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Jun. 1 2010 - 8:06 am | 6,667 views | 1 recommendation | 1 comment

Al Jazeera’s female talent resigns over modesty demands

Joumana Nammour: Leading the Al Jazeera exodus

Five female Al Jazeera presenters have resigned after being accused of “dressing immodestly.” The five presenters— along with three others who are currently still at the network — filed an internal complaint in 2009 accusing deputy editor Ayman Jaballah of harassment over fashion and modesty issues.

Ayman Jaballah, a former al-Arabiyya staffer, is an Egyptian native who has been vocal in his support for the Muslim Brotherhood (عربية).

Al Jazeera execs finally addressed the internal complaint last Tuesday. Except… Jaballah was not censured for harassment. Instead, Al Jazeera’s corporate hierarchy seems to have rewarded him.

The inquiry decided that Al Jazeera has the right to impose modesty norms on presenters.

In fact, the panel, chaired by Khalid Abudullah al-Mulla, praised Jaballah as “professional” and gave him the go-ahead to enforce “decency” norms:

The panel, chaired by Khalid Abudullah Al Mulla, concluded that Al Jazeera had legal rights over the looks and appearances of its presenters and that the channel was entitled to “set conditions and criteria for its employees’ physical aspects in line with the spirit, values and images it wants to disseminate,” Al Hayat said.

The probe committee dismissed the harassment complaint levelled against Ayman Jaballah, the deputy editor-in-chief, saying that his attitudes and behaviour were within his prerogatives and that he did not make any remarks that could harm the presenters’ reputation. His observations were not personal and were purely professional and related to the general appearance of the presenters, the panel said.

Al-Mulla is requesting that the network appoint a clothing advisor to make wardrobe choices for all anchors and for the creation of a guidebook that will list acceptable criteria for on-air clothing.

At present, Al Jazeera’s Arabic language flagship channel has a mix of scarved and uncovered presenters. A complete list of female presenters on Al Jazeera was unavailable at press time.

Joumana Nammour (pictured), Lina Zahradine, Julnar Moussa, Lona Shibel and Nawfar Afli have all resigned their positions. Iman Bannoura, Leila Sheikhly and Khadija Bin Qana opted to stay at the network.

Like all corporate scandals, there’s more to this story than the surface. The Los Angeles Times translated Zahradine’s comments to the Arab-language Lebanese paper As-Safir:

“There is something wrong professionally within the newsroom that needs to be fixed, and I don’t mean the editorial policy,” Zahradine said. “There is a history among people in the administration–and I don’t say the administrative board as a whole–of behavior that is unacceptable for a superior towards a subordinate.”

In addition, translations of Arabic-language coverage at Dekhnstan also state “the imposition of one political and ideological view” on the newsroom by Jaballah was the main issue.

Rumors of mismanagement and ideological bias at Al Jazeera’s English and Arabic channels have been rife for the past five years or so, which I wrote about for Mediabistro back in 2008.

Al Jazeera’s female presenters are dressed roughly the same as those on rival networks such as al-Arabiyya and al-Hurra, with unveiled hair and skin on Western norms being common.

But, as is all too common in the Arabic-speaking Middle East, the misogynists came out on the online comment boards soon after news of the scandal came out. There was this gem on ArabianBusiness:

I really appreciate the actions taken by Jazeera. Muslim women should know their values rather than pretending other norms.

I am not against the non muslims because that is their way of life and I also supporting providing all necessary freedom to the Muslim woman, but, always we have to remember traditional values are important at the least to public. You are free what you want, but, don’t spoil the others.

You’d think Muslim women would be free to choose how much skin they want to show (or not show) on television, but apparently not.


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  1. collapse expand

    I don’t think that words like “Muslim women” and “free” can be put together – Al Jazeera or not.

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    A New York-based journalist and blogger who has spent extensive time in the Middle East and is currently working on an MA thesis in Middle Eastern Studies. My thesis focuses on the 2009 Iranian election demonstrations and their coverage in the international media.

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