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Interview with Doha Chams, journalist at Assafir, Lebanese political daily newspaper in Arabic
(La femme "tatillonneuse" : entretien avec Doha Chams, journaliste à Assafir, quotidien politique libanais en langue arabe.)
12 / 2001
"At the office they call me the fussy woman", tells Doha Chams. "As soon as the chief editor wants to cut one of my articles, I shout until he gives up. "If you give up just one time, you will always give up". Doha Chamsworks in the publishing company of the newspaper Assafir (the messenger in arab), a daily Libanese newspaper whose aim is to be " voices of people who have not any voices". Founded when the panarabism were at its heighest point, this newspaper hire 160 persons and publish 35000 newspapers. Doha joined the publishing company after the end of the Liban war and her return from exil, after a brief television experience. "I was the chief of the investigation and reports, and my shows were very famous... Until the day I made a report in which two ministers were accused and they fired me! "... Doha Chams left with reports’technics learnt in France and her ironic style seduced everybody. Nowadays she is a journalist whose talents are very appreciated, and her articles are eagerly waited by the readers. "I understood that the readers were the only one who were able to protect me". Mails, phone rings of congratulations allowed me to impose a new style. At first, I had to struggle to win a place but little by little I managed to impose myself".
Doha Chams introduces herself as a "child of the war", growing up during the bombing which tore its country. Student at the Beaux-Arts of Tripoli, she drove everyday to the university with a friend. "We listened a tape of the Boléro de Ravel. Then we put up the windows of the car and we started to drive with the noise of bombs which exploded around us and the music of Ravel as loud as possible! ". Then the young woman exiled to Paris. In 1990, when the war is finished, Doha decided to come back to her country. "The first time I came back to the Liban, I stayed for four month and then I left again"It was too difficult. Everything was disorganised, I was always angry : cars drove in every sens, phones did not functionned, everything made me feel angry. " When Doha came back to Paris, she thought. "I had left with illusions. So I said to myself : get rid of your illusions and go back. You have things to do up there. "The second time, things appeared easier for me. "In order to keep quiet when I walked in Beyrouth’s streets I bought a walkman. Music allowed me to put distance between me and the scene : the street agitation becomes a show! "Doha feels no regrets concerning her leaving of Parisian confort, neither does she regrets a job with a less consequent wage she had in France : her articles made things moving. Among her several journalistic sucess an investigation touched her particularly: " the association of mothers and parents of kidnapped persons in Liban organised manifestations and sit-in. But people no longer went to these manifestations. Their tracts were very demanding but it didn’t touched people. So I decided to do something".
During the war, kidnapping became a kind of national game played by milices. Kidnapped in the streets or taken at their homes, kidnapped people were exchanged with kidnapped people of the other camp. But many of them simply disappeared. ( According to the official figures 17000 disappearances, but it’s an information difficult to check )
Once in the publishing company, Doha Chams proposes his chief editor to make a series of description of all the kidnapped people, by making a choice among the more extreme cases. "I wanted these disappearancest to be more than anonymous cases, I wanted that each disappeared people became a proper person in the mind of each reader. "The serie lasted one year, and the sensitiveness of the public opinion will be efficient". More and more people started to take part in the manifestations. My articles managed to mobilise readers. This investigation has been fallen by a lobbying operation to make the government create a committee which take into account all the disappearances. But this committee was not very motivated and parents of kidnapped people had to face administrative useless papers, since testimonies reporting all the kidnapping did not bring enough elements. " It was asked to the parents to bring evidence concerning the disappearance of their children. Is not disappearance in itself the most striking evidence of a disappearance? "asked Doha.
The newspaper related the parents’ protestations and the limits of action of the committee. Finally a law was voted. This law officially recognized disappearance and was followed by a new series of debates. "This law asked the parents to declare the death of their children. But parents said that it was the state which had to do it. And too many women could not accept the death of their children. "Doha relates with a certain emotion the meetings she had with mothers who refused the truth. "The major part of these women had lost all that they had during the war, their house... They had therefore kept a photo, the last photo where they could see their children smiling. "Give me my child back" they said to me. And I cried! At that time my colleagues called me the "weeping woman": I was always crying! add Doha smiling. Despite of all her nicknames, Doha Chams won the respect of her colleagues, thanks to her reports with "human face", her investigations and her strong will when she worked. In addition to her activities she is also a journalist for "reporter sans frontiere " for the Liban ( an international organisation which denounces the non-respect of the freedom of press throughout the world, including arbitrary journalist arrestations and sometimes their being killed ). Nowadays, Doha Chams and her colleagues try to find a solution to the financial difficulties of Assafir : publishing daily Newspaper cost a lot of money, the independance of the journalist is not respected.
Doha Chams work is a testimony which shows the role a courageous journalist can play: try to find the truth, publishing the information, and finally giving a voice to those who have none. Result of the informatin on kidnapped people shows straight away the role that press can play in public mobilisation and the support of the action lead by the NGO. More generally this exemple emphasis that an independant press have a new role to play in the reconstruction of a civil society devastated by war. The experience of this journalist also shows that a woman can have an important place in a very masculine work and make her qualities being recognized ... even if it’s not always easy to do.
Interview with Doha Chams, ASSAFIR - Tel 00961-1-74339 - Fax 0096-1-743601/602/603 - email@example.com
This file was made in an interview at the World Assembly, Lille, France, dec.2001.
Faculté des Sciences Economiques et Sociales de l'Université catholique de Paris - 21 rue d'Assas, 75 006 Paris, FRANCE - Tél. : 33 (0)1 44 39 52 00 - France - www.icp.fr/fasse/index.php - fractal (@) easynet.fr