Sawsan Al-Sha’er is a bulldog!

16 Feb, '07

Journalist Sawsan Al-Shaer

Once she gets her teeth into something, it is virtually impossible to get her to let go.

And this is what we need in Bahrain. Someone with the balls to ask questions and ensures that the receiver does answer the question without trying to wriggle away from it, but if he or she does then trust Sawsan to put them in their right and proper place.

I just watched her episode tonight grilling the minister of (dis)information; but when he tried the “dis” bit, she was quick to bring him back to the point. Which unfortunately he continued to not answer. He might think that he’s being a “good politician” by doing that, my own estimate is that his standing in the public’s view is somewhat diminished now. He did not manage to answer a single question in a straightforward manner (come to think of it, I don’t remember him answering any question whatsoever since I started watching at 9.30pm!)

I love the closing question: “Do you feel that you have virtual immunity from being questioned in parliament due to the unstinting support you get from both the Minbar and Asala (Muslim brotherhood and the Salafis respectively)?

Alluding of course that almost all of his actions since he was put in charge of the ministry was religiously motivated, as in closing down facilities in hotels and destroying tourism and the like.

Needless to say, he did not grace us with an answer.

I do not normally watch TV, Bahrain TV specifically, but after watching this episode with Ms. Al-Sha’er, I’ll make sure that I do watch her program from now on.

Are there any others that are worth watching on the “Television for the Family” channel? I saw an ad for “Al-Meezan” in which parliamentary issues are discussed, is that worth watching?

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Comments (19)

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  1. milter says:

    I see the same reaction from politicians in my country when they are asked questions about certain, delicate subjects. The longer they’ve been involved in politics, the better they get at developing standard replies that can be used for any occasition.

    A good and competent interviewer can sometimes get close to a “no” or “yes” reply but, they are rare.

    When you say:

    as in closing down facilities in hotels and destroying tourism and the like.

    … are you then talking about the closing down of places that sell alcohol and “exhibit behaviour” that is supposed to be against Islamic thinking near mosques?

  2. tooners says:

    you know, she’s wanting to become the next Oprah… but of the Middle East.

    i know her personally, but since i don’t speak fluent Arabic, i don’t watch her show.

    i only wish that her strength, hard questioning and such really made a difference in the politics game of this country. maybe w/ ppl like her, one day it will.

  3. yikes says:

    Off topic –
    I read a report about Iranian regime people trying to buy up land in Bahrain and Bahrain trying to put a stop to that.
    How much land/property has been bought?

  4. mahmood says:

    That’s just rubbish. I’ve covered this issue previously but unfortunately it is still unresolved, but it’s not Iranians buying land, that was just a scare tactic that a few people fell for.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I watched the programme last Friday and to be honest, I wasn’t impressed at all by Sawsans behaviour, she might want to be the next “Hrd Talk”er’ but she has to do it with at least a bit of “class”. The woman was the total opposite of the word, smirking and grinning,,, a journalist or a tv presenter should have a straight face at least so as not to affect the direction of the programme.

    A group of my girlfriends were discussing the same thing… She gives herself too much credit,, referring to herself over and over again,,, as if anybody in Bahrain cares any less about Mrs. Al-Shaer… If she wants viewers to listen to her, she has to learn simple manners and speech etiquette.

  6. Coffee Lover says:

    Alot of us, especially those that live in hoora and juffair, suffer from the 4 (-) hotels. Why is it wrong to reassess the entertainment privilages available there?

    If my understanding of the new regulations is correct, 5 + 4 star hotels can provide entertainment, those that are in the lower categories are eligible if they are not in suburban areas so as to limit the amount of “wayward business” that goes on there ….

    As we say in Arabic “عين العقل”

    If this is the case, then not only the Salafists and Ikhwan will appreciate the decision, but many more of us that suffer from what goes on near those infamous night spots.

  7. mahmood says:

    The issue is not really this, it is to do with “the law”.

    • In 2002 a company was charged to look into the categorisation of the hotels
    • In 2005 another company (if I understood correctly) had another look, and based on the outcome of the commissioned study all hotels were given the results and the effects of that study: 5 star hotels can have x bars, y discos while 4 star hotels can have v discos and w bars, etc.
    • A few months later, all of that was thrown out of the window and a ministerial order was given to shut those facilities down to those and other affected venues! Consider the losses incurred here by the hotel owners who modernised, extended, and built new facilities or redecorated the old in order for them to maintain their star ratings as stipulated by the same department of tourism.
    • A lot of the hotels affected were built a number of years ago when there was no or very little residential neighbourhood in their vicinity. Why should they be affected now? The home-owners had a choice whether to build there knowing full well that there was a hotel/bar in the area.
    • I remember in the 60s and 70s there were bars within neighbourhoods, needless to say they have all disappeared now as the law (rule?) stipulates that bars are only allowed within hotels.
    • Some restaurants still serve alcohol although they are in residential neighbourhoods. I would hate to be an owner of such an establishment because the “department of tourism” could close me down at any moment.

    The question has nothing to do with propriety, but the law and the haphazard application it receives, as Sawsan has asked, there doesn’t seem to be a government policy, but goes at the whim of the minister. The current minister offloaded a lot of the blame on the one preceding him for instance.

  8. can we talk says:

    i agree with number 5. i didn’t see this last interview but i saw the one with Ali Salman and her questions were agressive but didn’t all make sense and he came across as a very wise man talking to a belligerant child whose questions were nonsense.

    don’t get me wrong, it’s good that an interviewer isn’t afraid to ask questions, they do however need to make sure they ask the RIGHT questions and ask them in a way that engages the subject.

    as for wanting to be the next oprah! don’t hold your breath. Oprah’s success comes from her empathy, not her arrogance. maybe the next Tim Sebastian without the well researched questions!!

    small steps..small steps..

  9. Grace says:

    But don’t you think the whole programme was an attempt to discredit the current Minister? I found that every single question turned into “let me point my finger at you” issue, instead trying to find out the real truth behind what goes on. I mean in this specific case of what goes on in tourism, its a known fact that it is being discussed at much higher levels right now in order to set a proper infrastructure for the future. What has been going on in this realm cannot go on for much longer. Emphasizing this specific point on the programme and forgetting all else discredited the point Sawsan wanted to make (given that it wasn’t simply annoying the Minister). I have to give him a thumbs up for airing the programme, he could have easily confiscated it and Sawsan paycheck for that matter. She also kept on mentioning that he has been in the position for more than 2 years, what she didn’t mention was that the layers of regulations, redtape, caliber, corruption…. whatever it is have been going on for decades and we cannot expect the Minister to clear it all up in a jiffy if he is to work within the system. Ms. Al-Shaer even intervened in one of the answers, and indicated that he should fire all the “outdated” staff, what would Labour Unions think about that??? She also failed to mention that hiring, pay systems, attendance fall under the jurisdiction of the Civil Service Bureau and in order for the place to develop, more expensive expertise have to be hired, this issue goes way beyond the Minister himself, he has to abide with whatever budget he has been given. As for BTV, once upon a time, a programme such as “Shaer Talk” would never have been aired, if anything this should tell us that some progress has been made.
    Another point to make is that she totally disregarded the changes that have happened in the past year since the appointment of Sheikh Khalifa bin Abdulla. And that is something you have to ask the people that work from within to understand.
    Alot of people beleive in what Ms. Shaer said because they don’t know the actual story behind it. Serioulsy, we have to give our Ministers a chance and work with them, not against them, if we want our country to progress.
    People like Shaer should think again before using their toungue. It could always be put to better use.

  10. can we talk says:

    i agree with Mahmood, it is precisely this kind of reactive arbitrary legislation that endangers our economy. it doesn’t scare potential investors (both foreign and local) if we decide to ban/allow alcohol, ban/allow prostitution, ban/allow discos, ban/allow sale of property to foreigners. what scares them away is that the rules of the game keep getting changed. who would want to play under such circumstances?!

    coffee lover doesn’t want to live next to such facilities. fair enough, if he was there first. zoning is one of the ways they can avoid this happenning in the future, but the problem is still there for now. who was there first is also important. if someone buys a piece of land next to an already built hotel with licenses, i’m sorry, they should have no right to complain.

    another thing they can do is to take our head out of the sand and introduce a law that says you cannot serve alcohol to a customer who is already obviously inebriated, maybe set a limit on the number of drinks and penalize them if they break the law. that would slightly cut down on those staggering out into the street plastered out of their minds.

    reactive decisions are not only irresponsible, they smack of no vision at all, because they are not part of any strategy. hence proposed solutions create temporary relief but also create more illnesses (which are also more serious) in the long run.

    if the need for change was managed by removing the old labour, what would be done for the evicted employees? buy them 10 years worth of pensions and retire them like others have been (more problems, it’s our money they are giving away)? make them unemployed (add to unemployment problem, the next thing will be demonstrations (which are bad for the country) and the press having a field day blasting the government for mistreating its public and not appreciating its own workers and putting families into poverty (i can see alShaer carrying that banner as well, and rightly so)).

  11. can we talk says:

    Something is wrong with the system Mahmood, when someone wants to post, the system captures the last printed post.

  12. mahmood says:

    let me fix that… it’s the caching mechanism (again) which I shall just remove. sorry for the trouble and thanks for letting me know.

  13. mahmood says:

    he could have easily confiscated it and Sawsan paycheck for that matter

    What, and get the king himself to intercede again and forcing the minister to air the program untouched? He’s done it before when she went on “strike” and refused to go on-air again when one of her programs got unceremoniously edited.

    No. She’s got the direct support of the king and no one can touch her. Is that fact her version of Dutch courage? I don’t know and don’t care as long as she researches her subjects (she has, although she can even do better) and asks the hard questions.

    She also kept on mentioning that he has been in the position for more than 2 years, what she didn’t mention was that the layers of regulations, redtape, caliber, corruption….

    That didn’t affect Anas Al-Rasheed, he got right in and did something. The result of his efforts now – although contentious to some – is liberalise the Kuwaiti media and in very short order the number of newspapers, television and radio channels multiplied and Kuwait now vies with Dubai due to his efforts… and he took a lot less than the current minister to get that intrinsic change done.

    Ms. Al-Shaer even intervened in one of the answers, and indicated that he should fire all the “outdated” staff

    I most definitely agree with her. This is one of the reason that staff within the ministry call it (the TV specifically) the “creativity graveyard.”

    hiring, pay systems, attendance fall under the jurisdiction of the Civil Service Bureau

    And the reason for changing it from a ministerial edifice to a “corporation” is why exactly? Isn’t it specifically to gain its independence from the CSB?

    As for BTV, once upon a time, a programme such as “Shaer Talk” would never have been aired, if anything this should tell us that some progress has been made.

    This has nothing to do with BTV. It has everything to do with letting the even limited freedoms out of the lamp. I am sure that you will agree with me that BTV has an awful long road ahead of it to even be regarded as “proper” television station. Everything that happens in there is political aggrandisement motivated, it is not to inform nor is it to progress democracy. That is not and has never been in its purview.

    Another point to make is that she totally disregarded the changes that have happened in the past year since the appointment of Sheikh Khalifa bin Abdulla

    As she should. He was unfortunately a stop-gap measure and as he has (will?) been appointed to be the ambassador to the Court of St. James, he will not be able to follow up on whatever he instigated in the short time he has been appointed to the position. Which raises the question of continuity of that sensitive position, but that’s another thing to be discussed. The essence of the story is that you and I know that key personnel tend to bend the organisation they preside over to their will, rather than the other way around; hence, a new person would have no qualms in overturning whatever was done by a predecessor, even if that means turning the country 180 degrees. The current minister is a case in point.

    Serioulsy, we have to give our Ministers a chance and work with them, not against them, if we want our country to progress.

    Of course. But let us also remind ourselves that it is our duty to highlight inadequacies in order for our country to progress faster, regardless of an appointed or elected person.

  14. can we talk says:

    about getting rid of employees, while some employees are more a burden than a badge, the management and the atmosphere it creates has a large factor to play in this.

    i know for a fact that between 1995 and 2001, the university was a horrible place to work and most of the staff were so demotivated that it was only a matter of time before many would quit.
    sectarianism was rife and people were so depressed because nothing they did was appreciated. many creative people stopped being creative, couldn’t be bothered because nothing they did mattered.
    two changes of management.. initial resistance.. change of management style.. more decentralization.. more experience.. more creativity.. more opportunities to be creative.. outside influences resulting from the product being acknowledged by the (hiring)public as a high quality product compared to the competition in the local market today.. totally different place.

    i have seen this happen in many different places, change of management is the driver, it sets the tone. the rest of the organization take their lead from there.

    there are very few employees who are totally useless, most can be trained / encouraged / harnessed / supported and motivated to have the confidence to be creative in their jobs. then they should be rewarded. what you need is strong visionary leadership that provides the environment for people to flourish, because he/she realizes that their success make his/her success.

  15. can we talk says:

    if number 14 will get you into trouble, i don’t mind any editing. i actually meant to and then forgot.

  16. mahmood says:

    forget about what could and couldn’t get me in trouble.. let the discussion continue as it goes for the benefit of all.

    Regarding “releasing” old employees, some of whom could be regarded as not much better than dead wood, ask about a guy called Ahmed in Abu Dhabi TV and how he dealt with the problem. He is a young chap and given the purview to overhaul the station with a blank cheque as far as who he hires and fires.

    What he did is exactly as you suggested, he gathered (if I remember correctly) everyone who was there for more than 10 years with not too much of a contribution to their name and bought the remaining service years for them to give them a full pension, and gave them a golden handshake on top of that.

    He then brought in excellent people to help him run the show, they put a complete and comprehensive plan on what equipment is needed and went ahead and bought everything recommended in record time to run the station. He also instigated an excellent training program for the remaining staff and new recruits.

    I guess Abu Dhabi TV can now speak for itself and that is largely due to his efforts, non-interference of the politicos, and a free hand to pursue creativity.

    Bahrain TV could be transformed into another AUH TV if the powers that be want to. However, I think it is not that important now, let it be as it is and let them do what they do. If we are to go forward as a country we need to leapfrog that stage completely by opening up the media ownership market immediately, before that window of opportunity bypasses us, yet again.

    A lot of the media companies are leaving Dubai due to low salaries/high cost of living and they are bypassing Bahrain completely and going directly to Jordan and Egypt.

    We are right in the middle, we have the people to run the station or are trainable for these industries, yet no political will exist to capture this wave (the press and publications as well as the new media ownership laws are still in the bottom drawers in parliament – the Shura has finished with them more than a couple of years ago!)

    And we continue to cry that we want our economy to be ‘Knowledge based”.

  17. can we talk says:

    “If we are to go forward as a country we need to leapfrog that stage completely by opening up the media ownership market immediately, before that window of opportunity bypasses us, yet again.”

    amen to that.

    but interested parties are not going to accept nor take kindly to being told what to broadcast, what their female correspondents should wear, or what political stances media presenters should have.

    will the highly economically enclined parliament understand and accept that to move forward you have to relinquish control and allow the media to be relevant, responsible and tell it like it is without interference into their content and into their staffing?

    they must know that hardly anobody watches our local TV anymore, unless someone lets the word out about an interview with a VIP, etc.
    who wants to watch rubbish? the only way any local TV can be successful in the world today and stay local is by being relevant locally. if it doesn’t report important local stuff (which is its best local competitive advantage) and can’t compete with global channels, it might as well shut down. opening more of the same rubbish channels doesn’t increase viewership, it just creates more noise.

    honestly, other than ramadan, who would want to pay to advertise on our TV? that’s an indicator. have you seen the ads on “the one”?

    doesn’t it make you mad when there is so much potential? and it is all just a hand’s throw away.. for the taking.. for a very short while.. oy vey… madre mia…

  18. mahmood says:

    but interested parties are not going to accept nor take kindly to being told what to broadcast, what their female correspondents should wear, or what political stances media presenters should have.

    That’s probably why they’re so terrified of the internet and blogs. They combine print, radio and TV all in one searchable rich medium!

    And that’s also why they should let go. Now. Immediately. Not doing so will isolate them from the whole world. This area of the world is already painted black by the likes of RSF… The ironic thing is that they stand to gain an awful lot by letting go, much more than what they perceive to lose momentarily.

  19. Anonymous says:

    BTV needs a man/woman with guts, vision,empathy, strenth, business sense,honesty and language skills. After all, it is not what you do it is how you do it. But do they want wnat such a person to lead ????

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