On 5 January, 2012, BBC World, broadcasting in Arabic from London, interviewed Her Royal Highness Princess Basma Bint Saud bin Abdul Aziz to discuss women’s rights and the reform process in Saudi Arabia.
We were surprised – as Arab journalists – to hear the BBC host addressing the Saudi Princess a number of times as a journalist. Sorry, BBC, I hate to disappoint you. But although Basma might be an activist and a blogger; she has a popular fan page on Facebook, and she is a successful businesswoman who owns a chain of restaurants in London, she is not a journalist.
A set of professional requirements, standards and tools are essential before anyone can claim the title of journalist; none of them apply to the Princess. The most essential tool is to be able to speak the language, which the Princess has failed to do. She made unforgivable mistakes in grammar and pronunciation of her own language during the interview; it was clear that she is struggling in Arabic, and there are no traces of any journalistic work she has done in any other language.
The feelings of joy that we have experienced that, at last, a royal family member is carrying the demands of reform to the people who are crushed by injustice, should not obscure our judgement regarding professional rules and standards. There is no proof that the Princess has worked in journalism or earned a penny from this profession. There is no shred of evidence that she was employed by a newspaper or a broadcaster or even studied journalism. She was only a guest interviewed by television channels as a member of the Saudi royal family and as an activist.
What aroused our curiosity as Arab journalists is that the title of journalist was bestowed upon her for the first time by the British newspaper The Independent on the 3 January, only two days before the BBC followed suit. We all know that the media can create new stars, shape people’s perceptions and oil the process of policy making.
The Independent and BBC bypassed the usual rules and criteria of our profession, knowing fully well that even the UK National Union of Journalists still does not automatically accept all online bloggers as journalists. The NUJ does not usually admit bloggers as members unless they can demonstrate significant income from journalism. This does not apply in Her Royal Highness’s case because she does not earn any living from journalism.
If the BBC or The Independent journalists interviewed the Princess as a colleague, her royal title should have been set aside during the interview, and she should have been addressed as a fellow colleague, but she was invited to participate as a member of the royal family.
It is not fair to freely offer professional titles to those who have not worked hard in the press and borne the consequences of the follies of their fingers. We all know well that if the criticism made by Her Royal Highness was issued by any non-royal Saudi journalist, he would by now be in prison or undergoing investigation.
Among the questions that need answering now, is how have The Independent and the BBC have suddenly discovered the supposed journalistic talents of the Saudi Princess? Has anyone instructed the British media to create such a title for her in order to polish the image of the alleged reform in the Saudi Kingdom, or is there a new media project cooking, on its way to be handed over to Her Royal Highness to run, to numb the advocates of change and keep both mainstream Saudi media and opposition media under control?
The sad thing is that the Princess, who has my personal respect and appreciation for her courage and her dedication to human rights, did not correct the presenter; contrary to that, her smile widened every time the broadcaster addressed her with the new title.
Iqbal Tamimi is the Director of Arab Women Media Watch Centre in UKTags: Middle-East
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This post was written by Iqbal Tamimi