Saudi Female Journalist Becomes LBC’s Scapegoat

This post was written by Sabria Jawhar, and originally appeared at the Saudi Gazette and at her personal blog.

Something got lost in all the outrage last week over the conviction and lashing sentence of the 22-year-old Saudi woman journalist, Rozanna Yami. Something got lost in all the outrage last week over the conviction and lashing sentence of the 22-year-old Saudi woman journalist who worked for the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp (LBC). What exactly is the LBC doing to support their journalist?

Rozanna Yami. Image via Saeed Shamaa/EPA.

Rozanna Yami. Image via Saeed Shamaa/EPA.

The answer is absolutely nothing.

According to a Reuters report this week, the young woman had nothing to do with the Bold Red Line broadcast segment in which a Saudi man bragged about his sexual conquests. The man was sentenced to five years in jail and lashings, but the woman journalist only worked as a “fixer,” someone who arranges interviews for foreign media. She apparently had nothing to do with the segment involving the braggart. Her crime apparently is that she worked for the LBC, which was not licensed to operate in Saudi Arabia.

Let’s set aside the idiocy that the Saudi government did not know that the LBC was not licensed. Let’s focus on the conduct of the LBC. The Lebanese were kicked out of the country, so they suffered a bit for their actions. But they also couldn’t get out of Saudi Arabia fast enough, leaving behind a vulnerable employee who proved to be the LBC’s scapegoat for their poor behavior. King Abdullah this week pardoned the woman, but she still must face a tribunal before the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Information.

A year ago the LBC approached me and offered a job that eventually went to this young Saudi journalist. I spoke over the phone with their producers and a presenter. It quickly became clear that the LBC was not interested in Saudi news, but creating tabloid headlines.

Among the topics the LBC was eager to cover were strange sexual practices, voodoo and black magic, especially black magic practiced on wayward husbands. Runaway girls, marriages of convenience and spinsterhood were other topics the LBC wanted to present. The LBC was clearly interested in the sensational aspects of Saudi culture, taboo subjects that are not topics of conversation. Yet the LBC seemed unmoved that these stories would perpetuate Saudi stereotypes in a period in which Saudis are under attack for their cultural and religious differences.

Part of my responsibility as a Saudi journalist is that if wrongdoing is exposed or taboo subjects are addressed, solutions must be provided in these stories. Perhaps more important is the safety and well-being of the people we interview. It’s likely that Saudis who participate in media interviews on sensitive subjects will face consequences for their actions.

It’s one thing to interview a Saudi woman who chooses to remain unmarried to pursue a career. It’s another for a young woman forced into spinsterhood by her father who wants her income. If such a woman gave an interview, she would have to answer to her family. What kind of support would the LBC provide for the girl if she was thrown out of the house? I think none. No two better examples of abandonment can be found than the sex braggart and the Saudi journalist.

During our discussion about my role in their Bold Red Line series, the LBC producers were cavalier, if not dismissive, about my concerns over the consequences of these kinds of interviews. When the discussion turned to me being hired as a producer, I thought that I could control editorial content. But the answer was no. Editorial control came from Beirut.

It became apparent that if I were to arrange the interviews, it would become my responsibility to see that the interviewees did not suffer any consequences for their frank talk. But that is an extremely risky task without the support of the employer.

I recognized the LBC was not prepared to offer any support after a broadcast to its Saudi employees or the interview subjects. Their desire to present sensitive Saudi issues as tabloid fodder was not much different than Western media parachuting into Riyadh for two days to do a story on how the abaya and niqab are oppressive to women. It makes for interesting television and boosts ratings, but it leaves a lot of pain and humiliation in its wake.

I rejected the LBC’s offer. Their attitude toward Saudi Arabia was insincere and cynical. I could not see how the Bold Red Line series would benefit or shed any light on Saudi culture, other than presenting Saudis as parodies of themselves.

It didn’t occur to me until this young Saudi female journalist stood trial for the LBC’s negligence that the LBC’s producers would prey on someone who is young, perhaps naïve, and eager to advance her journalism career.

Now this young woman is suffering for the sins of the LBC, which has stood by mute. They offered no lawyer and no statement of condemnation for her treatment by the Saudi courts. LBC should be an embarrassment to Middle East journalists. At a time when Arab journalists are seeking to be taken seriously as professionals and attempt to adhere to an ethical standard, the LBC’s cowardice illustrates just how little progress we have made.

  • RCHOUDH

    I agree LBC acted very irresponsibly in not protecting both its journalist and guest from the Saudi government’s ire. Since they were looking to shed light on some very personal sensitive topics, they should have taken into account the fact that Muslims generally do not discuss about these topics in a general forum and in a “light hearted” manner. It goes back to how Muslims are raised to view these behaviors (strange sexual practices, black magic) as actions one should not publicly air, especially in a light hearted manner, if one committed them. Instead one should stop practicing them (either on one’s own or by seeking help privately), make tauba, and move on with one’s life.

    If LBC was serious about bringing these practices to public attention, as well as other issues like spinsterhood and marriages of convenience, then it should have guaranteed the privacy to the utmost degree its guests, hosts, and other members of its journalistic organization. That way these issues could be discussed thoroughly in a comfortable setting.

    Another aspect of LBC’s actions that I question is for what purpose
    they want to bring these issues to light about Saudi society. If it’s simply to poke fun at these subjects and at Saudi society, I believe this is very immature behavior on LBC’s part. If however they genuinely want to bring these problems to light in order to find ways to bring forth solutions, or at least to help the ones performing these actions as well as their friends and family who are affected, then I believe bringing these issues to light serves an important purpose.

  • Dude

    I agree that LBC acted irresponsibly.

    I’d also suggest, however, that we not hold them in higher contempt than we do other TV stations. How much worse were their actions compared to many stations here in the US or in the UK?

    I routinely see programs where they go to some country and are interviewing people who could get in trouble with their governments if their identity was revealed. Most of them don’t hide the identity (they don’t blur the face, and at times even give the names). That’s highly irresponsible. Even when they do blur the face, almost half of the times it’s such a poor job that anyone who knows the individual, and is watching the show, will know it’s him/her. And they often provide enough peripheral data to identify the person anyway even if they do properly blur the face. And even rarer is the masking of the voice.

    And there are other “faults” with such stations. The LBC fiasco is creating a bigger fuss simply because these events are rare in Saudi Arabia – not because they’re any worse.

  • Sam

    “Since they were looking to shed light on some very personal sensitive topics, they should have taken into account the fact that Muslims generally do not discuss about these topics in a general forum and in a “light hearted” manner. It goes back to how Muslims are raised to view these behaviors…”

    Wow…r u serious with this comment?

  • RCHOUDH

    @ Sam

    Yes I was being serious. Most of the time individuals don’t publicly divulge private actions they know to be haraam, because in Islam it’s taught that if you commit a sin and repent afterwards, you should hide it from people because it’s nobody’s business but your own (and likewise Allah will shield your sins from being exposed on the Day of Judgment). Also whoever knows of whatever sin you once committed must also protect your right to privacy, otherwise they are committing the sin of slander and backbiting if they divulge your past actions to others.
    If you want help in stopping yourself from continuing to commit a sin, you can seek help for it so long as it’s done privately and so long as you know the help is reliable (eg. seeking help for kicking drug or alcohol addiction from a substance abuse clinic).

    If LBC wants to put on a show in order to help people who seek help in solving a personal matter or want to bring a social problem to light, then they should ensure that the guest receives the utmost privacy (the only exception being if the guest chooses to forgo privacy). Like a said it’s nobody’s business who is doing what, especially if a person wants to change their behavior, because that is between that person and Allah.

    @Dude

    You’re right other news networks should be held accountable for their irresponsibility as well.

  • sui sen

    Yes Sam…

    In the West people talk about sexual promiscuisity to find solutions on how to stop it or better to find cure for those who suffer sexual addictions.

    But the show shown in LBC was to glorify the sexual promiscusity in a society where sexuality is not only considered as sacred but also very sensitive to talk about.

    Sex education is one thing but to provide a stage to promote sexual misadvetures and immorality is another.

    It is not hypocrisy. Yes such thing happen. But instead of looking for soltions to address the problem, the network chose to glorify it.

    Disgusting, very disgusting indeed!

  • Sam

    Maybe I wasn’t very CLEAR. I’m not referring to sexuality or LBC or the journalist but to the way you are generalizing and making blanket statements of a large group of people. Not just Saudi Arabians but Muslims which are over a billion people?

    You shouldn’t make such statements as “Muslims are raised like this or Muslim speak like that or discuss this etc.” Just like it isn’t wise to generalize about Muslim women or any other group of people.

  • RCHOUDH

    Perhaps I too wasn’t being very CLEAR. Instead of saying generally, “Muslims are raised…” I should have explained that “based on the norms of (Saudi) society, it is not common to see people discussing private matters openly and casually”. In that case, it doesn’t matter how an individual is raised, most of the times they abide by whatever norms govern a particular society. Is that clear enough for you?

  • Laila

    @ Sam

    Thanks for pointing that out. I was thinking the same thing, it’s unacceptable to make general statements like “Christians are raised like this or Muslims are raised like that or Jews speak like that (etc), because these populations in question are very diverse.


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