Female journalists offer students insights
ABU DHABI // Students from the UAE and around the world got an insight into the lives and challenges of female journalists at a panel discussion this week as part of the Women as Global Leaders conference hosted by Zayed University (ZU).
Panelists offered tips for a career in journalism to an overflow audience, which included ZU and Abu Dhabi University students, as well as students from other parts of the world, including the United States and Singapore.
Zainab Fattah, a reporter at Bloomberg News in Dubai, said that being a woman in the Middle East does not carry a particular burden. She did, however, say that there are certain expectations that come with the job.
"A lot of the time you are perceived by policymakers as non-threatening, and when you start asking questions they realise that you know your subject," Ms Fattah said. "They may either be surprised because they respect that, or they would withdraw."
Ms Fattah also said women reporters must be careful about giving the wrong impression when interviewing men, because respect is important.
One ZU student asked the panellists if pregnancy presented any particular problems for women journalists. Ms Fattah said that it did not, adding that she had a child last year and worked until her eighth month of pregnancy. She travelled to post-revolution Egypt while five months pregnant.
Another panellist stressed the importance of verification and accuracy.
"Always start from a place of extreme scepticism," said Vivian Nereim, a reporter with The National. "Make sure you do your due diligence. Ask the questions you need to ask; if you think something is weird, it probably is."
Camilla Hall, a Gulf correspondent for the Financial Times, said that reporters do make mistakes, and that journalists should not try to hide it should the situation occur. She cautioned that covering up a mistake always causes more trouble. "Everybody is human," she said.
Panellists views differed slightly when the topic turned to restrictions on reporting in the Middle East.
"The parameters of what you are allowed to say depends on the publication you are working for," Ms Fattah said. "I would not call them restrictions, though, just guidelines as to what is accepted and fair."
Ms Nereim said that she sees these as pressures rather than restrictions. She has been in situations where someone she was covering asked her to not publish a story. In that situation she tries to have a conversation with the other party.
Elizabeth Dickinson, a foreign correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, said a current challenge in the Middle East is access.
"No one can go to Syria now," Ms Dickinson said. "We have to think of a whole new set of tools to try and cover that situation."
She also said it was a challenge to verify information regarding the events transpiring in Syria. "You have to work through networks of people who are verifying [the information] for you," she said. "You have to find ways to figure out what is the truth."
Ms Dickinson described journalism as a 'team sport', where journalists and editors work together to produce the best-written stories both in terms of style and content.
Almost 70 people attended the discussion in a room that seated 40. Dhabya Al Mehairi, a converged media student at Zayed University, organised the panel, which was moderated by Hala Kazim, an Emirati businesswoman.
Ms Al Mehairi, a member of the Society of Professional Journalists student club, an international organisation that works to promote high standards for the journalism profession, said she was pleased by the success of the event.
"The turnout exceeded my expectations, and I was overwhelmed by the positive feedback from those who attended."
* Shamma Eid is a journalism student at Zayed University. She is majoring in converged media and international studies.
Updated: March 16, 2012 04:00 AM