and Arab Society" October 4-5, 2003, Meridian Hotel, Amman, Jordan
By Hussein Amin
Two hundred participants
gathered at the Meridian, Amman, to discuss different developments and impacts
of satellite broadcasting on the Arab Society. The conference was sponsored by
the Center for the Defense of the Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ), the Jordanian
Ministry of Planning, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, and Jordan Television. The
conference was conducted under the patronage of the prime minister of Jordan,
Ali Abu Al-Ragheb.
Nabil Al Sherif, Jordanian
minister of Information, gave the welcome note for the opening session of the
conference, during which he stressed the importance of the satellite broadcasting
media, especially in promoting different news values. He stated in Jordan they
are seeking the reorganization of their information ministry and the restructuring
of the mass media, stressing that it was important to find peer models and keep
abreast of whatever was happening in the field, world-wide. Nidal Mansour, the
director of the Center for Protection of Journalists (CPJ) pointed out that the
meeting had been delayed because of the war in Iraq and he saluted the role of
journalists and of those who died in the line of duty. He also stated that this
was the time to remember journalists in prison.
Nidal indicated that CNN
was the only network covering the war in 1990 and writing the history of the Arabs,
but that now there is a completely different game, with the Arab news networks
playing the most significant role.
Iman Safady, chair of
Jordanian Radio and Television, claimed that the success of transnational broadcasting
networks was due to the failure of the Arab governmental networks to satisfy the
taste of the Arab audiences. The competition was very fierce and the only way
for the terrestrial government networks was to provide the Arab view with credibility,
and quality programs as soon as possible. For
the first time, people have come to learn about their fellow Arabs and therefore
Arab transnational media have deepened Arab feelings of togetherness, a feeling
that did not exist before. Arab leaders might see this as a threat to their existence,
and if so, they should go.
In the first session,
dealing with the Sociological and Psychological Impact of Satellite Broadcasting
on Arab Society, Hussein Amin stated that the Arab audience has for the first
time the right of choice but there should be an organizing body to maintain the
development of satellite broadcasting and to monitor its services. Also, he recommended
the establishment of a real pan-Arab research institute to measure the sociological
and psychological impact on the people of the region. Zafine Comedighan, a popular
presenter on LBC TV, mentioned that the role of satellite broadcasting services
may have increased disagreements among Arab governments as stated in the survey
research but it may, on the other hand, have had a positive impact on the Arab
people. He added that despite severe criticism directed at the satellite broadcast
services by religious leaders, academics, and journalists, most decision makers
and ordinary people agreed that satellite broadcasting did have values that reflected
Nassr Serry, sociologist,
said that transnational broadcasting had failed so far to bring the good aspects
of other cultures to Arab viewers and caused depression and anxiety. Although
some issues had been identified that affected the attitudes of Arab audiences,
many other issues related to media habits and impact on behavior still needed
to be analyzed and researched.
During the second session,
entitled " the Impact of satellite Broadcasting on Arab Culture," popular television
presenter Zahi Wahba from Future TV stated that satellite broadcasting still lacked
documentary films and/or programs. Basma Alnessour, popular writer, rejected the
image of women presented by the satellite broadcasting channels and stated that
Arabs should not follow existing models for the presentation of women and should
have their own style based on the Arab heritage. This session was particularly
in successful in that it led to heated debates among the participants, especially
on the image of women.
At the third session,
under the theme "The Impact of Satellite Broadcasting on Freedom in Arab Society,"
Saad Agamy, former Kuwait Minister for Information, stated that Arab transnational
broadcasting services had broken the Arab governments' monopolies of the electronic
media. Ayman Nour, a right wing member of the Egyptian Parliament, stated that
for the first time in a long time, Arab viewers could watch what they liked without
intervention from their government.
During the fourth session,
entitled "Print Journalism and Satellite Broadcasting," discussion centered on
the impact of transnational broadcasting on newspapers and readership.
The final session was
a special session entitled "An Eyewitness." Here Arab satellite broadcasting anchors
and presenters gave an overview about their own experiences.
The most important point
of the conference was the balance between real, on the ground, concrete research
and professional practice. The conference concluded the following:
1. For the first time,
Arabs have become acquainted with their fellow Arabs and the Arab satellite broadcast
media have thus deepened Arab feelings of togetherness, feelings that did not
exist before. Arab leaders may see this as a threat to their existence and if
so, they should go.
2. The role of satellite
broadcast media services may have increased the disagreements of the Arab governments
as stated in the survey research but it may, on the other hand, have had a positive
impact on the Arab people.
3. Most of decision makers
in Jordan are agreed that satellite broadcast media convey negative values that
impact negatively on Arab culture.
4. Satellite broadcasting
has failed so far to bring the good aspects of other cultures to Arab viewers.
5. A national survey
in Jordan indicated that Al Jazeera was rated the premier network for news and
public affairs. Al Arabiya was rated second, and Abu Dhabi TV third. TBS
Hussein Amin is chair
of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication of the American University
in Cairo and TBS senior editor.