Female Media in the Middle East Sakr (2004) argues in Women and Media in the Middle East that historically and in general, elitist governments have utilized popular media to convey Nationalist sentiment. Furthermore, Government-owned media outlets until 1990, precluded the broadcasting of political opposition, freedom of expression, and refused to provide media space for the purpose of debating popular topics (Sakr, 3)…
I. A Brief History of Media in the Middle East and the Origins of the Female Presence From a historical standpoint though, Middle Eastern media dates back to the early 1800s. During the times of the Ottoman Empire and Qajar Iran to name but a few, media in official and private arenas began to take shape (Fortna, 97). Although Middle Eastern media at this time was largely financed by subscription and advertisements, it became a popular tool in the transmission and dissemination of cultural/technical works – largely aided by the newly imported printing technologies from European nations (Fortna, 97). However, it wasn’t until the early 20th century when media became a professional occupation, that the power of media (writing, journalism, and illustrations) was fully harnessed. By 1925, print and roving journalists had begun creating teams, to comment on the popular media of the day – radio and cinema (Fortna, 97). Regarding the first notable female presence in Middle Eastern media, it appears that this is not well documented and varies greatly depending on the type of media. For example, since the inception of Aziza Amir’s first Arabic feature length film in 1927, females have been permitted to make and direct films (Skilli, 48). Filmmaking has offered women (feminist or otherwise) to encapsulate the complexities of female realities and offer a somewhat covert challenge to the dominant view of the female role – for example, Abnoudi’s 1971 file (Horse of Mud), encouraged Middle Eastern people to consider the impact of gender roles and socioeconomic class on the daily lives of Middle Eastern women (Skilli, 48). Critical feminist films that overtly challenge the dominant order are still subject to censorship in the Middle East to this day. For example, when Tahmineh Milani’s feminist film, roughly translated as the “Hidden Half” was introduced to the public in 2001, she was both arrested and then interrogated (Skilli, 49). Women did not become notable in the establishment of publishing houses until the 1980s, when Iranian feminist Shahla Lahiji became the first publishing house owner. Following this, several other women were able to establish publishing houses, and put women’s issues in the public arena for the first time (Skalli, 45). Females did not appear in contemporary journalism in the Middle East until the 1980s – and faced dual threats: from religious quarters and from censorship of the semi-military government when publishing materials that aimed to discuss women’s rights, women’s issues, or any other topic that threatened the prevailing order (Skalli, 41). Sakh (2004) argues that even when women were/are afforded the necessary freedom to participate in mass media outlets in the Middle East, there is no guarantee that they support feminist causes, or aim to promote discussion of issues relevant to women (Sakr, 8). In fact, female illiteracy is a major Middle Eastern issue, which serves to promote compliance with the dominant system, preempt challenges to it, and keep women in a subordinate position (Sakr, 8; Skalli, 41). Regarding female appearance on television, much progress has been made in the past 30 years. Notably, Jordon’s most prominent female reporter, Rana Husseini, and Algerian reporter Horia Saihi, have constructed stories on the female experience of war ...
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