Lubna Abu Safiyeh was forced to leave her media job and now works in an
administrative position in a Ramallah company - all because her ambition to work
in the TV world did not fit her choice of wearing a head scarf.
was being interviewed for a job in a new Palestinian television channel, the
interviewer asked me if I would be willing to take off my hijab,” she told The
After that, she refrained from seeking other job interviews
in places where she heard the management was anti-hijab. “Why I should bother?”
The hijab – the traditional scarf that religious Muslim women
wear to cover the hair, ears and neck – has become one of the decisive criteria
determining who can be in front of the camera, and usually indicates a
television channel’s policy.
Many of the journalists who cannot get their
chance in the limelight compromise for a behind-the-scenes role. Reem Abu Laban,
a media graduate, was asked by her interviewer to remove her hijab to be hired
as a correspondent.
“Aren’t you ashamed of yourself? I don’t need your
job,” Abu Laban scolded her potential employer.
Four months after that
incident, she was asked to join the television station as a producer behind the
camera. “I didn’t want to go there, but I was a fresh graduate and desperate for
work,” the 25-year-old told The Media Line.
After earning a Master’s
degree in television broadcasting from a Jordanian university, she now works for
the Palestinian National News Agency (WAFA) as a correspondent in the multimedia
section, but still is not seen on camera. “This is the policy regarding these
reports,” she explains. “No one gets to be on camera.”
Palestinian women wear a hijab, some admit they do so for cultural and not
religious reasons. Nevertheless, the notion of losing the hijab is taken as an
offense by many women who consider religion a personal right.
remove their hijab often find themselves criticized more than those who don't
wear one at all. This pressure discourages women from taking off their hijab,
even if some are considering it. Abu Safiyeh balked at being asked to remove her
hijab. “I didn’t know whether I should consider this as harassment or not … In
the end, I did not respect the request,” she says.
Her only chance was in
radio. “It wasn’t as fulfilling – not in terms of salary, nor the future
prospects. I dreamed of becoming famous,” said Abu Safiyeh, who topped her
Birzeit University undergraduate class in media studies.Taking sides
Three television channels currently broadcast from the West Bank: the
government-run Palestine TV and private sector channels Mix – Maan of Bethlehem
and Al-Falastinia in Ramallah.
On the other hand, Arab and Islamic
television stations seeking correspondents specifically ask for head-scarfed
women when they have vacancies. One of those channels is Palestine Today, a
Beirut-based satellite channel reputedly affiliated with the Islamic Jihad
Farouq Elyat, the head of Palestine Today
’s office in
the West Bank, told The Media Line
that his station has a policy of not hiring
bare-headed female correspondents. “We follow a religiously-committed mode where
the correspondents should wear a hijab,” he said, adding that the channel does
not impose wearing long dresses on the journalists.
Abu Safiyeh, wearing
tight jeans, a green shirt and a colored hijab, says that her head scarf was not
good enough for the Islamist channels. “From looking at my modern clothing
style, [my interviewer] concluded that I could belong to Fatah,” she
One journalist told The Media Line that she believes the current
split between Fatah and Hamas, and the regional changes, have influenced the
media into taking sides.
“Some TV stations think that showing a
journalist with a hijab indicates they are linked to Hamas. That’s not right,”
said Kenana Issa, a young journalist who does not wear a head scarf.
Burden, a British correspondent for the Iranian Press TV in the West Bank, also
does not normally wear a hijab. However, she is often seen in the field covering
her hair before speaking in front of the camera as part of the channel’s policy.
“I consider it as a part of my uniform. I wouldn’t go to work in my jogging
suit,” she told The Media Line.
Burden explained that some people laugh
when they see her adjusting her scarf before speaking to the camera, “but I’m
comfortable doing it.”
During her hiring process, Burden was asked to
cover her hair when she has to be on camera. “My freedom in sending out my
stories is more important for me as a journalist – and that is worth fighting
for,” she said.
The London-raised and tutored journalist added that
before coming to work in the Palestinian territories she used to find the idea
of wearing a hijab aggressive. “I still think this is a patriarchal society but
I have to admit that I’ve never felt too oppressed here,” she says.The right to work
A group of young female journalists organized a sit-in last
November, protesting not being able to work in Palestinian television,
especially the Palestinian Authority’s station, because of their
Amoon Al-Sheikh, the organizer of the event, told The Media Line
that she was hired as a program correspondent after applying for an anchor’s
position. “They wanted me not to be on camera as a correspondent because I wear
a hijab but I refused.”
In her segment, she appeared on camera for a few
seconds in her hijab, only to be fired a few months later for what they said
were “restructuring proposes,” she told The Media Line.
Safiyeh did not participate in the sit-in because she doesn’t believe all the
blame should be put on the media. “Several journalists succeeded with their
hijab. For me, my dream to join a competitive institution and become a success
seems further away,” she said.
The Palestinian Authority consists mostly
of members of the Fatah party, which is known as a secular party. Inside sources
at the Palestine TV told The Media Line
that previous television supervisor
Yasser Abed Rabbo banned head-scarfed women from being on television, keeping
the ones who were already in front of the camera at the time: two
correspondents, one in Nablus and one in Gaza, and a children’s show
Sources said that Abed Rabbo comes from a leftist
Ahmed Hazzouri, the director general of Palestine TV denied
that the station rejects journalists because of their hijab. “We look for talent
and professionalism and looks are important as well – after all, it is
television. But no one was ever refused because they wore a hijab,” he said,
adding that veiled journalists are using the hijab as an excuse for other
reasons that they were not hired.
Hazzouri explained that 60% of women
working at the Palestine Broadcasting Corporation cover their heads. “The threat
that our society is facing is those who are refusing to hire non-hijab wearing
women even behind the camera,” he added.
However, the director of the
Palestinian Ma’an news agency, Raed Othman, told The Media Line
that Mix-Maan TV
is a secular station whose staff does not wear hijabs or crosses on camera,
particularly in its news broadcasts. “I still haven’t made a decision to appoint
a head-scarfed woman, but this may change,” he said.
Othman says the
Palestinian audience doesn’t care how the anchor is dressed but rather about the
content and correspondent's ability, adding that there is a lack of available
qualified Palestinian female journalists, especially as Maan-Mix’s studios are
in Bethlehem, making it harder for those who live in the Ramallah area to
Both Hazouri and Othman told The Media Line that they are willing
to hire a qualified and talented head-scarfed journalist.
“Get us a
Palestinian Khadija Bin Qana, and we will hire her now,” Othman said, referring
to the famous Algerian Al Jazeera news anchor, who wears a hijab.
female journalists are appearing on Palestinian screens and discussing hard
issues. Three journalists present Palestine TV’s main news bulletins, six
correspondents have daily reports from inside and outside the country, and
another two work in political talk shows.
Hazzouri did not give specific
numbers of women versus men in television, but did say the figures change
depending on the programming cycle. He added that hiring in Palestine TV is not
based on gender. He also believes that there are some limitations on women’s
work, explaining that female journalists don’t usually work during late hours,
which means more male news anchors than women.
For more stories from The Media Line
go to www.themedialine.org