TBS 11, Fall-
Winter 2003

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"Satellite Broadcasting 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 Arab culture.

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.

Copyright 2003 Transnational Broadcasting Studies
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