Changing the world with words
As a journalist in the Middle East during the Iraq War, Professor Saba Bebawi saw first-hand the effect that media misrepresentation of events can have on a region and its people.
“I wanted to go beyond ‘doing’ journalism to understanding why we do it the way we do it and how we can change it — how it can be a vehicle for positive social or political or economic change,” she recalls. “I've always been more interested in doing policy work that actually has an impact, rather than words sitting on a shelf somewhere.”
Saba has established a global reputation for her research, with particular expertise in media power, the role of media in democracy-building and investigative journalism in conflict and post-conflict regions. Her book Investigative Journalism in the Arab World: Issues and Challenges was the first to look into the state and role of investigative journalism in the region, exploring the vital role the media could play in empowering society and opening real avenues for factual communication.
The book broke new ground and provided a platform for Saba to extend the reach of her work. The Australian Research Council awarded her a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) in 2018 to deepen her exploration of the journalism state of play in Libya, Syria, Iraq and Egypt and how it differs from other countries in the Arab world. It’s a project that is close to her heart.
“I'm very excited because it is leading to change; journalists themselves are becoming more aware of and equipped to use the power they hold to potentially achieve change,” she says. “We’re also providing policy recommendations to funding bodies and local organisations to build sustainability and capability in local investigative journalism practice.”
She is working to embed cultural literacy and an international perspective in the next generation of journalists through innovative teaching programs such as the Foreign Correspondent Study Tour (FCST) program, a partnership with SBS and the Department of Foreign Affairs that sees students immerse themselves in journalism practice in countries such as Jordan, India and the Philippines.
Saba joined UTS in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences in 2015, finding support there to push the boundaries of her work.
“UTS has just got that vibe that they want to change things and do things; it's a place where you can come and say ‘I've got this wacky idea’, and they’re willing to explore it,” she says. “There’s a real willingness to offer support at all levels, whether through formal mentoring or less formal guidance such as help to develop strong grant applications.”
UTS has just got that vibe, they want to change things and do things; it's a place where you can come and say ‘I've got this wacky idea’, and they’re willing to explore it.
She also values the supportive attitude and framework that enables staff with children to balance their careers with family life — offerings such as flexible hours, support for bringing family members on work-related travel and school holiday programs offered on campus so she can have her daughter nearby.
“You're seen as who you are and what you can achieve, and that's how you're treated,” she says.
Photographer: Andy Roberts