A Saudi television official has moved to end a growing controversy caused by the appearance of an unveiled anchorwoman during a news broadcast on state television.
“She was a correspondent reading the news from a studio in Britain,” Saleh Al Mughailif, the spokesperson for the Saudi radio and television, said, referring to the woman’s appearance on Al Ekhbariya news channel.
“She was not in a studio inside Saudi Arabia and we do not tolerate any transgression of our values and the country’s systems,” he said, quoted by Al Tawasul news site.
Saleh Al Mughailif added that all measures would be taken to ensure there is no repeat of the incident.
Social networks in the Saudi kingdom largely commented on the unprecedented sight of an unveiled woman reading the news on Saudi national television.
While several comments condemned the transgression of deep-anchored traditions that reflect the character of Saudi society, others said that the issue should not be overblown and that women without head veils often appeared on television, although not to read the news.
Hafez, a blogger, said that the unveiled anchorwoman was “a test to gauge people’s reactions to the sight of women without head covers on Saudi national television news.”
Saudi society has been divided over the possibility of granting women more rights, including the right to drive cars.
A decision by King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz to appoint 30 women to the Shura Council has become a landmark in the status of women in the country while a labour ministry decision to encourage more women to take up jobs in the private sector, especially in retail shops, has overcome stiff resistance from conservative forces.
Saudi state television often airs foreign programmes and television shows featuring unveiled women. Women in live programming and those appearing in in-house content do however wear the hijab.
The hijab is more strictly enforced in some parts of the kingdom than others. The coastal city of Jeddah is known to be less rigid than the capital Riyadh in its social norms and the wearing of the veil, which the religious police are tasked with enforcing.
Multi-billionaire Saudi Prince and businessman Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal does not enforce the hijab in the offices of his Kingdom Holding business empire. It is reportedly one of the few places in the kingdom where women roam freely without the veil.
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