Breaking barriers in journalism

November 15, 2007

Raghida Dergham caught her break as a journalist in 1979 when she interviewed President Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines. Looking down at her after the interview, he told her she could not make it as a journalist.

Three decades later, Dergham has interviewed heads of state and influential government officials from around the world. On Tuesday afternoon she gave a lecture about international journalism at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, where Professor of Arab Studies Michael Hudson introduced her as “one of the Arab world’s most distinguished journalists and political commentators.”

Dergham is also known for breaking the story of the Oslo Accords, which were signed in 1993 and established formal relations between Israel and Palestine, and was the only journalist to interview the supposed leader of the 1993 World Trade Center bombings, Ramzi Youssef, she said in her speech.

All the news that breaks glass ceilings: Al-Hayat correspondent Raghida Dergham discusses interviewing terrorists and presidents for over three decades.
Lynn Kirshbaum

Dergham said her desire to be a journalist stems from her upbringing in Lebanon, which she felt was restrictive towards the advancement of women. For example, she said that traditionally she had to be accompanied by a man whenever she went to turn in an article.

Dergham used this example to talk about becoming independent, pushing boundaries and proving herself as a respected journalist. After attending college in New York, she worked on a radio show in Boston and produced a documentary on Lebanon immediately prior to the breakout of its civil war in 1975. She finally settled on a job at the United Nations, a position she said was “reserved for old ugly women.”

In 1989, the year she joined Al-Hayat, the London-based Arabic newspaper where she is a columnist and a correspondent, she interviewed ten heads of state in a span of eight days at a conference in Belgrade.

While able to gain access to high-profile figures, she said that as a woman in a male-dominated field, she often does not get the respect she deserves. Although she used to challenge readers to determine whether her pieces were written by a man or a woman, she wishes to put gender behind her in the professional world, saying she was “not a specialist of women’s issues.”

Dergham said that journalists are obligated to report the inner workings of government.

“It is my duty to represent those who don’t have a voice for questions,” she said. “Our job is to hold politicians’ feet to the fire and hope for more journalists to do the same.”

Read More

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments