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.”


Facebook Journalism Project and ICFJ launch fund to support Lebanon’s news industry

Updated 13 August 2020

Facebook Journalism Project and ICFJ launch fund to support Lebanon’s news industry

  • The new program will support local media outlets

The Facebook Journalism Project, in collaboration with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), has announced that it will invest $300,000 in a program that aims to support the stabilization and recovery needs of journalists and news organizations in Lebanon affected by the Beirut explosion.

The new program called “Supporting Beirut: Response and Recovery Fund” will assist in supporting local media outlets that have suffered damage to infrastructure and resources.

ICFJ and Facebook will award $150,000 in emergency relief funds to Beirut-based news organizations and journalists directly impacted by the blast and in need of urgent financial support.

The first phase of this program will involve identifying Lebanese news organizations and journalists who require financial support. These journalists and news organizations will then be able to apply for immediate emergency relief grants. ICFJ will award grants to select Beirut-based news organizations and journalists who meet a set criteria.

“Our hearts go out to the people of Lebanon and everyone affected by this immeasurable tragedy,” said Mohamed Omar, news partnerships manager, Middle East and North Africa, at Facebook. “We’ve been getting regular updates from our contacts in Beirut; the damage to the city’s infrastructure, including its many newsrooms, is enormous. In spite of these devastating circumstances, the news industry is working hard, under extraordinary conditions, to keep people informed and updated,” he said.

“We applaud their efforts and are continuously working with our partners to both understand their needs and support them the best we can,” he added.

ICFJ, a non-profit organization focused on raising the quality of journalism worldwide, will mobilize its local networks to implement a two-phase response and recovery initiative for the Beirut crisis.

Sharon Moshavi, ICFJ’s senior vice president for new initiatives, said: “People turn to local journalists for critical information on how to keep their friends, families and communities safe. As the impact of the devastating explosion continues to unfold in Beirut, ICFJ is prepared to work with the Facebook Journalism Project to provide tailored support to Lebanese journalists and news organizations that are providing critical information to a nation in crisis.”

The Facebook Journalism Project and ICFJ will offer additional, deeper support to select Beirut-based news organizations during phase two, depending on the longer-term impacts of the crisis.

Earlier this week, Facebook announced that it would donate more than $2.1 million to local hospitals, medical institutions and NGOs to support relief and recovery efforts, $1 million of which has been matched by its community as part of a Facebook fundraiser.