Hijab-wearing TV news reporters in the US seek to inspire: 'Eventually this shouldn’t be exciting or new'
TV reporters wearing the hijab in North America are still a rare sight, but that’s starting to change
There are 210 local television news broadcast markets throughout the US, according to TV audience research company, Nielsen.
From North Platte, Nebraska with a TV viewing audience of 14,000, to New York City where there are about 7.5 million people watching, these markets serve increasingly diverse demographics in terms of race, ethnicity and age range.
For all the diversity, it’s still very rare to see a broadcast reporter wearing a hijab
Within these networks, there are about 52,000 broadcast reporters and correspondents who share news and inform those audiences, according to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics.
Those TV news reporters, like their increasingly diverse audiences, often come from different backgrounds. Gone are the similar-sounding accents and pseudonyms sometimes encouraged by news managers to make reporters sound more memorable or "relatable" to viewing audiences. On trend are assorted hairstyles and divergent fashions.
Yet, for all the diversity, it’s still rare to see a broadcast reporter wearing a hijab.
“I didn’t want to compromise my faith for my profession,” says Ayah Galal, a morning news reporter at WFSB, a CBS affiliate in Hartford, Connecticut.
Galal is one of four broadcast reporters in North America, by her count, who regularly wear a hijab on television.
“Growing up, there were no people who looked like me on TV,” she says. “So I originally was worried about wearing a hijab and getting hired.”
Galal started out as a producer, but eventually worked her way up to an on-air reporter position, becoming the first news reporter in Connecticut to wear a hijab on screen.
“There was a lot of positive feedback," she says. “It’s especially great to get the messages of support from the Muslim community. So many are just thrilled to see someone who looks like them on the air.”
Representation really matters, she says. “Especially for younger Muslim girls who might doubt their abilities because they don’t see many people who look like them. It’s important they have someone to look to and think, ‘Anything is possible if you set your mind to it.'”
The reception, while largely positive, has also occasionally been ethnocentric and bigoted, however.
“There were some malicious emails,” she says. “Frankly, some people just saying some really disgusting things about ‘radical Islam'.
“The funny thing is, so many of those comments are not based on my actual journalism skills or, you know, my ability to tell stories,” she says. “They were all based on how I looked.”
Becoming Tahera Rahman
Although Galal is the first TV reporter in Connecticut to wear the hijab regularly, she is not the first in the US.
That distinction probably goes to Tahera Rahman, who is currently a reporter at KXAN, an NBC affiliate in Austin, Texas.
“Growing up, I know that I never saw anybody wear the hijab as I watched the news,” Rahman tells The National.
She started wearing the hijab on air in 2018 when she began reporting career at WHBF in Rock Island, Illinois.
At the time, her decision to wear the hijab caught the attention of major US media outlets, and she even appeared on NBC’s then-prominent show, Megyn Kelly Today.
She was also the subject of a Voice of America network special, broadcast on several continents, which went behind the scenes with Rahman at work.
“We realised she is the first to wear a hijab,” WHBF news director Mike Mickle told Voice of America. “But if she had been the 30th or the 300th or the 3,000th it wouldn’t have made a difference, we did this because she’s Tahera and she has earned this opportunity.”
Rahman, like Galal, says she encountered bigoted emails and social media messages based on her decision to wear the hijab on air, but she never questioned her decision.
“We feel empowered enough to say, ‘This is what our community looks like,’” she says, emphasising the need to diversify newsrooms. “I’m glad to see there are changes, but there’s definitely a long way to go.”
The 'Hijabi Reporter Crew'
In an effort to reach out and discuss their unique experiences with like-minded professionals, Rahman and Galal regularly exchange messages in a WhatsApp group called Hijabi Reporter Crew, where they’re joined by Ubah Ali, an on-air multimedia journalist in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
“We use it if we just want to vent or if we have a question about how to handle certain negative comments,” Rahman says of the group. “We also help push one another, and exchange Ramadan greetings, things like that."
They’ve even used Zoom to facilitate meet-ups, where they were once joined by Ginella Massa, a prominent news anchor and reporter in Toronto, who also wears the hijab.
“She has her own prime time TV show and that’s just insanely incredible and powerful,” Rahman says. “So we did that Zoom chat and it was great just to be able to connect.”
Galal shared a post on Twitter soon after one of these Zoom meet-ups. “We talk about journeys, challenges, backlash and share advice,” she wrote.
Although their current group might be small in size, both Galal and Rahman note the ripple effect their presence on air will have for years to come.
“Eventually this shouldn’t be exciting or new,” Rahman says. “Instead of seeing a hijab-wearing TV reporter, maybe it’ll just be a reporter who happens to wear the hijab.”
Updated: May 31, 2021 12:19 PM