Arab Women Journalists Slam Palestine/Iraq Sieges, Urge Skills Upgrade

— by Magda Abu-Fadil

Originally published in “Al-Raida,” quarterly journal of the Institute for Women's Studies in the Arab World, Lebanese American University, Volume XX, No. 99, Fall 2002/2003.

The first paper from Lebanon, presented by this writer, underlined the importance of online journalism and development of the Arab media.

"We cannot treat journalism and professionalism in the 21st Century the same way we did media in the 20th. Technologies have changed and we're overwhelmed with volume, so our strategies must be modified as well to manage the flood," wrote the author.

She urged publishers to use the online versions of their papers and magazines as supplements to their print editions, not just copies of them, and to be more attractive to younger consumers.

The author discussed Google's new news service and the Columbia Newsblaster prototype, which let computers select from top stories and provide links to content — bypassing human editors — or the use of artificial intelligence to actually write the news.

Other options in online journalism include web logs (or blogs) — sites allowing journalists to publish their stories when constrained by their own media. Last, but not least, is research and reporting with the Internet and the design of websites. Full text of the paper is available here.

Another speaker from Lebanon, LBCI TV reporter and correspondent Tania Mehanna, moved the audience with her graphic presentation and videotape of her coverage of demining in south Lebanon following the Israeli withdrawal from the region in 2000 and the disastrous effects of mines on the lives of villagers there.

"Man's suffering from wars isn't limited to one country and perhaps the area that has affected me the most in the past two years was covering the war in Pakistan and Afghanistan for about three months," she said as the tape showing thousands of refugees escaping the ravages of the conflict rolled behind her.

Her live broadcasts, risking limb and life, showed the human tragedy that perhaps only a woman could portray so poignantly. She also ventured into Taliban-held territory, risked being a target of unexploded shells, risked the theft of her crew's equipment and perhaps assault by Al-Qaida sympathizers.

Turning to history, Hanan Ballah Hassan, the secretary general of the Sudanese Women Journalists' Society (SWJS), briefed participants on the evolution of print and broadcast media in her country.

"A key element of women's presence in the press was the creation of the first SWJS in 2001 aimed at upgrading members' skills and providing them with training opportunities, as well as a forum for networking with other local and Arab organizations," she said.

Egypt's Sonia Dabbous, who is assistant editor of Akhbar Al Yom newspaper and teaches journalism at the American University in Cairo, presented a case study of women in the media in her country, past, present and future.

Looking to the future, Dabbous said that technology and globalization offered special opportunities for women. "There is power where women, news and the Internet come together."

She also said that women in the media viewed the Internet as a new professional outlet to establish their professional credibility.

Three participants from Syria discussed women's presence in the mostly official media, with speaker Hanan Al Fil describing her experience and struggles as director of Radio Aleppo, which offers programs for residents of that key city.

Raghda Al Ahmad, another Syrian delegate, discussed coverage of honor crimes and how women like her had fought to eradicate them by presenting rational arguments and establishing lines of communication with religious leaders who may condone such crimes.

Iraq's Majd Al Hashemi's paper was a tirade against what she called the US media war on her country.

"No country in peace or war, except Iraq, has been exposed to such an ongoing media assault since the Gulf War and in the run-up to another military strike," she said.

Other speakers at the conference came from Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Oman and the United States of America.

© 2003–2006 IPJ