Behind the Scenes
Issue 89 February 2012
It is Al Jazeera’s stories and reporting that make the headlines, but little is known about the people behind the success story. Here we meet six of them.
Nouran Sallam is a presenter on the Al Jazeera Arabic channel. She had never dreamed of doing that as a young girl, thinking she would be a researcher or a translator, but she knew she did not want to be a doctor or an architect like her sisters. When the BBC World Service advertised for a position, she applied successfully and moved from Cairo to London in 2001. She presented first on radio and then on TV for the BBC Arabic channel, for a total of nine years. “I was the first TV presenter wearing a scarf. This was a big decision by the BBC and they were prepared for any backlash—especially from secular Arab countries like Egypt, which then accused the BBC of giving in to fundamentalists. They were also concerned what the Daily Mail might say, considering the BBC is a publicly funded body.”
Since joining AJ, Nouran has become one of the public faces of the channel to 40 million viewers. “That can be quite intimidating, but I block it out of my mind. I focus on the presenting, or the interviewing, and it helps if you have an interest in the subject matter.” Being an Egyptian, the recent events there were very important to her, so how did she keep her emotions under control? “Having worked for the BBC, impartiality and neutrality become second nature over time. Yes, I was very excited by what was going on in Egypt, but I believe I maintained my objectivity.” That quality, together with keeping abreast of news and current affairs are very important for a good presenter, according to Nouran. “And there is a third quality,” she explains. “That is good body language. When I was presenting on the radio, the focus was on the voice, but when I moved to TV, I became more self-conscious and consequently, I was too stiff. I had to loosen up in order to build an effective rapport with the viewers.”