Wednesday, February 16, 2005

women rev up in Arab media

Saudi Gazette
15 February 2005

Women in the Arab Media
by Susannah Tarbush

One only has to look at the media in Saudi Arabia or any other Middle Eastern country to see the increasing presence of women both as media professionals and as a focus of media interest.

The book “Women and Media in the Middle East: Power Through Self-Expression,” recently published by I B Tauris of London, is a major contribution to the study and evaluation of this development.

The book consists of 11 chapters edited by Dr Naomi Sakr, who teaches at the University of Westminster’s School of Media, Arts and Design. Dr Sakr is author of the prize-winning book “Satellite Realms: Transnational Television, Globalization and the Middle East.”

The chapters are informative, thoughtful and eminently readable. In the opening chapter, Sakr gives an overview of the Women-Media Interaction in the Middle East, taking as her starting point the increasing media involvement of women in Saudi Arabia. Never one to take things at face value, Sakr probes behind appearances to examine the political decisions and policy changes related to women’s enhanced media profile.

Sakr explains that the authors of the various chapters explore how different media have been used at different times and in different places to open up possibilities for women or to restrict them.

Gholam Khiabany and Annabelle Sreberny write on the women’s press in contemporary Iran, and Haya al-Mughni and Mary Ann Tetreault contribute a chapter on women and the press in Kuwait.

Women in Egypt were involved earlier and more deeply in the media than those in any other Arab country. Sonia Dabbous examines women’s rights and women’s journalism in pre-1952 Egypt, and Lina Khatib writes on women as tools of political nationalism in Egyptian political cinema. Sahar Khamis investigates Egyptian rural women’s readings of televised literacy campaigns.

Input on North Africa comes from Zahia Smail Slahi in a chapter on Maghrebi women film-makers. The Palestinian scene is covered by Benaz Somiry-Batrawi in her chapter “Echoes: Gender and Media Challenges in Palestine.” Victoria Firmo-Fontan provides a case study of Lebanon’s Al-Manar TV and the Hezbollah Women’s Association. Deborah L Wheeler weighs up the “blessing and curses” for women of the internet revolution in the Arab World.

In her chapter “Straddling Cultures: Arab Women Journalists at Home and Abroad” Magda Abu-Fadil, Director of the Institute for Professional Journalists at the Lebanese American University in Beirut, profiles seven remarkable Lebanese women journalists. They include Octavia Nasr, senior editor for Arab affairs at CNN, Raghida Dergham, senior diplomatic correspondent in New York for the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat and Samia Nakhoul, bureau chief of Reuters in the Gulf.

Abu-Fadil writes that Arab women reporters and editors privately admit that they face harassment on the job. “Jealousy by co-workers from both sexes is no different from western models, with the added disadvantage that male colleagues in Arab corporations (who have less experience of working with women in senior positions) may tend to be more chauvinistic and patronizing.”

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