Beirut Institute for Media Arts (BIMA): An Interview with Director
Beirut Institute for Media Arts (BIMA) is part of the Lebanese
American University and was founded in 1999. In the wake of
its recent conference, Yasmine Shubaiber interviewed BIMA's
director, Ramez Maaluf, for TBS.
TBS: What was the theme of this year's conference?
This year's theme was "Media and the Transformation of
Arab Societies." Other themes have included "Arab
Stereotyping; How Arabs are seen and how they see others,"
"Creating a Media Community," and "Media and
Arab Culture." The conferences cover everything from advertising
to satellite television to novels to music, basically media
in its broadest definition. A main focus of our research interests,
present in all our conferences, has been a concern with the
development of transnational media, television but also print.
While people of my generation spent a lot of time debating the
global village, the concept is today superseded by a generation
that lives in its reality. Those of the age of our students
do not know a world without satellite television, the internet,
and mobile phone. Technological changes are moving faster than
our ability to understand them.
What are BIMA's main objectives?
The primary purpose was to create an institute in the
university that would strengthen the relationship between media
professionals and educators. I felt that the transformations
in the media industry were so significant that for educators
to keep up with all the changes they would have to be in constant
contact with the professionals. The other purpose is that as
researchers and students of media, we are also called upon to
give our input on these developments. So the association is
meant to benefit both sides. The media needs research, needs
people who analyze, critique, and evaluate these developments.
So we felt there should be more contact between the two sides.
What steps did BIMA have to go through to come into existence?
There is a procedure at LAU where you need to define
what the institutes purposes are, and what kind of activities
will be involved. That is then sent to the executive council
of the university. Once approved, this allows the faculty to
operate outside their normal channels. A budget is then created
where you are responsible to the Dean. On a practical level
it enables you to have greater discretion with funds and can
also allow it to become interdisciplinary. BIMA has faculty
members that aren't just necessarily in communications, such
as people in architecture, the social sciences, the arts and
TBS: How long has it been operating for? What
sort of activities is BIMA involved in?
It has been operating for five years. It has conducted four
international media conferences that have attracted scholars
from around the world who are interested in media studies. We
also have guest lecturers come to LAU and talk to the students.
We've invited actors such as Hussein Fahmy and directors such
as Muhammad Khan both of whom are Egyptian. We've also had locals
such as Marcel Ghanem and Gibran Tweiny. Also we have conducted
workshops in such things as public relations, film production,
scriptwriting, camera work etc. Workshops are organized according
to demand by companies and government agencies all over the
Arab world. For example, we did a workshop for the Ministry
of Health in Jordan a couple of years ago. They sent seven people
and we trained them from A to Z on how to produce a film. We
call upon our faculty members, depending on their expertise,
and ask them to conduct the workshops. Last year we did something
with the International Committee of the Red Cross which and
the theme was "women and war". We are also going to
start publishing the research procedures from our conferences.
The whole idea of BIMA is to remain in touch with this great
transformation that is going on in the Arab world vis-a-vis
media, so that we can find out what is happening, be part of
the process, assist it, learn from it, through structured activities.
Does BIMA aim to create awareness?
BIMA is not a moralizing institute. We aren't here to direct
people on the right path. We are here to address the need for
serious information. One of the aims we have is to generate
information about the Arab world that is relevant to the Arab
world mainly, because there is too much study that happens about
the Arabs from a western perspective. Historically one of the
problems in these conferences is that a lot of these kinds of
events in the Arab world have been a gathering of people who
come to moralize about "the western invasion of our culture"
and in particular the American media. We have come a long way
from that to make our conferences truly a research oriented
gathering, rather than an occasion to sit around and bash the
US. During BIMA's first few conferences, this problem was encountered
quite often. With time and effort this has decreased immensely,
due to the awareness of this problem. It certainly happens much
less here than in any other conference in the Arab World. Often,
the people who present papers condemnatory of the US are Arab
scholars who live abroad and want to show the Americans what
they know, but when they present their findings here they don't
reveal anything new to us. So what is the problem? The problem
is that there isn't enough research going on in the Arab world.
How is BIMA proposing to solve this problem?
Unfortunately, this isn't a process that can be transformed
overnight, especially since there is a lack of funding for research.
We are counting on publishing the research developed from our
conferences so that there will be a body of knowledge out there.
Out of the fifty speakers in our conferences at least twenty
of their papers will be published.
How soon will BIMA be able to publish?
Well so far we've already started publishing some of the papers
on the LAU website (www.lau.edu.lb/centers-institutes/bima).
But we are soon going to start produce them in hard copy as
conference proceedings. We want to make these available for
people to read. This is what the Arab world lacks when it comes
to media studies.
What differentiates BIMA from other institutes?
For a university to become a producer of knowledge or for an
institute to become a producer of knowledge, and I said this
in my opening speech at this year's conference, it has to enjoy
a certain amount of freedom of expression. The country that
is at the forefront of freedom of expression in the Arab world
is Lebanon. So we have a certain advantage.
What other people have been involved in BIMA?
This year I was graciously assisted by Ziad Mawlawi, Rachid
Chamoun, Mahmoud Tarabaya (who is not a faculty member here
but a staff member at the Lebanese University), and Kareem Moufarij.
How is BIMA funded?
Normally, institutes are subsidized by the university
for three years but then we are expected to become self-sufficient.
This year we are in debt to the university, so we need to think
of ways to raise money in order to survive. I support this university
approach. The principle being that if our activities are really
relevant to the community then the community should respond.
Shuhaiber is a recent graduate of the Lebanese American University
with a BA in Communication Arts (Radio/TV/Film).