Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- In a daring initiative to break the stereotypical image of Saudi women that is well known in the western world, the E-program called "My Life" by the BBC selected a group of young Saudi women to talk about their experiences in the kingdom and to express their hopes for the future.
The girls positively represented themselves leading to many supportive and encouraging comments from guests praising them for their courageous act of speaking frankly about their lives. Others, nevertheless, questioned the validity of the overall picture that they had painted of the average Saudi woman”s life, as some members of the group had ties to foreign and wealthy individuals. This further led to doubts surrounding the guests selected by the program”s producers.
Khalid al-Rowaite a political media Professor at King Saud University, believes that the appearance of Saudi women on television programs to represent their nation should not be a matter of negative or positive implications. The crucial point, however, is whether the image portrayed is applicable to represent that of Saudi women. He adds that the media does not always reflect reality but rather represents the segment of society of which is has chosen to highlight. The media may underline a certain view and find those who will support it. He said, "When the lives of Saudi women is represented in one category and abridged into one example, then this shows a professional deficiency of the programs producers." This is because Saudi society is a dynamic and continuously changing one that encompasses different paradigms. He believes that it is necessary to achieve a balanced view by focusing on a range of examples of Saudi women who differ in appearances, social class, financial status and education, to reflect a more realistic representation of Saudi society. "By resorting to one model, it implies that a reality exists of which we are ashamed, which is completely false." He further stated that the program”s producers form judgments over values and believing that this image is correct so it should be promoted. Moreover, he believes that counter-programs should be produced in order to highlight real examples of Saudi culture and society.
Wafaa al-Khalili believes that the BBC made the correct choice in choosing the group of girls from Jeddah, "the meeting point of cultures and civilizations". Such an inspiring focus in the major media outlets encourages a genuine representation of the average Muslim girl. She continues, "Such a portrayal shows their love for knowledge, for serving their country, and their dreams to have a family. The girls are extremely honorable models with such ambition and confidence."
Fahd Al-Shaye also gave his opinion. He believes that Saudi society is a conservative one and that the selected category only represented itself because the girls were not of Saudi origin. Therefore, the picture does not reflect reality. He also added that these girls are ambitious only because they have all sorts of opportunities ahead of them, whereas the highest position that most Saudi girls can aspire to is probably within the education sector.
Another commentator on the program pointed out that the presentation should have been made through the Arab media to gain more credibility for the audience.
The BBC, the BBC Arabic service and the World Service Trust, a charity fund for development through media outlets, implements the project. Non-governmental organizations of all countries where the program features also contributed to the program, with the aim of providing larger capacities for young Arab girls and women to present their own experiences and cultures through live broadcasting.