A video has gone viral of a Lebanese television host who stopped an interview with an Islamist scholar after he told her to “shut up.”
The exchange occurred March 2, during a discussion on Lebanon’s Al-Jadeed TV of reports that Christians were joining the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.
The incident highlights both the progress of women in Middle East broadcast journalism as well as the gender challenges that remain.
Hani Al-Siba’i, a London-based Egyptian scholar, launched into a review of the phenomenon’s historical precedent, when the host, Rima Karaki, interrupted to ask him to focus on the present. Mr. Siba'i grew combative.
“Please don’t get worked up,” Ms. Karaki, a TV presenter, producer, and university professor, said. “We respect you and know you want to give a complete answer.” She added that she will give him more time to finish, but that he must not call her names.
“In this studio,” she added, “I run the show.
Siba’i responded: “Are you done? Shut up so I can talk.”
“How can a respected sheikh like yourself tell a TV host to shut up?” Karaki said. "Enough. Let's wrap this up."
“It is beneath me to be interviewed by you. You are a woman who...” Siba’i said, at which point his microphone was shut off.
The incident, which has been viewed more than 5 million times since the Middle East Media Research Institute uploaded it March 4, highlights the challenges women in media face in conservative cultures that encourage patriarchy. In the Middle East, only 16 percent of news subjects are female, according to the Global Media Monitoring Report 2010.
Even when they are given airtime, women must often overcome negative portrayals, stereotypes based on traditions, and customary taboos, according to a policy brief for the Middle East Institute by Rasha Allam, a professor of journalism at the American University in Cairo.
“Stereotypical images of women as weak, docile, and subservient persist throughout the Arab world,” Ms. Allam wrote. “The Arab media have tended to validate these misrepresentations in various ways, and therefore have helped to perpetuate them.”
A shift to positive portrayal and stronger roles in the media is vital because it can be “a powerful tool, if wielded properly, for women to increase awareness of their political rights and improve their status in the region,” according to Allam.
The challenges toward enacting such a shift are many and nuanced, and vary among cultures. In the Arab world, countries such as Egypt, Iraq, Syria, and Saudi Arabia severely restrict women’s freedoms, and sexual violence, trafficking, and genital mutilation are common occurrences, according to a 2013 Thomson Reuters Foundation report.
The rise in the region of radical Islam has only served to worsen the situation, Newsweek reported. Islam traditionally forbade the harming of women and children in warfare, but that hasn’t stopped extremist groups such as ISIS from using violence against women, according to the report.
From Libya to Afghanistan, jihadists have increasingly targeted women. ISIS has murdered mostly non-Muslim women in Iraq and Syria, whether foreign or local. However, Muslim women and teenagers have also suffered at the hands of ISIS.
Despite the considerable setbacks, there has been progress.
In 2010, the Middle East was the only region outside of Europe where 50 percent of news presenters on radio, and 44 percent on television, were female, according to the same Global Media Monitoring Report. In North America, only about 40 percent of radio presenters and 32 percent of television reporters were female during the same period.
Social media has also been crucial in combating stereotypes and pushing the women’s rights agenda forward, across the Middle East. The Huffington Post reported in 2012 that women activists were used Twitter and Facebook as platforms to spread their message of empowerment throughout the region.
"The power of women is in their stories,” Egyptian-American activist Mona el-Tahawey told the news site. “They are not theories, they are real lives that, thanks to social networks, we are able to share and exchange.”
For Karaki, the incident with the sheikh has led to much praise online. The television host has retweeted a number of posts that lauded the firm hand she took in dealing with a rude interviewee.