Posts Tagged ‘Middle East Press Freedom’


Get Paid What You’re Worth: Disrupting a Broken Industry

As journalists, we are not supposed to talk about our political affiliations, religious beliefs, share any strong personal opinions. These are the rules. These rules have emerged since the U.S. positioned itself as a global beacon of free press for the rest of the world to envy.

In case you haven’t been paying attention, few people envy American journalists these days. The president of the United States openly, regularly attacks the press. He also makes sexist remarks about women and pursues anti-immigrant policies.

In a world where the government is not ensuring equal pay for men and women as they do in other countries and the newsrooms struggle to stay afloat, why are the U.S. journalists not fighting for their rights?

I was born in the Soviet Union, in an environment that could hardly called conducive to activism, confronting the status quo or even embracing ideals of outspoken feminism. But somewhere along the way in my career as a female financial journalist, I began to notice things.

My newsroom experience and the stories I was telling my friends were not the same as my male colleagues’.  My starting salary was not the same as theirs, and this was true across continents and newsrooms. After years in the industry, I knew I was still not paid the same for doing the same work. It was an institutional pay gap.

Then I realized this experience was not limited to me.

The Wall Street Journal reporters are still waiting for a response to their March 28 letter demanding equality in the workplace. The latest independent analysis found that “a significant gender pay gap in every location, in every quarter, and within the largest job single category: reporter.”

The Wall Street Journal journalists are not alone either. The pay gap between male and female journalists in the U.S. evolved somewhat since the 1970s, but then all progress pretty much froze around the 1990s when women’s salaries stayed at 80-85 percent of male journalists’ salaries. A recent Poynter survey found the news business is also unfair to journalists with children.

The women at the top news organizations who bring us the stories of the rich and famous, the financial scandals and inequality gaps are consistently underpaid themselves. At Dow Jones, women with up to 10 years of years of experience are paid six percent less on average than male journalists with up to five years of experience. Seems fair, right?

This is an industry-wide problem, not limited to one organization or media establishment. Once you start looking, examples are everywhere: the pay gap, who gets promoted to the most senior roles, whose voices are heard and whose are overlooked.

Surely there has been some progress. And many of these challenges are not limited to women: minorities, both men and women, face tremendous obstacles that should not be compared or contrasted. What’s important is to recognize them and not to pretend that we as a global society, as humans on Earth, are “over it”. We are not.

We still have a lot of work beyond the pay gap: we have to learn how to promote and support women in the workplace, how to cover stories like rape that don’t blame survivors, how to allow women to thrive at the highest levels of their organizations, how to quote and incorporate more female voices in stories and cultivate these new sources rather than turn to a handful of trusted “guys” over and over again.

This is not rocket science: all it takes is being aware and taking the time to educate, inspire others, start doing something.

For me it meant launching a media platform that is dedicated to women as news consumers, a platform that puts female readers first and focus on stories they are most interested in. I launched ellaletter.com with the hope of featuring more female voices, welcoming female journalists and offering a platform for more nuanced, smart storytelling. My goal is to recruit the best female (and male) reporters and offer them a competitive market salary they deserve.

What’s important is not to stay complacent or choose the safe, comfortable option in a corporate environment. It’s always more comfortable not to rock the boat, speak up or buckle down and negotiate a higher salary.

As a woman, a journalist and a first-generation immigrant whose family came to the United States in the late 1990s, I see Trump era as a particular kind of triple threat: to women, to the freedom of speech and to a new generation of immigrants and their families eager to enter the United States in pursuit of better opportunities. The initial outrage after 2016 election has subsided and hasn’t translated into consistent political activism or more women running for office.

With the democratic institutions and the news industry fighting their own battles for survival, nobody is going to fight for equal pay on our behalf. We can no longer afford to accept anything that makes us feel uncomfortable or unfair as “normal”.

It may make take a serious conversation with your boss or a job change. Or, in countries like Iceland, it took a legislative decision requiring companies to prove men and women are paid the same.

Silence, complacency or hoping for the best are no longer enough.

Daria Solovieva is a Russian-American journalist based in Dubai. She is a graduate of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and has written for leading publications around the world, including the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, Fast Company, USA Today, International Business Times, and Bloomberg News. She was featured as Achieving Business Woman of 2017 in Entrepreneur Middle East magazine in May. You can follow Solovieva on Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn to stay updated on her work.

If you or someone you know would like to share your narrative, please fill out the following form and a member of the International Community will contact the nominee. 

How a Network of Females in the Journalism Community Helps Me Do My Job Better

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about my time in the journalism community and if I have what it takes to hang on. It’s a tough time to be a journalist for all the obvious reasons — ad sales declining, cutbacks in newsrooms, and of course our president’s never-ending hatred of everything we do. But I realize it’s also an important time to be a journalist. Now, more than ever, finding the truth matters. I mean, it really matters. The work we produce, what we uncover, will impact the way this country moves forward. The problem, though, at least for me, is finding a way to wade through all the mud, all the gook that is the bad pay and unsustainable lifestyle, while still doing important work.

I’ve come to a conclusion: I can do this if I have people to lean on. Sure, I have family and friends that are always going to be there for me. But that’s not the kind of support I am talking about. I am talking about having support from other people in this industry who will go to bat for you. I’ve found that group of people — all of them young women like myself — and with their advice and guidance, I can produce my very best journalism. And it’s a mutual support, of course. We all promote each other’s work on social media. We talk about things like navigating delicate sourcing relationships and dealing with unbearable bosses. Most importantly, though, we can talk about things that no one else likes to talk about in the newsroom. We talk about things like unfair freelance contracts and how to negotiate them, misogyny in the workplace, and making sure our voices are heard in editor meetings.

I think one of the most important things for women in this industry to be talking about, especially women in my generation, is the fact that many of us are continuously overlooked for staff positions. I can’t tell you how many times outlets have passed by my application and hired a man either my age or slightly older who has less experience and less education. What this has taught me: Middle East conflict reporting is a man’s game. I think any woman out there working in this field will tell you that they have to work harder and longer than their male colleagues in order to prove themselves to their bosses. This isn’t a new phenomenon. Women have done this since the age of time in America. But it seems like we are in a time in history, especially in the journalism industry, where women, no matter how well we do are work, can’t get ahead. We continuously find ourselves running up against a brick wall and falling back sometimes to jobs we held when we were just out of school. (I’ve thought about applying to unpaid internships and I am 28).

To all my ladies in the industry out there, know this: There will always, always be men that are threatened by what you are doing. Sometimes that manifests itself in really destructive ways like them trolling you on social media. Other times they will call you out on live TV or treat you inappropriately on the ground in far flung places like Iraq or Afghanistan. It is always better to stand up for yourself and fight back, no matter what other people say. In the end, your reputation and your work is in your own hands. You have to claim your own future. Speaking up and back at those who treat you poorly or speak to you in either sexist or degrading ways is important. Even if those people are your superiors.

The other thing my comrades and I talk about is freelance contracts and negotiating with intimidating individuals. What we’ve come to vocalize on our many many conversations is that both women and men to stand up to their superiors and ask for what they deserve. This includes asking for proper protection and payment. I know not only freelancers but also staffers that have to continuously beg their publications for funds for simple things like drivers and fixers in Iraq and Afghanistan. I remember one time when I was working in Turkey, I had an editor tell me that I “didn’t deserve the perks that people at the New York Times get” because I hadn’t yet proved myself. I had asked this editor for funds to pay for things like fixers and translators while I was covering the battle against ISIS in Syria from Turkey. The email I received my editor was long and filled with reasons why I didn’t deserve protection. I’ve kept this email and periodically look back at it for inspiration.

I’ve gotten better at negotiating freelance contracts. But honestly, it gets exhausting. I’m tired. I’m tired of continuously having to ask editors to pay me the standard day rate. I’m tired of having to tell my editors that I won’t go into the line of fire unless they give me proper protection. Why do we always have to ask for things that should be considered standard? I’ve started saying “no” to publications that offer laughable payment terms. I’ve started telling editors that their demands are unrealistic. I’ve come to understand that keeping peace of mind by saying “no”, even if that means I don’t make as much money that month, is worth it.

Lastly, I talked with my female support “sisters” as I like to call them, about the need for more people in the journalism industry to talk about mental health, especially those that reporting in conflict zones. I’ve dealt with a lot of health issues in my times reporting in the Middle East, some of which I have written about on Narratively. I’ve also been diagnosed with PTSD and had to deal with that. I think these are issues that a lot of people don’t feel comfortable talking about. There needs to be more discussion about the issues, especially mental health struggles, that both men and women face working in this field. I overcame these issues by simply relying on my family and friends, and a really good psychologist!  

I don’t claim to have everything figured out in this at times crazed journalism industry. I still struggle day to day in thinking about whether all the bad gooky stuff I mentioned above is worth it. On bad days I’ll reach out on our group’s WhatsApp thread and vent. And other days I think back to the beginning of my career as a campus editor at The Daily Cardinal at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It was a full-time job. And it is where I learned how to be a reporter. It was fun. We put out a paper every day. We stayed some nights until 11 p.m., drinking skunked beer and copy editing with red colored pencils.  We did serious reporting, too. We broke stories the state papers didn’t even have on their radar. I need to remember that fun. I need to remember that despite all the BS that we have to deal with, our stories can end presidencies. That is a power, and privilege, that should be protected and nurtured.

Erin Banco is a Middle East reporter whose first book is Pipe Dreams: The Squandering of Iraq’s Oil Wealth, which will be published by Columbia Global Reports in November 2017. Banco has been covering armed conflict and human rights violations in the Middle East for six years. She covered the revolts in the region and the war in Syria. After graduating from Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, she was a fellow at The New York Times and then the Middle East correspondent for International Business Times, breaking stories on the rise of the Islamic State group and on the Free Syrian Army arms program. Banco also traveled to Gaza to cover the war with Israel in the summer of 2014. More recently, Banco began covering the Islamic State group’s economy by tracking illicit oil sales in Turkey and Iraq. You can follow Banco for more of her work on her website and on Twitter at @ErinBanco.

If you or someone you know would like to share your narrative, please fill out the following form and a member of the International Community will contact the nominee. 

Media Coverage of Asylum Does Not Have to be a Part of Its Humanitarian Aspect

A month ago I attended the Nobel Peace Conference in Germany. We were talking about the political situation in the world and the asylum that has become the top priority of the countries of the world. I remember specifically the story of a Syrian refugee who came out of the Syrian regime in a prisoner exchange deal, telling us her story and the death of her husband under torture.

It is a humanitarian story that summarizes the definition of asylum within some lines.

The media presentation of any asylum case should not aim to make a scoop with what is contained in documents and exclude talking about the humanitarian portion.

In the coverage of asylum news, the picture may differ from the publication of any other news. The life of the refugee and the consequences of publication are more important than the scope, that many media sources seek to do it throughout the Arab region, not only Jordan.

In one way or another, I had to remove this garment, “the journalist’s obsession with the scope,” to start following the cases in depth, highlighting the consequences in the refugee camps as a result of war, asylum and displacement rather than trying to shed light on the consequences of economic and political asylum on Jordan. We are talking about human stories that have suffered and are still suffering as a result of this asylum.

It is a complex crisis that cannot consider one part without the others.

In addition to the importance of maintaining the security of the refugee and the confidentiality of sources of information in light of the policies that intimidated the refugees from the “slander” which the government has repeatedly denied.

Although the issue of asylum has become an important part of the priorities of many female human rights defenders; several violations have been deliberately or unintentionally inflicted on the refugees as a result of political agendas that have paid for them, media coverage has continued to talk about the political and economic consequences of asylum.

Writing my story in asylum is not easy in the presence of a societal culture enshrined by the government and others by placing the Syrian asylum as the “cradle” of the country’s economic, political and social crises. Which means colliding not only with the government and organizations but also by fighting a hate speech that policies have contributed in one way or another to strengthen it. Both citizens and refugees have become victims.

The most important thing to be done by a journalist who deals with asylum issues with its human dimensions, is to clash with the very old and obsolete accusation which is the saying: She is the owner of foreign agendas.

I had faced this in the beginning of my media coverage for asylum news.

The question is have some of the headlines in the provocative media played a role in promoting hate speech towards refugees?

What happened in the follow-up to the file of asylum media was addressing the official letters related to the file of the Syrian refugees and publishing it without any analysis or considering other points of view, which clearly supported increasing the hate speech towards the refugees and changed the public opinion of continuing opening of the border to the Syrian refugees.

The hate speech in some headlines was twofold: first, the lack of objectivity in the official discourse, without any scrutiny and focus on hateful terminology and concepts, where the matter was left to reporters to interpret, by ignoring the other side.

The hate speech in some headlines was twofold. First, the lack of objectivity in the official discourse, without any scrutiny and focus on hateful terminology and concepts, where the matter was left to reporters to interpret, by ignoring the other side. Second, it is to focus on negative, not humanitarian, issues of refugees (such as crime and high unemployment).

Unfortunately, some websites and journalists do not comply with the legal text in the publications. Article 7 of the Jordanian Publications Law stipulates that the print and the journalist must not spread hatred among the people, and all those on the land of the Kingdom. Except as provided for in article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which provides for the prohibition of any “advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence”.

As a result of many press and media coverage of asylum news that has been in the context of a systematic or nonsystematic “hate speech” that results from a lack of knowledge of human rights and criteria for covering asylum news by choosing terminology that avoids falling into the quagmire of hate speech.

The importance of female journalists knowing about the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and belief in them is important for following this file, which can not be cut off from it. Its consequences are not known or notable for some of us because you are shedding light on the right of living for a person who the life imposed him a painful reality.

As part of the coverage of the media coverage of asylum in its humanitarian dimensions, we find that the one who is keen on this dimension in media coverage in Jordan are female journalists specializing in human rights (Nadine Nimri, Rania Sarayra and Samar Haddadin, for example).

In the end, we have the right to defend the rights in our writing because it is in defense of our rights in this life. We must live away from political agendas, away from beliefs and customs, and even from what is being traded (security and safety).

And yes, there is a price and there are consequences for everyone who seeks to highlight the importance of preserving and establishing these rights, but life in dignity and defending these rights is always worth standing up to anyone who violates them only to have power.

So, I begin working with this platform #PressFreedomMatters to promote the role of female journalists in activating the fourth authority (the media) in combating the violation of these rights and ensuring the continuation of their work without any legal or political threats or obstacles.

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Hebatulahayat Obeidat began her career as a radio journalist for Albalad. She spent eight years in Jordan where she conducted training on election coverage, news writing and debates in Jordan, Yemen and Libya. She is a producer and presenter for the news and radio program on political and human rights. She is a member of The Regional Alliance for Human Rights Defenders in the Middle East and North Africa. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.  Her contribution above was translated from Arabic to English.

If you or someone you know would like to share your narrative, please fill out the following form and a member of the International Community will contact the nominee. 

No Reporting for 30 years!!

Here’s a new twist on how to limit press freedom in Iran — jail AND a three-decade ban on journalistic writing. Agence France Presse reports that Iran journalist Jila Baniyaghoob has gotten a one-year jail sentence for her reports tied to last year’s election unrest. Her punishment also prohibits her from writing for the next 30 years.

Both Baniyaghoob and her husband, economic journalist Bahman Ahmadi Amooi, were arrested last June for their reporting work. He got a five-year prison sentence for the articles that he wrote for now shuttered reformist newspapers.

The court considered Baniyaghoob’s reports on last year’s disputed presidential elections in iran to be anti-government.

Baniyaghoob is the recipient of the 2009 courage in journalism award from the International Women’s Media Foundation.

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