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Journalism 101 at the Islamic University of Gaza

The Islamic University of Gaza offers a degree in journalism. But given its religious underpinnings, how are Palestinians really instructed in a field that is fiercely secular? MENASSAT’s Gaza correspondent, herself a graduate of the Islamic University of Gaza, explores the challenges faced by students studying journalism there.

It was out of necessity that the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG) started offering a degree in journalism.

Born from years of military incursions into the Gaza Strip, before and after the Israeli pullout in 2005, university administrators felt there was a need to train their own cadre of "truth-tellers," journalists willing to tell what the daily suffering of Palestinians was like.

But studying journalism is no small feat in the Gaza Strip currently. What's more, studying at the Islamic University of Gaza, which was founded in 1978, presents its own unique challenges in a profession that has, the world over, been seen as a fiercely secular activity.

Students of all religions are required to adhere to what IUG administrators call "Islamic" regulations. These include an Islamic dress code, requiring the hijab (traditional head scarf) and the jelbab (trench-coats) for women. The men too are expected to dress conservatively.

If you forget the dress code, you effectively bar yourself from studying there. But administrators are quick to point out that the university imposes no dress codes on its students outside the university.

Noha el-Ashi is a journalism student at IUG. She doesn't consider the dress code a drawback, but she does object to what she calls "IUG's policy of gender separation" on campus.

"Yes, we are a conservative community here in Gaza," says another student, Soha Mohammad, who agrees with Ashi. "But the separation policy is misguided especially since students are mixed for many lectures and conferences. So why not fully mix between them?"

Islamic ties

Still, several students told MENASSAT these restrictions have no bearing on whether they can do their jobs as journalists.

Aspects of university life at IUG that may indeed affect students' understanding of journalism are seen in the obvious connections to Islamic political and cultural elements at IUG – elements that would affect access when pursuing story leads.

One graduate of journalism told MENASSAT that she felt discriminated against because she refused to join an Islamic association that offered her certain academic "incentives."

"They have a better share of everything including the scholarships and loans granted to students who are unable to afford their tuition fees," she said, adding, "Universities should keep away from politics and political parties. It is a known fact that IUG is affiliated with Hamas and thus highly supported by it. In addition, many Hamas leaders teach or are employed there."

IUG's academic director, Adel Awadalla Naeb told MENASSAT that such elements are a natural function of an Islamic university. But he added that IUG is not exclusive to Muslims, citing the fact many Christians have enrolled in areas of study like journalism and still follow the school's regulations.

Educational strategies and flaws

Concerning the educational strategy of the IUG's journalism department, instructor Mohsen el-Efranji told MENASSAT that IUG's main goal was to "deliver qualified journalists to the local, Arab and international media markets, in addition to training public relations and advertising experts who would contribute to building the economic, social, cultural, and educational organizations of the Gaza Strip."

El-Efranji said that academically and scientifically formed media technicians "would promote public relations as a viable profession for the Palestinian and Arab concerns," something Efranji said was lacking in the Arab world.

But some IUG students said the university was failing to live up to its goals. One IUG journalism student, Mona, told MENASSAT that there were flaws in IUG's methods of instruction.

"IUG is in dire need of professionals... And that fact is clearly reflected in the quality of its graduates, especially when compared to those graduating from Egyptian universities," she said.

"The majority of professors are just academic, and they lack professional expertise in the actual marketplace, which makes things even more difficult for a freshly graduated journalist trying to get a job."

Mona was quick to suggest that IUG limit the number of students accepted into the program because they saturate the potential market for journalists who must compete for limited positions in Gaza.

Other students told MENASSAT that professional internships at media institutions are not a requirement for media majors – something they said alienates them from the realities of the market once they graduate.

In an IUG survey conducted in 2004, the number of Media Studies graduates had reached 360 students, 197 males and 163 females, although it was unclear how many went on to work in media and administration-related positions.

According to Efranji, IUG has a plan to expand its audio-visual and web journalism departments, and to upgrade its media labs and media libraries in order to make them more comprehensive in terms of both Arabic and foreign media references.

Marseille,07 04 2008
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