What it takes to make it

Friday - - Society -

fea­tured not only the pol­i­tics but the so­cial and cul­tural is­sues af­fect­ing the ev­ery­day peo­ple of the re­gion, it was here that Hala honed her skill at open­ing a small win­dow on to the plight of the masses. “It’s the smaller sto­ries that stay with me,” she says, “the ones on the mar­gins that tell the wider story. Not just con­flict but the ones that bring a real un­der­stand­ing of what the Arab world is and that doesn’t al­ways have to be ex­plo­sions and gun­fire.”

Elab­o­rat­ing, she says, “I re­mem­ber we did a story about Gaza to ex­plain why, at the time, it had one of the high­est cell­phone pen­e­tra­tions in the Arab world. When we went to in­ves­ti­gate we dis­cov­ered that it’s be­cause no one can get out and the only way they can com­mu­ni­cate with their fam­i­lies else­where is to have a cell­phone and an in­ter­net con­nec­tion. So we filmed half a fam­ily in Gaza and half a fam­ily in theWest Bank and we were the con­duit be­tween them, they hadn’t seen each other in four years.” It’s that well-bal­anced mix of strength and com­pas­sion that has made Hala such a well­re­spected jour­nal­ist, for de­spite hav­ing an im­pres­sive list of in­ter­vie­wees to her name, in­clud­ing for­mer Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Tony Blair, Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Nouri Al Ma­liki and the Dalai Lama, it is the day-to-day sto­ries that Hala says she is most proud of.

“When I was cov­er­ing the war in Iraq I did a story on the only spare-limb fac­tory in Bagh­dad. All th­ese peo­ple were hav­ing their legs and arms blown off by bombs and there were no pros­thet­ics for them. I also went to the only old peo­ple’s home in Bagh­dad, places that are to­tally for­got­ten about in a war zone. It’s not just some­one in a field hos­pi­tal wounded on the front­line but his el­derly mother that no one will be able to look af­ter any more. Those are the sto­ries that stay with me, the ones where you tell the story of one fam­ily and it tells the story of the whole re­gion.”

De­spite her ob­vi­ous pas­sion re­port­ing on the ef­fects of war, it can’t be de­nied that Hala also flour­ishes when hold­ing some of the world’s most pow­er­ful peo­ple to ac­count. In one seat­ing she is ca­pa­ble of a hard-hit­ting in­ter­view with Osama Morsi, son of for­mer Egyp­tian Pres­i­dent Mo­ham­mad Morsi, fol­lowed im­me­di­ately by a grilling con­ver­sa­tion with Zim­babwe’s for­mer prime min­is­ter and 2013 pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, Mor­gan Ts­van­gi­rai.

Asked where her strength comes from to ask the ques­tions oth­ers don’t dare, she an­swers with­out hes­i­ta­tion. “One of the big priv­i­leges of the job is that lead­ers have to an­swer you. It’s a ser­vice to our view­ers so I don’t let [the lead­ers] off the hook if they give me a stock an­swer. It’s my re­spon­si­bil­ity to get them to ex­plain.”

With that at­ti­tude it’s lit­tle won­der she was ranked the 36th most pow­er­ful Arab woman in the world for 2013 by a busi­ness mag­a­zine.

But be­ing credited for the fact she is an Arab woman who has bro­ken on to the in­ter­na­tional news cir­cuit is not some­thing Hala nec­es­sar­ily ap­proves of. “First and fore­most I’m a jour­nal­ist, that’s the most im­por­tant thing, I hap­pen to be Arab and I hap­pen to be a woman; I think we will have a gone long way if that is some­thing that isn’t high­lighted any more,” she says, while quickly point­ing out there is no short­age of women re­port­ing from the front­line. “Any­way, it’s not a hand­ful any more, there are so many women out in the field now, in­clud­ing cor­re­spon­dents, producers and cam­era crew and they don’t even get any of the glory.”

So with the bound­aries shift­ing within the pro­fes­sion, what ad­vice does she have for those who want to en­ter the field of jour­nal­ism? First, Hala be­lieves it’s a trade that can be learnt through ex­pe­ri­ence, not nec­es­sar­ily aca­demic qual­i­fi­ca­tions. “You have to learn the craft of this pro­fes­sion, it’s not some­thing you can just im­pro­vise. You need to learn what it is to be bal­anced, to source, how not to fab­ri­cate or just show one side of a story. It doesn’t mean you have to have a jour­nal­ism de­gree – I don’t have one – but it is con­sciously and pur­pose­fully mak­ing the ef­fort to learn the trade.”

‘ I re­alise as I get older that it doesn’t mean you are weak or un­pro­fes­sional if you al­low your­self to be touched or moved by some­thing’

This raises the ques­tion how one per­son who has wit­nessed so many di­rect atroc­i­ties of war and its dev­as­tat­ing ef­fects can man­age not to be­come de­sen­si­tised. “I’m ac­tu­ally be­com­ing more and more sen­si­tive,” she ad­mits. “Which is odd be­cause I didn’t think that would be the case. I think it’s be­cause I re­alise as I get older that it doesn’t mean you are weak or un­pro­fes­sional if you al­low your­self to be touched or moved by some­thing.”

It is that gen­uine touch of hu­man­ity run­ning through Hala that can best ex­plain her pop­u­lar­ity and her suc­cess. A unique gift en­ables her to open the eyes of the masses to see the plight of many through the sto­ries of a few.

aay­ache@gulfnews.com @AntheaAy­ache

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