A pop song declares that women shouldn’t work, even if they have a college degree. Another song orders women to not answer their phones when they’re alone.
It’s startling stuff, but is it a news story? For Zahi Sahli, a Lebanese journalism student, and UPI.com, definitely! When Sahli noticed increasingly sexist lyrics in music played at Beirut’s most popular venues, he was intrigued by the juxtaposition of a westernized night club pulsing with dance beats, but lyrics that seem better suited to a conservative, restrictive society.
“We don’t want our daughters to work with the degrees they have earned,” one song declares. (Hear the whole song, here.)
Editor at UPI.com liked Sahli’s balanced piece on why the songs are popular, and how experts feel they’re shaping Lebanese culture. They published it early this month.
Below, Sahli shares how he found the story, and why he’s studying journalism in Beirut.
Name: Zahi Sahli
University: Lebanese American University, with a focus on journalism and Arabic studies.
Hometown: Beirut, Lebanon
UPIU: You’re a Lebanese-Canadian journalism student. Tell us about your background.
Sahli: I was born and raised in Beirut. I lived parts of my childhood in Canada. I’ve been interested in writing since early age, writing short stories and poems. At sixteen, I published my first collection of poetry and have been preparing for a fiction title.
Why did you decide to study journalism?
My interest in both writing in and understanding media drove me towards studying journalism.
How did you come up with the idea to write about sexist lyrics among Lebanese pop stars?
I felt it was an important topic that was not given as much importance as it deserves in local media. It started with a song but soon after, it became a worrying trend. In a country with a bloody past and present, such a trend becomes a concern, especially that all generations are music listeners and these songs are popular and playing on all radios.
Did you encounter any unexpected challenges in writing and reporting this piece?
I tried various ways to contact the concerned artists, but they did not want to talk and felt offended by the the issue.
Given the popularity of these songs, how did you maintain balance when you wrote your story?
Because I couldn’t get (the artists to defend themselves,) I had to mention how popular the songs are. This is the public defense that I have heard from the artists in the media: They say that the songs’ popularity provides sufficient proof that the songs are acceptable and their lyrics originate from cultural traditions.
The Arab Spring has dominated headlines for the past year. What’s it like to be a journalist in a region that is such a hot spot?
I’m not really an on-field reporter and I can’t get the feel of the Arab Spring from Lebanon. But I’m excited and, as a Lebanese citizen, I feel frustrated with the negative Lebanese stability. Arab journalists have an added responsibility to be objective.
What challenges to journalists in Lebanon face? Are there safety concerns?
A host of Lebanon’s best journalists, like Kamel Mroue, Salim Al Lawzi, Samir Kassir and Gebran Tueni among others, have been murdered. Journalists are killed in times of peace and war because of their political affiliations.
In a partisan media, journalists are almost always labeled and associated with political parties. At many times, they have to compromise their objectivity to please their employers.
What are your career goals?
I see myself as a writer more than a reporter. I would like to work at a respectable media institution while also contributing to literature.