Agence France Presse
DUBAI: A male news anchor appeared on screen from the safety of Arabic station Al-Jazeera's studio in Doha as two female correspondents in full war gear reported live from both sides of the Lebanon-Israel front line. This is the new face of war reporting Arab audiences have been seeing since Israel launched its all-out onslaught on Lebanon on July 12.
Young female reporters beat their male colleagues to the forefront of the war zone, braving the danger of becoming a target for the gunships hovering over their heads.
Arab women correspondents have increasingly been reporting for Arab television outlets from violence-wrecked Iraq, where a number have been killed doing their job.
But the Hizbullah-Israel showdown brought Arab female reporters out in force from day one, and it was not long before a Lebanese freelance photographer paid with her life.
Layal Nagib, 23, was killed on the spot when an Israeli missile struck next to the taxi in which she was traveling in South Lebanon.
"I volunteered to go to South Lebanon, although I usually work in the newsroom in Doha," said Katia Nasser, whose name and face became familiar among Arab audiences in a matter of days.
"The management did not discourage me from going for being a woman. On the contrary, I felt they appreciated my decision," Katia told AFP from Al-Jazeera's Beirut office.
Women in general take a back seat in most of the male-dominated conservative Middle Eastern societies, but in audio-visual media, Arab women are increasingly occupying the turf. Katia's West Bank-based colleagues Shirine Abu Aqleh and Jivarah al-Budairi had long been used to getting caught in crossfire. This time they stood on the Israeli side of the border reporting on the Hizbullah missiles pounding northern Israel.
Bushra Abdel-Samad, who until July 11 reported for Al-Jazeera on the endless bickering between Lebanese politicians, was the first to appear in a blue body-armor and helmet from southern Lebanon. Dubai-based Al-Arabiyya television also sent out female reporters to cover the fierce bombing of Beirut's southern suburbs. In awe, Rima Maktabi and Najwa Qassem watched from a hill overlooking the densely-populated Shiite area being bombarded from air and sea.
Lebanon's private televisions also dispatched members of the female press corps to the hot spots, outnumbering their male counterparts. LBC's Mona Saliba fed reports from the flashpoint border town of Bint Jbeil, shortly before it became famous as the scene of fierce fighting between advancing Israeli troops and Hizbullah fighters.
NTV's Nancy Sabea clutched her flak jacket as she roamed devastated neighborhoods in Beirut's southern suburbs. Katia, for one, admitted it can be scary.
"It's normal to be scared. Courage boils down to controlling this fear and not letting it show on camera," she said.
Fear becomes more tangible after listening to Katia's narration of the targeting of a press convoy she traveled with to flee the border zone.
"I felt that life had suddenly turned into slow motion as I saw dust and smoke billowing around me," she said describing the aftermath of the shelling which hit in front and behind the five-vehicle convoy.
But taking risks seems to pay back for female reporters in quick fame.
"You are a hero," said Katia, recalling messages she received from viewers in many Arab countries. "I feel I got more [praise] than I deserve ... too much," she said.