When I finished 12th grade, I began inquiring about university journalism programs in Palestine. We have good programs. They are not strong compared to American or European journalism schools, but they teach the basics well and provide practical experience.
At the beginning of my studies, some members of my family were against my decision, claiming that journalism is not for women. I prepared myself for these kinds of debates. Their reaction was normal in this male-dominated society. I told them that women have the right to participate in any field, that we have to get rid of outdated traditions.
I enrolled in college determined to become a journalist.
Reality turned out to be more difficult than reporting and writing, however. I’d heard many complaints about journalism in Palestine. But my tentative steps into this field have been really shocking.
In Palestine, journalism is sexist, pure and simple.
Female journalists are treated completely differently than men, reflecting the diminished role of women in Palestinian society. Men view women as incapable of serious reporting—covering news, discovering the facts, thinking rationally rather than emotionally. As a result, most media organizations—radio and television, especially—limit women to entertainment programs.
My first internship was at a radio station in Hebron. I was excited and ready to undergo serious training. I was a freshman in college. But in my first meeting with a manager, he suggested I work on advertisements. I told him I wanted serious training, a chance to enter the journalism world properly. As if I had not spoken, he repeated his suggestion.
Depressed, I left the internship.
Meanwhile, male journalists dominate news anchor seats, political coverage and other important programming in the vast majority of our broadcast media.
Female editors comprise only 10 percent of the newsroom of Wafa, a Palestinian news agency. Only 8.5 percent of the Journalists Syndicate, a Palestinian media association, are female. That proportion is pretty representative of the Palestinian media landscape.
Later, I spoke with a Palestinian journalist whom I considered intellectual and open-minded. I was surprised to discover, however, that he believed female journalists are unnecessary.
Women cannot leave their house at night to cover the news, he said. Fathers and husbands certainly wouldn’t permit their daughters and wives to do so, adding that women are incapable of even holding a camera. So he felt women shouldn’t study journalism at all. When I heard his opinion, I realized it was worthless to try to convince him or others set in their ways like him to think otherwise.
Meanwhile, many women have also assimilated viewpoints that undercut the seriousness of the profession.
I cannot forget what happened when I went to another broadcaster. This radio network where I interned as a sophomore was considered the best in Palestine at the time. I met a female journalist there who had studied management and was the presenter of an entertainment program.
“What are the main skills or requirements to qualify as a presenter?” I asked.
“The beauty of my voice,” she replied.
I was aghast. This was the main requirement of a radio presenter?
Surely journalism includes talents like presenting with a beautiful voice. But where did this woman learn about journalistic standards, ethics, objectivity and credibility? I was concerned about quality, in other words. But it’s not clear if the media really cultivates quality in Palestine.
Palestinian local media recently broadcast a piece which reported that Jameed yogurt, a hard dried food made from milk, was a drug. This story was almost everywhere on local media websites. On social media, people lamented, “How will we live without eating the many dishes made from Jameed?”
A Jordanian website was the source of the story. But the story was satirical—it was not true. Yet Palestinian media published this story on their front pages as if it were serious and legitimate.
Social media in Palestine was buzzing with reaction to the story, and in their homes and offices people debated whether Jameed yogurt was dangerous or not. After a day of the news spreading throughout Palestine, though, everyone learned the article was a joke.
I thought about how Palestinian editors, mostly men, had completely screwed up. Women wouldn’t have necessarily recognized the Jameed joke. But most women don’t even get a chance to make that kind of mistake.
We have to create a stronger base for Palestinian journalism if we want to enjoy the benefits of a functioning Fourth Estate, one that will probe for the truth in the midst of the deceptions, large and small, that surround us. Without women and without quality, that’s impossible.