GLOBAL AFFAIRS

GLOBAL AFFAIRS

Dina Aboughazala, Founder & CEO at Egab.

Dina Aboughazala, Founder & CEO at Egab.

Media dialogues: Dina Aboughazala
Having developed a 14-year international career with the BBC, Dina Aboughazala founded Egab, working with a network of journalists in the Middle East and Africa
10 Jul 2024

This article is part of a series of interviews with people who work in the media to provide the news and views that shape our perceptions of world affairs. Dina Aboughazala, Founder & CEO at Egab, spoke to UN Today about her life and career in media.

What is your professional background?

I joined the BBC bureau in Cairo in late 2006 and stayed there for 14 years until I resigned to launch my media venture: Egab, which is an online platform that enables media outlets to discover and publish high-quality, exclusive stories from local journalists in the Global South.

During my 14 years at the BBC, I worked from Cairo, London and Addis Ababa. I also moved up from a journalist to a senior journalist and international trainer half way through my BBC career.

Before that, I worked for 18 months in Egyptian state entities, like the State Information Service and The Ministry of Trade and Industry. That experience provided me with insights into how government bodies operate. I studied political sciences for my undergrad degree, so that experience wasn’t completely irrelevant.

However, I always knew I wanted to be a journalist. The only reason I opted for political science rather than mass comms for my undergrad degree is that at the time, mass comms was only taught in Arabic in Egypt, while political science was taught in English. So as a non-native English speaker, I was afraid that studying in Arabic for four years would affect the quality of my English. Moreover, my dad, who used to be a journalist for the state-owned daily Al-Ahram, has always stressed that journalism is a profession of practice more than anything and one could study any field and still become a journalist if they have the will and received appropriate training. And, his words proved to be true.

I completed a Masters degree in journalism while in London between 2018 and 2019 and  received an MA in interactive journalism from City, University of London after securing a Chevening scholarship.

What’s the best interview you’ve ever done?

I would say the best story I worked on during my BBC career was this one about the curly hair trend in Egypt. I am so proud of this story for three main reasons:

1) As a Mideast-focused journalist most stories I have been expected to produce were about war, conflict and oppression. I rarely had the chance to produce solutions journalism – i.e. rigorous, evidence-based reporting of responses to societal problems.

2) Despite the story seeming to be a very simple one about how Facebook groups are helping women with curly hair care for their natural locks, defying decades of societal pressure to straighten their hair to conform with Western beauty standards, the impact of the published article was great. The story wasn’t only read by 750,000 people in the first 12 hours, picked up by local British radio, US radio stations and others – as it resonated with women all over the globe facing pressure to conform with certain beauty standards, but i also received messages from parents about how this story helped them with their curly-headed girls. One message in particular from a single father stood out. He told me that he had read the article to his daughter as she was being bullied at school for her kinky hair and asked if there was a way to get access to the hair care tips that were on these FB groups, as they were women-only. Many of these groups then started having public pages to be accessible to men and women alike while maintaining the private women-only groups as a safe space for women to discuss any concerns, etc.

3) Years later, major media outlets like the NYT and AFP reported the same story as if it’s something new, demonstrating the importance of relying on local journalists. As an Egyptian woman I was able to spot the trend early on. But it took foreign reporters three years later to take notice of something that has been going on for five years already.

As the founder of Egab, I am most proud of our coverage of the Gaza war. Since 7 October, almost 80 stories have been published through Egab in regional and international media, at a time when the strip has been inaccessible to global media. And our coverage done through local reporters in Gaza have not only focused on the humanitarian developments but also highlighted community responses and resilience.

Dina Aboughazala. Credits: Solution Journalism Network.

What is the interview you’d like to do but haven’t been able to yet?

I would love to interview the wife of Liverpool’s football player Mohamed Salah. The media usually focuses on those in the spotlight so the news, understandably, has always been about Mo Salah and his journey, etc. I don’t think we ever heard from his wife, who like Salah comes from a small village in Egypt.

As a married woman I understand the importance of having a supportive partner. Mo Salah is an icon for Egyptians and the rest of the Arabs. He’s the first Egyptian to ever reach that status in world football. Therefore, his story is quite important and inspiring for young generations. But his story remains incomplete, unless we hear from his spouse: Maggie.

What is your view on the role of media?

With the spread of social media and the advance of AI, I believe that the role of the media is:

– To be the accurate source of news. While anyone can tweet or post events on social media, there is no guarantee for the accuracy and credibility of these posts. Therefore, the role of news to be the reference for accurate and credible accounts of events and communities is quite crucial.

– To bridge the gap between communities. With all of us being bound by the algorithms of social media platforms we use, we are unfortunately confined to seeing one version of the story – the version posted by like-minded individuals in our social networks. Therefore, the media has an increasing role to break these virtual barriers between different communities, groups and individuals and help us better understand the “other” through nuanced, insightful coverage that doesn’t only tell us what happened where and when but also why and how.

Dina Aboughazala at International Journalism Festival. Credits: IJF

What is your vision of media 10 years from now?

With the fast advances in AI, my vision for the media – which is my vision for Egab by the way – is to build a world where the news is the trusted source for accurate and holistic representation of events and communities across the world.

In 10 years, AI will be able to answer more or less any question we have. However, these answers will be derived from what’s already been published on the Internet. Therefore, if we want the machine to render accurate answers, we need to do a better job at representing ALL communities and individuals. Otherwise, we will end up with biased or incomplete answers that spread misinformation.

Also, I believe that the growing role of AI will force the media to focus on original stories. At the moment, one of the media’s poor practices is “recycling news”. You see one piece of news somewhere and then it’s all over the news. This doesn’t only happen in the case of breaking news. It happens with ever-green pieces too. One of the promising offshoots of AI – in my opinion – is that media will have to focus on producing original journalism to stay relevant in the age of AI.

AI cannot discover new stories happening on the ground – unless we start having robots living with us everywhere – so we still need journalists to tell us about things we have no idea is happening in their communities and this is another reason why I believe that in the future the industry will have to rely more and more on local journalists.

I imagine that in the future, we will have smaller newsrooms in the HQ cities and rely on larger networks of local freelancers to report events on the ground in their communities. Veteran foreign reporters can be editors that edit contributions from these local reporters or collaborators, sharing a byline with the local freelancer. The current model of having someone sitting in London or NY writing or reporting what’s happening in Iraq or Somalia without being on the ground and without deep understanding of the language, culture and history of these places is an outdated model that have led to the spread of superficial, simplistic coverage that would not be able to survive the competition from AI-generated content.

Could you share an interesting work-related anecdote?

When the Egyptian revolution happened in 2011, we got swamped with foreign reporters from all over the world. Even the BBC, despite having its own staff in Cairo, sent foreign reporters from London. Afterwards I asked an editor why this happened and the answer was because foreign reporters have no stake in the story and have no emotional attachment – unlike locals – which would guarantee an objective coverage.

Fast forward, five years later, while working for the BBC in London, I realised that every time I turned on the TV I saw a British correspondent reporting on Brexit, which was a very polarising issue in the UK. So I went up to the editor and said if you rely on foreign reporters to guarantee objectivity why are you relying on British reporters to cover Brexit. The editor replied that it was a different situation, as these reporters were well trained, etc. So I asked if they’d be ok if Russia or China sent a correspondent to London to cover Brexit without knowing the language or culture; would they trust their coverage? The answer was a straight NO. So I concluded by saying: “Well, this is exactly what you do to us in ‘the rest of the world,'” you send reporters who don’t know the language or the culture to report on us as if they are experts.

And this is one of the reasons I quit and started Egab!

* Julián Ginzo is a member of the Editorial Board of UN Today.
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