London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Best known for hosting the Bil Arabi (In Arabic) political talk show on the Al-Arabiya news channel, Lebanese journalist and talk show host Giselle Khoury first entered the public eye in the 1990s when she began presenting Interview of a Lifetime, a popular talk show on Lebanese television.
Part of a generation that grew up during the Lebanese Civil War, Khoury became a journalist in response to the violence and the tragedy of that conflict and its ramifications—which affected her own life when her late husband, fellow journalist Samir Kassir and a founder of a leftist democratic party in Lebanon, was assassinated by political rivals in a car bomb explosion in Beirut in July 2005.
Having made the switch to BBC Arabic late last year, Khoury is now preparing for her new show on that channel, The Scene, which is scheduled to begin next week.
As she prepared for the launch, Khoury spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat about her career in broadcast journalism.
Asharq Al-Awsat: How did you begin your professional life as a journalist? Was there a particular moment when you were sure you had chosen the right job?
Giselle Khoury: I am from the Lebanese Civil War generation, and it is natural for the war to form the primary reason for our professional choices, whatever they may be. Journalism was my own choice. I wanted to have an awareness of what is going on and a way to reject the violence and the war. It is a type of freedom in that it helps you to express your sorrow regarding what is happening on the ground.
I entered university and right away studied media. When I graduated, I joined the recently established LBC channel, where I presented cultural programs, game shows, and documentaries. This was before Interview of a Lifetime, which was my first show on satellite television in 1997.
Q: What was the first story you wrote as a journalist, and when was it published?
I was in the second year of my university studies when I completed my first report—on the endangered church bell industry.
Q: What story would you like to write or present in the near future?
Stories about people living through the war in Syria.
Q: Who was or is your media role model?
When I was in college, my role models were world-famous journalist Oriana Fallaci and French television star Anne Sinclair. Now I love Charlie Rose and the way he interviews his guests.
Q: Who are your favorite local and international writers?
Paul Auster and Stefan Zweig are two of my favorite writers. Years ago, I was obsessed with Milan Kundera.
Q: In your personal opinion, which journalist is the best embodiment of the profession in Lebanon?
Media is not restricted to my country, though the Lebanese have excelled in visual media. All of those in the local media scene are commendable.
Q: How do you manage to divide your time while producing your show?
I currently divide my time between the BBC, radio, and the Samir Kassir Foundation. I am organized and I love my work, so the time does not matter to me.
Q: How many hours do you work a week? Do you have much time left to spend with family?
Honestly, I do not know how many hours [I work in a week] and never in my life have I adhered to a work cycle. I start and end my work, no matter how much time it takes. I do not know if this impacts my family, but my children are successful, first from a human standpoint and then as individuals in their community. I also have amazing friends, thankfully.
Q: Do you have your own special team to help you with your new television show?
I have one assistant for my new show on the BBC.
Q: What do you think of new media, will it replace traditional forms?
If the aim is social networking, then it serves traditional media, in my opinion. But we should find out how to use it for the benefit of other media. I am active on Facebook and Twitter, and they are a source of information and a necessary means of communication.
Q: Do you think that it is particularly important to have a journalist who is a specialist on covering certain news items, such as Al-Qaeda, Afghanistan, or Iraq?
Competence is, of course, important. The presenter of a show must be informed about what is going on, without necessarily being restricting to a single area.
Television, and satellite television, broke the barriers. So why do some people insist on going back and rebuilding them? Ever since Dialogue of a Lifetime, I have wandered from the Atlantic to the Gulf, and this is what I am known for. Specialists on one topic are better fit to be guests or to write articles or reports.
Q: What is your favorite blog or website?
I read international newspapers like the New York Times and Le Monde and Arabic newspapers such as Now Lebanon. I also browse Asharq Al-Awsat and Al-Hayat online every morning.
Q: What is your advice for young journalists at the beginning of their media careers?
To have culture and freedom.
Q: What conditions must a journalist must in order to be able to work with you?
Legitimacy and culture.
Q: Could you define what it means to be a successful journalist?
Q: In your opinion, what is the most successful news story you have presented until now?
A program in the Nahr Al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp [in northern Lebanon] after its complete destruction, and a program about the Zaatari Syrian refugee camp.
Q: Can you tell us about your future projects or the programs you will present throughout 2014?
I moved over from Al Arabiya to BBC Arabic.
The first episode of my new television show The Scene will air during the first week of February, God willing. It is a type of profile of Arab personalities and international figures, capturing scenes from their lives and events in which they were either witnesses or actors.
A documentary about Kamal Jumblatt, for which I am executive producer, is also in the final stage of production. I collaborated with director Hadi Zakak on the film, which received funding from the Kamal Jumblatt Foundation. This in addition to a few other projects that are still under consideration.
This interview was originally conducted in Arabic.