes clear that much of his success has come from his ability to anticipate the changing media landscape. However, it still came as a surprise to many in October 2013, when Hundal announced that he was standing down as editor of Liberal Conspiracy to become Journalist in-Residence at Kingston University, as well as to pursue other projects. Reflecting on his decision to become a part time lecturer at Kingston University, he says. “I suppose that it was a natural progression for me. I’ve always been interested in how technology shapes journalism. I’ve become a journalist by using online media to spread my stories. If the internet was not there, I would now not be a journalist.”

“Not enough people appreciate how internet culture can enrich journalism and how you need to understand how internet culture works in order to further that journalism and get more people to read it. You can’t just translate print onto online – it just doesn’t work like that”.

“I only teach part time and I find it very enriching. It is great to be able to help students and say look at what you can do, in a way that you couldn’t twenty years ago.”