Striving for justice


Work starts the moment Pacinthe Mattar gets out of bed on Monday morning. “I get caught up on the day’s news. I read the paper and listen to the radio or television while I’m getting ready,” she says. Mattar is an associate producer at CBC Radio’s The Current, a show that explores issues affecting Canadians today and highlights the importance of presenting multiple perspectives on these issues.

Mattar began her work with CBC as an intern in 2009 and landed a full-time position shortly afterwards. She is expected to pitch a new story each morning before being assigned her duties for that day, which include finding sources, running pre-interviews, and preparing an information package for The Current’s host.

Mattar wants people to relate to the stories she tells, to open minds, and to appeal to the hearts of Canadians. “I tell the stories of real people and their brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers,” she says. Her most memorable interview was with the father of 21-year-old Muhannad Bensadik, a Libyan-American who was killed in the fight for liberation from the Libyan government’s regime.

“It was a very intimate interview,” she says. “The man broke down in tears twice while remembering his son.” But what made the story so special to Mattar was an email she received from a listener after the show aired. It read: “That was the most touching interview I’ve heard on radio in 60 years.” Mattar felt proud, as though she had “really done his story justice”, she says.

The most difficult part of the job, Mattar says, is finding guests to interview. Mattar usually has about 24 hours to select, track down, and communicate with potential guests. “Sometimes the chase is easy. Most times, it’s really hard, but journalistically rewarding,” she says. After a full day of running pre-interviews with guests for the following show, Mattar submits her information package to the host and begins the search for her next story.

Although the inspiration for her stories varies, Mattar has a special passion for telling stories that are usually overlooked. “It’s so easy to just talk about someone, or for someone, but why not just ask them?” she says.

Growing up, her family often moved between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, and Canada. “Always being an outsider as a little girl definitely helped me to see things from other people’s perspectives,” she says.

Since moving to Canada from Dubai to begin her undergraduate studies at UTM, Mattar has felt drawn to people of various cultures, races, and abilities. She completed her degree in political science and French and earned her master’s degree in journalism at Ryerson. However, she found that she did most of her learning outside the classroom.

During her time at UTM, Mattar worked as a residence don, mentoring former students like Chris Lengyell, now a full-time employee of UTM’s residence department. “Our values at UTM are dependent on our diverse population,” says Lengyell. “It’s important to have people like Pacinthe to spread that lesson to the real world.”

Journalism hasn’t always been Mattar’s first career choice. She pictured herself working as a psychologist, a writer, and a United Nations ambassador at various points in her life, but what remained constant was her love of “making people really feel heard”. For Mattar,  journalism is a means to that end.

Life doesn’t slow down for Mattar until Friday night, when she winds down after a week of hard work. What’s next for Mattar? She hopes to have her own radio show that continues to tell unheard stories. Mattar wants to address the challenges facing different minorities and educate those who are unaware  of these challenges.

“Through my stories, I have learned that it’s not just okay to be different, it’s great to be different,” she says.