Spring is here. So throw on that hijab. Or something to the effect. On Sunday, September 2, Fatma Nabil broke with Egypt news channel tradition and appeared on state television as the first news anchor in 50 years to wear a hijab headscarf on state TV.
Now this historical event could have a bearing on Indian news channels as well. But more on that later.
Hosni Mubarak and his predecessors – all great proponents of secularism – had banned news anchors from wearing hijabs on air ever since state TV has been around in Egypt. The ban was not because Mubarak was being protective of women and felt that they should not be seen by men who they are not related to or some such, but had to do with the belief that the hijab was a sign of overt religious belief and subservience which Mubarak would not stand for. So if you wore a hijab you were most welcome to lug the cameras around or key in the script into the teleprompter, but appearing on camera was a no-no.
So like all good news channels, Egypt’s state television was also full of news readers who were pretty as pie with beautifully blow-dried hair. Even if the person behind the camera happened to be someone who was way more qualified than the news anchor as a journalist.
A bit of an extreme step since most Muslim Egyptian women wear head scarves or the face-covering niqabs. Although it’s only the state-run news channel which was being all hijab-unfriendly. Private news channels have for long had TV anchors wearing hijabs.
Before her appearance on Channel 1 and because she’d not been allowed to appear on state news TV wearing a hijab, Nabil worked for a year in the Muslim Brotherhood TV network Misr 25. After appearing on the state news channel, Nabil has been quoted as saying that, “Now the standards have nothing to do with the veil, which is a personal choice, but are all about professional skills and intellect”. A focus on professional skills and intellect! That’s a revolutionary thought. Not just for Egyptian news channels but also for Indian ones.
Now that the hijab’s allowed on Egypt state TV, maybe it would be a good measure to introduce the same steps on our Indian news channels as well. Bring the focus back to professional skills and intellect. As any news channel executive or producer or ingénue reporter knows, as long as you tick the right boxes in the glamour-and looks-category, it matters not if you have a single figure IQ score. Enough of these women with perfectly blow-dried hair – and some who think they are Farah Fawcett, but aren’t – gracing our TV screens with little or no knowledge of what they’re commenting on. Imagine if instead of spending an hour on their hair, they spent that hour actually reading up and trying to understand the day’s news? Imagine how interesting it would be for editors-in-chief to actually evaluate prospective news anchors solely on their journalistic qualifications and capabilities?
Now, what a brave new world that would be.