Caroline Faraj: Thriving on challenges (By Priya Mathew)
It’s not everyday that a woman journalist gets politics as her beat in the Arab world. Even if she makes it so far on her own steam, she doesn’t usually grow into a senior political reporter, whom the Editor-in-Chief of a leading newspaper in a country would assign to cover something so momentous as Arab-Israeli bilateral peace talks.
But Caroline Faraj, now, editor of CNNarabic.com and the head of Dubai bureau, was bestowed tthat opportunity when her country, Jordan, joined the peace process in 1991.
Not only did Caroline live up to her editor’s expectations, but surpassed them by bagging a scoop which to this day is remembered in media circles.
Scooping the scoop
Almost a year of talks had passed with Jordan and Israel failing to see eye to eye on almost all the issues. Discord had reached such heights that the negotiators were unwilling to enter the conference room for talks, lingering in the corridors engaging in informal talks, which later came to be known as ‘corridor talks’.
Finally, with the help of the United States, both the countries made it to the negotiating table. On the eve of the first anniversary of talks, they decided to celebrate the occasion by reaching a Joint Agenda for future talks.
However, Jordan was not in a mood to announce to announce the Joint Agenda agreement to the world at that particular point in time. Israel had started attacking southern Lebanon. It just didn’t seem right for an Arab nation to announce an agreement with Israel just when a neighbouring Arab country had been attacked by their traditional foe.
But Caroline covering the talks in Washington had other plans. She threw all her resources and contacts into action and got hold of a copy of the Joint Agenda and faxed it to her editor in Jordan.
To the consternation and embarrassment of the Jordanian government, Al Rai newspaper, and its sister concern in English, The Jordan Times, carried the story with the whole text of the Joint Agenda the very next day. The copy, of course, had to be published without Caroline’s byline as it was a time when editors and reporters were hurled into prison for publishing something that did not meet with the government’s approval.
Though things did not come to such a pass, the report stirred up a hornet’s nest leaving the Jordanian government, which kept denying such development, to face the music from journalists
“I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to establish CNNarabic.com from scratch. It’s a matter of great pride that the website is fully manned by professional Arab journalists executing their work to the exacting standards practised everywhere else in the world.
Today, CNNarabic.com has grown into one of the main offices for CNN that handles and authenticates all news about Al Qaeda. So much so that other news organisations in the region quote the site as source while talking about the terrorist organisation in their reports,” says a proud Caroline about her website, which receives an average of 5 million page views a month.
As one who has always been in the thick of action be it in the Balkans or Sudan or even Iraq during the first Gulf war, CNN seemed to have comprehended that Caroline cannot be restricted to the desk managing and editing the website. In order to keep her journalistic faculties in good nick, she has been given the added responsibility of donning the role of a news reporter for CNN as and when a story breaks in the Middle East.
A role she savours, as she believes that a journalist loses the edge if he/she is not on the ground covering events and developments first hand.
For Caroline, her profession is a challenge. There is no easy way out. Not for her the traditional ‘safe’ beats of say, fashion or lifestyle. Compartmentalisation of journalism into men and women specific domains does not exist for her.
Nor does she believe in using journalism or herself as a weapon in the fight for women’s rights.
“I don’t understand why some women feel strongly about writing about women’s rights. I believe it is a task better left to the men so that it seems much more credible and unbiased to others, says Caroline.
She holds the same unconventional but emphatic views when it comes to women’s rights as well.
“Some decision makers in the Arab media misinterpret religion and culture. Show me in writing, which says women shouldn’t do this or that.
“Lot of women don’t know their rights. When you don’t know your rights you cannot fight for them. And when you know the rights, you don’t wait for anyone to hand it over to you. You just take it,” states Caroline.
For all the stern posturing, Caroline still remains at heart the quintessential Arab woman, holding on to family values and intrinsic culture.
“Pushing the envelope is all fine, but if you do not respect your culture while you are at it, the success that you earn will be meaningless and short-lived. If what you are doing is right, God will always be there to help you.”
Armed with such conviction and optimism, Caroline feels there is only one way for the women in the region to go. Forward. When the whole world is marching ahead, you cannot just sit back and watch. The time for change has come.