Emirati ladies leading journalism to brighter future

October 26, 2011

By Nusaibah Salem

Student Press Correspondent

Abu Dhabi – Students at Zayed University have established the first stand-alone chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the Middle East. The SPJ is a prestigious organization founded in 1909 in the United States to promote high standards and ethical codes for journalism.

Dr. Matt Duffy, a former journalist and a professor in the College of Communication and Media Sciences, decided to help launch the chapter. The department supported the idea.

“We thought it would be difficult, (but) starting a chapter here is a good idea,” Dr. Jack Hillwig, the assistant dean of CCMS, said.

The process of getting the chapter established took several months before publicizing it and accepting students’ membership.

“We instituted it last semester, and had to file the paper work, and show (the SPJ board directors) that we have the interest,” Dr. Duffy said. “Then the board directors voted on it, and then we received an official letter approving it.”

Duffy now serves as the co-advisor for the chapter.

In an email interview with the executive director, Joe Skeel said the Society of Professional Journalists expects the Abu Dhabi student chapter to act like any other branch.

“The expectations for your chapter are the same as all other campus chapters,” he said. “That you will work to improve and protect journalism in your area. That your chapter will help all journalism students (and your administrators and audience) understand the need for credible, ethical journalism. That your chapter will help those same audiences understand the need for an unfettered and independent press.”

Skeel acknowledged that the media landscape in the UAE differs from the United States.

“Your chapter may face challenges that other chapters don’t have to face, but SPJ will support you as much as we can because you have chosen to work toward the missions we hold dear,” he said.

The students are excited as well for the new experience and the challenge facing them.

“This is an important step toward change,” Ayesha Almazroui, the president of the SPJ chapter, said. “The UAE needs more Emirati journalists.”

The roughly 15 members of the chapter elected Almazroui president at its second meeting on Tuesday, September 27.

In the first two meetings, the SPJ chapter members elected Razan Elzubair as the vice president, Shamma Eid as the secretary and Myriam Al Dhaheri as the treasurer. Members elected the rest of the positions, public relations and events coordinators, in the following meeting.

The advisors introduced the SPJ to the students and worked with them to set their goals and plans for the organization in general and the year in specific.

Dr. David Bulla, a professor at CCMS and co-advisor for the chapter, said he has been a member in the SPJ for seven years, and the advisor for the SPJ branch at Iowa State University.

“The first two weeks showed a positive turnout,” he said. “Everybody seems very interested.”

Ms. Alia Yunis and Dr. Hillwig, CCMS faculty members, are also serving as advisors to the chapter.

“I think it will be an excellent organization that will help students understand journalism and converged media and how they operate together,” Dr. Jack Hillwig said. “I only see positive things coming out of it.”

The students shared the vision with their advisors and believed in each other.

“The SPJ is a prestigious organization in the US,” Asmaa Al Hameli, a member in the SPJ, said. “Having a chapter here, and to have Emirati ladies running it is a great achievement. Our advisors are professionals in the field and they will guide us.”

The SPJ, headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana, seeks to cultivate the high ethical standards of journalism in the field. Four leading principles summarize the guidelines of the profession and the ethics it promotes. The Code of Ethics stresses seeking truth and reporting it, minimizing harm, acting independently and being accountable.

“Students in the SPJ can be the leaders of student media in ZU,” Dr. Bulla said. “This generation will carry (knowledge, experience, and high standards of ethics and professionalism) out to the media in this country.”

Among several projects and campaigns, the SPJ is supporting World Press Freedom Day. The United Nations marks May 3 of each year as World Press Freedom Day. The aim of the occasion is to emphasize the role the media and journalism can play if they are granted freedom. Dr. Bulla said he would like to see Zayed University receive worldwide attention for next year’s event.

Shamma Eid, the secretary of the SPJ chapter and a student majoring in converged media and international studies, said she has high hopes for the Society of Professional Journalists’ chapter.

“The SPJ is a new idea that will hopefully strengthen journalism at ZU and encourage its diligent practice as well as raise awareness amongst students of what it’s all about,” she said.

The author is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi. Dr. Matt Duffy edited this article.