RIYADH: At the age of 8, Weam Al-Dakheel used to rush downstairs every morning to read the newspapers that her father had delivered to their home. “I would challenge myself and read them upside down,” she recalls.
So when it became time to choose a career, it was clear which direction she was heading in.
Born in Morocco, raised in Jeddah, and having studied in Lebanon, Al-Dakheel now lives in Riyadh and is the first woman to anchor the main evening news on Saudi TV. Al-Dakheel has an interesting and varied background, and one that she’s proud of. “It helped shape me,” she said.
Al-Dakheel is not only a high-flyer in front of the cameras; few people know that she’s also the operations manager at Saudi TV.
“I work from the heart,” she said. “The ‘title’ of being the first can either break you or make you. It can also be a fresh start or beginning. It’s a big responsibility. I’m aware of my passion, and with awareness comes responsibility.” Al-Dakheel said she doesn’t feel pressure, but is more focused on how she manages her time.
Before reaching the heights at Saudi TV, Al-Dakheel transitioned through many stages of journalism to find her passion. She was editor-in-chief of a student publication at the American University in Beirut, which she fondly recalls as having shaped her as a journalist.
When there was no “news” to publish, they went out and found it. The student journalists went out found people with interesting stories and let them talk about their experiences. “I listened when they spoke and poured their hearts out,” Al-Dakheel said.
She recalls the story of a homeless man that she saw every day on the streets. What struck her most about him was his intellect and use of sophisticated words, which suggested there was more to him than met the eye. “We found out later he was a doctor and we wanted to interview him, but the next day he was gone. That experience taught me to never to judge people based on their appearance.”
After cutting her professional teeth as an intern at Al-Hayat, the pan-Arab daily newspaper, Al-Dakheel worked as a news presenter at Al-Arab News Channel in Bahrain. She was also a TV reporter for CNBC Arabia from September 2012 to November 2013, which was when she found her calling. “I realized that I preferred TV to written journalism,” she said.
Al-Dakheel grew up in an intellectual household, with parents who loved to read and were avid followers of what was going on in the world. Family gatherings consisted of discussions about regional and international issues, debating their areas of interest, and exchanging opinions.
Al-Dakheel began her university studies in Lebanon in 2006, but when Israel invaded, her parents feared for her safety and urged her to return home to Saudi Arabia. She persevered, and finally convinced them that she should stay and continue her studies.
“Studying and living in Lebanon shaped me in a lot of ways,” she said. “I grew up, I matured, I learned, I failed, I succeeded, I was challenged … and all this just to continue my studies there.
“My parents raised us to be responsible and independent, but at the same time to take their advice. To be a responsible person makes you a strong person who can face challenges. My parents raised us and encouraged us to be this way. After a while, things calmed down and they reopened university registration, and my parents agreed with me. So I returned.”
Al-Dakheel graduated in 2011 with a BA in journalism, and she is proudly a journalist to this day. “I consider myself a journalist before being a TV news anchor, and any TV broadcaster that doesn’t consider themselves a journalist, then they are a conveyor and not a newsmaker. At every stage of my life, I made sure I presented myself a journalist, because that’s the core of being a broadcaster.”
One of Al-Dakheel’s jobs is to document the transformation currently under way in her homeland. “Change is happening,” she said, “and for a female to present the evening news on the Saudi national TV proves that change is taking place.
“Change happens at the core, through education, social reforms and even accepting others, whether you agree with their opinion or not. That gives a wider perception of how you see yourself and others who are different from you.”
Al-Dakheel operates in a male-dominated workplace, but does not shy away from giving her opinion. A strong-willed perfectionist by nature, she makes sure that the workflow is impeccable. She is not intimidated by her surroundings — in fact, her main supporters are her male colleagues. “I work in silence, I let my success make the noise,” she said.
Being a broadcaster is her calling, but philanthropy is close to her heart too. In 2016, Al-Dakheel travelled to Jordan and volunteered in the Gaza camp for refugees at Jerash. While she has also worked at a philanthropic organization, it is her job as a journalist that pushes her to do more.
“I just want to take the camera and shed light on people’s stories,” she said.
“I believe that when you share this experience with viewers and make them feel that the screen is made for them, people will watch and that is what success is. It’s not only about being the first female anchor, that’s just the beginning.”