15 JUNE 2010


At least five top female broadcasters at Al-Jazeera submitted their resignation on 25 May, refusing to negotiate a tempting deal. While little known outside the Arab world, presenter Jumana Namur is widely recognized as one of the top presenters in the region. When the legendary Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, President Nasser's confidant and an Arab media oracle, agreed to have a series of interviews with that station a couple of years ago, he specifically asked for Ms. Namur as his interlocutor. Now, this widely respected Lebanese reporter, together with two other compatriots: Lina Zahreddin and Julnar Mussa, as well as Syrian announcer Lona al-Shibel and Tunisian Nofar Afli, have written that they will no longer tolerate personal harassment and offensive, unprofessional behavior by deputy editor Ayman Jaballah. Earlier, three other women had protested: Algerian Khadija Bin Qannah, the more prominent broadcaster who resorted recently to wearing a veil; Palestinian Iman Ayyad, and one of the most presentable interviewers on Arab television, Iraqi Leila Sheikhaly.

The problem has nothing to do with the political line of Al-Jazeera, which they all shared in drawing. But there was an accumulation of insults and repeated remarks by Jaballah deriding the women's "chastity" and dressing habits. That man's immediate supervisor, Chief Editor Ahmad Sheikh is reported to have close ties to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood; so all protests by those decent, gracious, outstanding professional female communicators went unnoticed. Indeed, new guidelines were issued suggesting specific behaviour, talking manner, and dress code, based on a strict Islamist political line which has nothing to do with the spirit of that tolerant religion. What made matters worse was that an internal "investigation" by management not only protected Jaballah, but suggested the appointment of a "dress supervisor" to "assist" female broadcasters with their appearance and the need to issue written instructions to ensure uniformity in language used "within the framework of religion."

The collective resignation of such a prominent group will hurt Al-Jazeera's image and raise questions once more about the real sources behind its funding, which most thought comes from the government of Qatar, but may prove to be otherwise.