Media Stories

Lion Attack Shocker: Saudi Reporter Was a Woman

Monday, July 25, 2011

The freak lion attack of a female editor working for the national Saudi newspaper, Al-Riyadh, underscores the shocking absence of Saudi female journalists in newsrooms and newspapers.



LONDON (WOMENSENEWS)--Asmahan Al-Ghamdi, a female editor at the national Saudi newspaper, Al-Riyadh, based in Al-Riyadh city, was in an amusement park north of Riyadh working on a feature article about the park on July 15 when she was attacked by a lion. She suffered injuries that wound up requiring surgical attention.

"The coach lost control of three lions, when he opened the cage door, the lions rushed towards the media crew and a number of park employees who were present in the area located inside the fence between the cages and the public," a witness told Al-Riyadh newspaper.

One lion reportedly blocked the reporter's way when she tried to escape and knocked her down while another lion bit into her arm.

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The coach managed to back the lions off and saved the journalist's life. A nurse working at the park gave Al-Ghamdi first aid before she was taken to a hospital. The safety regulations at the park are a topic unto themselves.

As a Palestinian journalist, with eight years of experience living and working in Gulf media, I am well aware that Saudi women are rarely photographed.

Female columnists on Saudi newspapers such as Al-Riyadh are usually depicted by shapes and shadows, void of personal features, unlike male colleagues, who get a photograph.

I have worked for the same newspaper that employs Al-Ghamdi--I helped cover Dubai and the U.K.--so I took a collegial interest in her and couldn't resist trying to find a picture of her on the Web. There was no match found in a Google search or the newspaper's own search function. No surprise there.

Harshest Restrictions

Ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia has the harshest restrictions on women in the Gulf. Saudi women have to be under the guardianship of men, sometimes including their own sons. Women are not supposed to travel, go to work, go to the hospital or apply for an identity card unless accompanied by a male guardian. Female journalists are segregated from their colleagues.

Saudi journalist Kholoud Alfahad has written about how a police officer refused to investigate a harassment complaint she wanted to file against a man, because she came to the police station without a male guardian. When she turned to the religious authorities for help, they refused as well because they claimed she was not "properly" veiled.

Authorities refused to record Alfahad's witness' account as well because she was a woman. Only when her Indian driver came forward to offer his side of the story was her account accepted. The man was not her guardian, not related to her in any way and it was unlikely that he even spoke Arabic or could clearly describe the incident. But he was a man, so that counted for more than anything Alfahad or her female witness could say.

Severe restrictions on photographing is another way women are erased from public life. I have read a number of articles about female guests being searched at wedding parties in case they are carrying camera phones and just might take a photo of one of the guests.

What's odd about the prohibition on women's images, however, are the exceptions to the rule. While most female journalists remain faceless, it is possible to find pictures of those who have been "disgraced." The few pictures available online for Saudi female journalists reflect stories of unfortunate and alarming incidents of domestic violence.

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Saudi Arabia manages to bring disrespect upon the Muslim community in one form or another rather persistently, particularly in regard to their treatment of women. It will be a miracle if they ever wake up. The paradox is that they allow women to be seen in public. Why not in broadcasting? What's the difference? Islam holds women in high esteem, to be treated with special care, and yet Saudi Arabia would prefer to hold them in contempt. This is not Islam but cultural bigotry.

Thank you, Iqbal, for exposing this sly method of the Saudi authorities to devalue the role of women. This instance makes the practice of not photographing women appear ridiculous, and we can only hope that this obvious injustice becomes unsustainable as more Saudi women stand up publicly for their rights.
Paul Breeden, Chair, National Union of Journalists Bristol Branch, UK

You need to keep writing about this sort of thing to bring about change.

I must say though that Fox News is trying very hard to follow the same pattern in pandering to the prejudices of their viewers. But their treatment of women is exactly the opposite - on Fox News they wear ultra short skirts even when they sit on a couch facing the camera. The men are dressed conservatively of course.

While respecting, though not agreeing with, conservative Saudi laws how silly of the men driving the media to airbrush the salient details that the journalist recently attacked by a lion was a woman.
This makes a mockery of the noble profession of journalism, it is censorship gone mad and it is also an insult to the female journalist herself who very easily could have lost her life in the pursuit of her profession.
This sort of censorship makes the Saudi Kingdom look silly and foolish in the eyes of the rest of the world.
Kind regards
Yvonne Ridley
WIJ (One of the founders of Women in Journalism) and the European President of the International Muslim Womens Union, London, UK.

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