Tough origins shaped future of Saudi women in media

According to Al-Bakr, one of the main obstacles women had at the time was that they did not have the history or knowledge of what was acceptable to Saudi society, which left female presenters treading a fine line. (Saudi Media Forum)
Updated 04 December 2019

Tough origins shaped future of Saudi women in media

  • It is important that this generation knows our history, not just in the media but in all sectors

RIYADH: From writing under pen names to not knowing how to dress appropriately or work with male colleagues, three Saudi female journalists have recalled the difficulties their predecessors faced working in the media during a session titled “Saudi women in media: Presence and representation” at the Saudi Media Forum (SMF) on Tuesday.
“In the past, there were many concerns,” one of the panelists, writer Dr. Fawzia Al-Bakr, said.
According to Al-Bakr, one of the main obstacles women had at the time was that they did not have the history or knowledge of what was acceptable to Saudi society, which left female presenters treading a fine line.
However, said Al-Bakr, the government was always supportive of women in the media — King Faisal was the first to help them emerge in the field via radio in the 1970s.
There were supportive Saudi male journalists, too, who used to write under female pen names to help pave the way for their colleagues, such as Ahmed Siba’i who wrote in The Voice of Hjiaz publication under the pen name “Hijazi girl.”
Al-Bakr cited the progress of the country, from women being able to drive, to having passports issued and their active participation in the workforce. “We have a historical responsibility today,” she said.
Omaima Al-Khamis, a Saudi journalist, said: “Female media existence in Saudi Arabia was hidden. In the beginning, their presence wasn’t accepted but slowly it came to be.”
Small steps forward go a long way towards reaching goals of being active, equal members of the media world, she added.
Al-Khamis noted that the first news outlet to have a women’s section was Riyadh Newspaper in 1989 — a time when media/journalism was not an option for women in colleges and universities.
“Of course, there were difficulties and obstacles, but they continued forward and persevered,” she said, adding: “The challenges are real and big, but let’s move forward not just locally, or regionally, but globally.”
Saudi women in the western media are misrepresented, according to Maha Akeel, director of the information department at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
“For the longest period, the Saudi woman’s voice was absent, so now we must speak. Vision 2030 has enabled us to. It’s difficult to change years of absence, but it must be done,” she said.
“There was always a gap. There would be someone to speak on a Saudi woman’s behalf in the past, but she was absent. That gave the western media (a chance) to create a narrative,” she added.
Most westerners, she said, assume that the identity of the Saudi woman is a burqa-clad female in black. While that is the case for some, it is not for all.
“Now we have support to empower and enable women,” she said.
She added that studying the journeys of pioneers is an essential part of learning a nation’s past and where its people have come from. “It is important that this generation knows our history, not just in the media but in all sectors.”


Google CEO calls for regulation of artificial intelligence

Updated 20 January 2020

Google CEO calls for regulation of artificial intelligence

  • Sundar Pichai’s comments come as lawmakers and governments seriously consider putting limits on how artificial intelligence is used
  • Pichai’s comments suggest the company may be hoping to head off a broad-based crackdown by the EU on the technology

LONDON: Google’s chief executive called Monday for a balanced approach to regulating artificial intelligence, telling a European audience that the technology brings benefits but also “negative consequences.”

Sundar Pichai’s comments come as lawmakers and governments seriously consider putting limits on how artificial intelligence is used.

“There is no question in my mind that artificial intelligence needs to be regulated. The question is how best to approach this,” Pichai said, according to a transcript of his speech at a Brussel-based think tank.

He noted that there’s an important role for governments to play and that as the European Union and the US start drawing up their own approaches to regulation, “international alignment” of any eventual rules will be critical. He did not provide specific proposals.

Pichai spoke on the same day he was scheduled to meet the EU’s powerful competition regulator, Margrethe Vestager.

Vestager has in previous years hit the Silicon Valley giant with multibillion-dollar fines for allegedly abusing its market dominance to choke off competition. After being reappointed for a second term last autumn with expanded powers over digital technology policies, Vestager has now set her sights on artificial intelligence, and is drawing up rules on its ethical use.

Pichai’s comments suggest the company may be hoping to head off a broad-based crackdown by the EU on the technology. Vestager and the EU have been the among the more aggressive regulators of big tech firms, an approach US authorities have picked up with investigations into the dominance of companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon.

“Sensible regulation must also take a proportionate approach, balancing potential harms with social opportunities,” he said, adding that it could incorporate existing standards like Europe’s tough General Data Protection Regulation rather than starting from scratch.

While it promises big benefits, he raised concerns about potential downsides of artificial intelligence, citing as one example its role in facial recognition technology, which can be used to find missing people but also for “nefarious reasons” which he didn’t specify.

In 2018, Google pledged not to use AI in applications related to weapons, surveillance that violates international norms, or that works in ways that go against human rights.