THE BLOG
12/23/2007 03:29 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Lebanese Women Journalists Need Better Jobs, Regular Training, More Money

Lebanese women journalists remain trapped under the corporate glass ceiling of their media institutions despite inroads into higher echelons of newspapers and TV channels, and that is thanks mainly to family ties.

Nayla Tueni, daughter of Gebran Tueni, slain Lebanese publisher/editor of the key daily "An-Nahar," was thrust into the limelight as acting director general to fill her outspoken assassinated father's shoes. Although groomed to eventually take over, the fast-forward jolted her into the lion's den at the tender age of 24.

Hanadi Salman, whose father and uncle founded "Assafir" daily in Lebanon, is also being trained for leadership of that paper but she, too, is an exception since few women run major newspapers in Lebanon and the Arab world.

Female print and broadcast reporters and editors abound in Lebanon. But holders of senior managerial positions remain a minority. However, an online presence is increasingly being felt, notably with the proliferation of websites run by women editors and publishers, and, through a growing coterie of bloggers.

A newsroom management workshop at the American University of Beirut in September drew a handful of women participants amidst a majority of male counterparts, a sad reflection of much-needed female leaders and mentors in a male media bastion.

Lebanon's political and sectarian divisions have contributed to the media's economic makeup. Major TV stations were founded by former militias or leading politicians from the 1975-90 civil war era -- their ownership determining those media's political bent, commercial interests and hiring policies.

In the pre-war days, only state-run radio and TV existed while all manner of independent or heavily subsidized publications were the norm. Foreign (notably Arab) regimes funded newspapers and magazines in Beirut back then to attack each other from Lebanon's "freer" media landscape.

The upshot of the post-war scenario has been employment of politically like-minded mid-to-lower level female staffers - with few exceptions in higher management positions - or the hiring of women journalists who accept jobs wherever they can find them, given the large supply of candidates, the inadequate demand for journalism graduates and the economic hard times Lebanon has been experiencing in recent years.

The civil war helped reshape Lebanese journalism, spawning countless publications and broadcast outlets and a new breed of female war correspondents/reporters like Tania Mehanna of the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International TV (LBCI) and Sanaa El Jack of the pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat who cut their teeth covering conflicts in-country and abroad.

LBCI reporter Tania Mehanna in Jalalabad

Asharq Al-Awsat editor Sanaa El Jack

Exacerbating matters since the war's end have been the relatively low salaries, particularly in state-run media, necessitating the juggling of two or more jobs just to make ends meet.

As some media lost their earlier regional and international sponsors, they changed sides to keep those paychecks coming, with female staffers usually towing the line.

On the media ethics front, it is not uncommon for Lebanese journalists to work for government institutions and freelance or be part-time reporters, editors, producers, etc., for private media enterprises, thereby creating the ultimate conflict of interest.

A female editor/senior reporter at a leading daily who writes a weekly column for another daily paper doubles as a government public affairs official. The latter position provides her with financial security and government presence, while the newspapers offer her a platform to exercise her reportorial talents and vent off in columns about the country's wrongs.

It seems like a contradiction and would baffle media ethicists in the West, but she manages to juggle and separate her roles and does well in all three.

Most of all, the newspapers enable her to supplement a meager, yet steady, government salary in a two-income family subjected to the vagaries of a slumping economy, increasingly burdened by stratospheric oil prices and heavy reliance on Euro-centered (and sliding U.S. dollar) imports.

Other journalists do not multi-task as easily.

Editorially, Lebanon's women journalists are not as empowered as their numbers would suggest. Decision-making is primarily in male hands, swayed by local, regional and international political and economic currents, given the country's geographic position.

As in other Arab countries, and, increasingly, following political crises, Lebanese journalists repeatedly fail to distinguish between news and views, thereby mixing editorializing with reporting.

That Lebanon enjoys a modicum of press freedom relative to its regional neighbors is played out in this confusion of fact with opinion, in print and broadcast media. It takes great discipline and good training to separate the two genres.

Moreover, Lebanon's experience with democracy is relatively new - dating to independence from the French mandate in the 1940s - so freedom of expression is evolving as a concept, and traditions of accountability, checks and balances, and transparency, still need time to be accepted in a patriarchal culture that has yet to shed all tribal and feudal ways, despite outward manifestations of modernity.

Notwithstanding difficult working conditions, economic constraints, political hindrances, and, sometimes, physical dangers - wars, violence or assassination attempts as in the case of LBCI TV talk show host and former anchor May Chidiac -- all is not lost.

Lebanese women journalists have proved resilient in the face of adversity, and a new crop of reporters, correspondents, managers, producers and bloggers are following in their predecessors' footsteps in a profession that is being re-defined by the day.

"Wired" Lebanese women equipped with computers, Internet connections and other communications tools are finding ways to disseminate their messages, thereby circumventing censors, taboos and shrinking job opportunities in traditional media. It's a new form of empowerment.

But the journalists need moral and financial support to sustain these efforts, notably infusions of funds for regular training, to update their skills and remain competitive since such programs aren't always available through their own news organizations.

It's imperative that aspiring Lebanese women journalists have strong role models to help them hone their talents and pull them up the media corporate ladder.

The notion is still in its infancy and has not caught on adequately.