Etaf Roudan: Making a difference to Women in News in Jordan and beyond

Over 15 years in media, as a journalist and broadcaster, Etaf Roudan, Director of Radio Al-Balad in Jordan, has had a remarkable career. She has worked on and supported women’s issues, promoting values of equality and breaking social and political barriers. She is the first Jordanian woman to successfully lead a community radio station as the editor. In recognition of achievements, she was named by Women in News asits 2020 Editorial Leadership Laureate for the Arab region.

In this interview, Roudan talks about the challenges facing women in the media industry, the pressures from the COVID-19 pandemic, and the importance of supporting young women journalists through training.

As a Jordanian media leader, what are the challenges facing women in the media industry?

Women face particular challenges across a number of levels, including access to practical experience. The priority in general and in Jordan within the media environment is men.  Then, there is the challenge of trust in women’s leadership.  Women’s abilities are always questioned when assuming leadership positions, both by the public and by colleagues. The third challenge relates to social conditions, where women are usually responsible for children and households, while men focus more on their work outside home. 

You launched a training program for young women journalists in Jordan. What’s the importance of training for women journalists?

The only situation in which young women journalists can be supported and empowered, especially those residing outside the capital, is by providing training and permanent guidance. 

Practical training gives women journalists a real opportunity to acquire the skills and experience required to enable them to convince institutions and the public of their ability and competence to manage work. Women need to make double the effort to convince the media community in general of their right to work and to advance in positions. Permanent training is the basis on which to build. 

You participated in the WIN Leadership Accelerator programme. How would you describe the programme and the experience you gained?

My experience with WIN was quite different to any other I had had. First, because of a personal lack of confidence I had about continuing within the media industry, and second, I wasn’t very optimistic about progressing in leadership positions. During that period, I was not sure if I would succeed in my work. But my enrollment in the leadership accelerator helped me realize that I had what it takes to continue and succeed in this profession, especially as I believe that journalism is one of the most important means that empower women in poor and marginalized societies. My commitment to Women in the News led to a great deal of self-confidence until I finally assumed the position of Director of Radio Al Balad.

How has the “COVID-19” crisis affected your working methods?

We have seen a decline in external grants and resources through which our media organization operates. The local income from advertisements has also been greatly affected.

Because of quarantine and lockdowns, our already limited task force had to be reduced, and we had to change work systems and reduce the number of people working at the radio. Our working team of five included three women, and this made working from home more difficult. I personally preferred to work from the office, and I’ve done many non-managerial tasks like preparing for interviews and covering stories, which everyone was doing during those times. 

We also benefited from a vast network of volunteers and radio friends in different areas who serve as informal correspondents. This experience has made us aware of the importance of independent media that ask the right questions in difficult times, and the importance of focusing on people’s real stories that give us a distinct voice within the local coverage of the pandemic.

What’s the difference between community media, which you lead, and traditional media?

The main difference lies in the quality of the content and the target audience, as well as the difference in work objectives that impact on leadership. Community radio leaders must fully embrace its objectives, purpose, and the values that the radio upholds and defends. They must recognise its capacity to deal with challenges: from funding, to the relationship with official authorities, its ability to produce attractive, serious content and ability to attract more audience, especially from those who prefer entertaining and ‘light’ media. In my opinion, the greatest differences are the level of independence and the boundaries set between the media organization and official authorities, and the ability to balance this relationship to the extent that it serves the media content we offer. 

Does community radio management differ from running a news site or a newspaper?

The main difference relates to style and content. Our main focus is not to publish promotional, commercial or public relations news, the only standard we use to measure the value of our content is for it to be important to people and to follow professional standards. Relationships with public figures and decision makers come at a later stage, or not, and that’s different from websites that usually focus on numbers of readership which pushes them to publish news that can go viral and increase the rate of readership and audience. 

In addition, we work to activate professional standards and verify information, which puts more pressure on us in such circumstances. But more importantly, regardless of the nature of the publication or the media organization, we need to increase the number of women working in the media, because it means more pro-women content and more neutral coverage; it means treating women as equal citizens, and not cater news from them that only focus on entertainment, beauty, cooking, etc.

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