Television Channels and Debates On Education: a Dilemma of Neglect
Research into the effects, both positive and negative, of communications
revolutions on society remains the most prominent concern within
the field of media studies. Though it is to some extent true
that in most cases the simple cause and effect relation, or
what is known as the 'magic bullet theory,' has gradually lost
its luster, the search into the dynamic relations between communications
and societiesnot the flow in one directionhas not
been fully developed.
stands on a theoretical foundation that sees all sorts of meaning-making
acts related to television watching. The researcher here tries
to look at the malfunction of the communications revolution
in the Arab World by dealing with a specific vital social issue
and the range of "intervening" variables in between.
She examines the hypothesis of the absence of debates on education
on the main pan-Arab television stations. The study illuminates
some of the key aspects of this phenomenon (historical, structural,
cultural, political and communications concerns/policy) including
the relations amongst them. A script content analysis has been
applied to Al Jazeera TV channel talk shows for five months
(between August 1 and December 31, 2003). The station was taken
as a horizontal case study, and the results verified the proposed
hypothesis. Methodological and theoretical limitations are also
this lack or even absence of debates on education has mostly
gone unnoticed or ignored in mainstream research. Hence, this
paper argues that this deficiency has seldom been recognized
by Arab media analysts or even civil society activists. This
is a matter which may be indirectly connected with the lack
of diversity of content which leads to questions regarding the
implications for democracy.
Significance of Television Debates on Education
Polish leader Lech Walesa was asked what caused the breakdown
of communist control, he pointed to a television set. It is
widely accepted that "television is likely to have some
influence upon viewers' perceptions of social life and the world
in general." (Gauntlett 1996: 75) Those media representations
of issues stimulate public attention and discussions which help
to crystallize individual opinions on major matters. (Yanovistzky
2002: 422) Ultimately it is argued that public-media attention
to issues is instrumental in attracting policy-makers' attention.
Arab World since the early 1990s, new and emerging delivery
systems like satellites and the Internet continue to push the
control of television beyond the power of national governments.
(Lisosky 2001: 821-822) Much had changed in the broadcasting
climate and industry structure.
this into consideration, this paper argues that the lack of
real and thought-provoking debates on education on Arab screens
plays a vital role in the transmission of issue emphasis, giving
the false impression that educational issues are not a priority
or not important enough for Arab viewers to know about or debate.
also usually assumed in literature that with the widespread
use of televisions, TV has become a new family member. Therefore
it seems natural to see TV debates on education as vital within
the family life as a means of bringing about domestic harmony
and a better quality of life. It might also help in accelerating
the learning revolution to match the revolution in communications
and technology. One might claim that this absence is a way to
keep undemocratic practices in the Arab countries as they are.
saying that communications (television in this case) has a social
role to play does not mean it is the only factor. It works always
in conjunction with other forces and structures and can never
be singly and aberrantly determined, as explained later.
looking at what is on the screen itself, a quick overview of
the news subsections on some TV stations' web sites will show
the absence of titles like "education news" or "school
news" or "stories on education." For example,
the Al Jazeera.net subsections for its stories are: Business,
Science/Technology, Health, Sports, Culture and Arts. On LBC.com.lb,
the sections are: Sports, Kids (mainly cartoons), Social, Entertainment,
Weather, News & Weekly Archive, Clips, Caricature, Politics,
and Special Events. It is easy to note that "Education"
is not there!
of the Arab World is made up of students. Their daily lives
are built around schooling and education. Therefore, it is logical
that their issues and problems should be fully or at least partly
represented. Yet, this is not the case in the news. But are
talk showsat leastconcerned with the issues and
problems of students, teenagers, and children?
Content Analysis Case
concrete answer to the previous question, an empirical approach
was used to fulfill a methodological assessment. Script Content
Analysis was used. The program-type (format) chosen was the
live talk shows (with or without audience and/or phone-ins)
as it is assumed that such programs are an open window for debating
issues whether on the news agenda or not. On the other hand,
a script (Wordings) analysis and not a visual analysis was conducted
because most Arab talk shows are based on guests' arguments
and not on visual proofs or investigations. Though this is a
major setback for Arab talk shows, it is an issue that is beyond
the scope of this research.
of the whole script of all the talk shows included questions,
answers, and phone-in contributions (when available) for five
months between August 1 and December 31, 2003. The study was
carried out with the help of the Al Jazeera.net web site. The
researcher went through all the programs and also used the "search"
tool in the web site's database. The proposed hypothesis of
this paper-"that there is a lack of debate on education"-was
was not a single talk show or debate oriented specifically to
an educational issue, nor was there one that used Education/Learning/Schooling/Teaching
in its main title at all. There was no debate to discuss any
educational issue, problem, or dilemma.
there were three talk shows during that period that included
in one of their sub-themes an "educational issue."
These talk shows were:
Dialogue" (Hewar Maftooh) - November 22, 2003: the main
title was "The Islamic World: Challenges and Priorities"
with a number of Malaysian students. There was some discussion
about the weakness of the educational curriculum in the Islamic
Women Only" (Lel Nessa' Faqat) - September 7, 2003: the
main title was "The Mother and Her Teenage Girl."
One of the themes was the absence of sexual education in Arab
Frontiers" (Bela Hudood) - August 11, 2003: the main title
was "The Depression and Powerlessness of Arab Society."
One of the main themes of the discussion with a leading intellectual
focused on the educational system and how education can play
a vital role in the development process.
other hand, the "political" fever following the USA's
criticism of some Arab educational curriculum was a sub-theme
of three other talk shows during that period, especially in
December 2003. Those talk shows were:
and Life" (Al Shari'a wal Hayat) - December 20th, 2003:
the main title was "Curriculum in the Islamic World."
The content, however, was specifically related to discussing
the extent to which some Islamic religious curricula shaped
children's views of other religions.
Dialogue" (Hewar Maftooh) - December 10, 2003: the main
title was "Political Reform in the Arab World." A
minor part of the discussion was targeted towards how the USA
aims to weaken Islamic Culture via reforming some of the Arab
curricula including deleting some parts related to Islamic Culture.
Frontiers" (Bela Hodood) - October 12, 2003: the main title
was "The Future of Arab Identity and Character in the Midst
of American Pressures." The discussion was with a psychologist.
One of the themes was the effect of educational curriculum on
Arab identity and the USA's attempts to change some components
of the curriculum.
interesting to see how, especially in December 2003, TV, Radio
and Press coverage discussed 'educational curriculum reforming'
when it became a political issue, i.e., when it became part
of the debate over globalization and the "Americanization"
movement to reform education in the Middle East and some Gulf
countries. This was also reflected in local and pan-Arab newspapers
and some audio-visual coverage. Placing the "educational
curriculum" face to face with the "USA criticisms"
ironically led most programs to defend the educational curriculum
rather than to be critical towards it. Hence, the deficiency
was not only in discussing the curriculum in the light of a
political (not an educational) framework, but also in focusing
on the curriculum in separation from the whole educational system,
as if the child learns from formal books only rather than from
the whole educational system, whether inside or outside the
this in context, it is important to say that Al Jazeera, with
its slogan "free trade in ideas and attracting all the
opinions," has failed to devote one single talk show during
five months to any educational issue. It should be noted here
that Al Jazeera is known for being "critical of Arab Regimes
and governments" (Bahry 2001: 88) and it is claimed that
"there are few red lines in its programming, reporting,
and commentary" (Bahry 2001: 97).
Methodological and Theoretical Limitations
and free access to the aljazeera.net web site is a helpful tool
for Arab researchers to conduct content analysis research on
the channel's programs. The absence of such comprehensive online
databases for other pan-Arab stations like: Al-Arabiya, Abu
Dhabi TV, Future, Nile Cultural, MBC, ART
the ability to draw comparisons across the different stations.
This is a major methodological limitation facing this kind of
research. Therefore this paper chose a horizontal study of educational
debates content on Al Jazeera while vertical scientific research
within different channels, which might have produced more generalized
conclusions, was not possible.
the results drawn from analyzing the Al Jazeera case cannot
be generalized to all Arab televised debates on education, the
researcher argues that looking at prime time talk shows in most
pan-Arab TV stations can help to demonstrate that the analysis
of Al Jazeera reveals a common trend of a much larger phenomenon.
There is a lack of interest in debates on education. This lack
of interest is important in explaining the absence that is found
in this particular case.
potential theoretical limitation of this study should be noted
before the implications of the research are discussed. Most
communications studies' theoretical backgrounds are based on
Western studies. Hence, as the West does not have a similar
problem of the lack of audio-visual educational debates, there
are limited comparison studies that would motivate Arab media
researchers to look at this area. One can easily find in many
European and American news bulletins a leading news story on
education. Consequently, many televised debates will arise from
that and focus on educational issues. This is why this paper
started with the question on educational news in the Arab World.
some Western countries (e.g., the UK) have moved from educational
debates on education to reality shows on education. The first
program, broadcast in September 2003, selected 30 teenagers
and made them survive four weeks at a fictitious replica of
a 1950s state boarding school. It sparked a national debate
about the perceived decline in British educational standards
over the past 50 years. (For more information, look at http://www.miami.com/mld/charlotte/news/world/6981566.htm,
last accessed January 15, 2004)
Debates on Education Needed
on education this paper argues for are not the same as those
offered on the Egyptian TV stations that are described as "specialized
educational stations" or ART's curriculum stations. Those
stations see their goal as mainly to teach the lessons of the
formal school curriculum to students at different stages. Even
within their target, these stations are not utilizing the real
audio-visual potential of TV to deliver the information/facts
in a stimulating way and to get in daily touch with students
in a way that could contribute to the learning environment.
Yet this is also beyond the scope of this paper.
tries to make the point that the debates on education that are
needed are different from curriculum-based programs. In addition,
the necessary debates on education should not in any case be
merely talk shows for "educators" to debate with each
other, in imitation of "political" talk shows on pan-Arab
the direct opposite is needed. What is necessary are educational
debates where academic researchers, industry leaders, government
agency representatives, children, children's advocates, teachers,
parents, educators, media professionals and health professionals
all contribute. The targeted audience should be clear as well.
Such debates must have in mind that they are multilevel "family"
programs, capable of being "understood" and "enjoyed"
by family members of different ages.
ought to be based upon serious, in-depth research and should
use consistent visual attractions. Technical advances and satellite-video
conferencing facilities make it possible to establish these
things. We need to move beyond a talkative approach, and to
find new, informative ways of empowering students to become
Arab citizens who actively participate in the democratization
working on this paper the researcher has discussed the issue
with a friend, a well-known journalist, who is not convinced
that debates on education are needed and made the remark that
there are no "hot" educational issues that deserve
to be discussed and covered.
worthwhile, therefore, to try to define the meaning of "hot"
for our societies. Educational issues are always"hot"
issues because they daily affect our children and, ultimately,
our society. I do not believe that one president's phone call
with another is more important than the many learning problems
affecting our children.
are numerous important issues that deserve to be discussed and
addressed. For example, the private/public schools dilemma,
private lessons, quality of university education, university
student's fees, curriculum changes, what needs changing, the
need for counselors at schools, teachers' problems, why students
hate history, education stratification, the discrimination against
the arts stream and vocational education, inappropriate homework,
behavior problems at schools, access to educational resources,
test-taking skills. And, in addition, a discussion of the educational
policies where the school "reproduces the social inequalities
and authoritarian patriarchal systems" (see Mazawi 2002:
some may say that Arts and Cultural issues are also marginalized
in comparison to politics, economics, and sports issues. Nevertheless
education is the most neglected dimension though I see it as
the most important because it is the most influential. Also,
a number of programs are devoted to cultural and artistic topics-books,
fiction writers, poets, cinema and actors, and even painters.
Why the Lack of Debate on Education?
at the well-known importance of education and the "crisis"
situation of contemporary schools, it is hard to understand
why the current Arab communications revolution is not playing
a significant role in developing this aspect of its programming
and why educational fields are one of the most vulnerable dimensions
in television talk shows, debates, and news programs.
medium itself is capable of providing a diverse range of programs,
the answer to the preceding question, which might appear simple
at first glance, proves to be surprisingly complex. Different
factors play a role in the lack of debates on education on Arab
television stations-historical, structural, cultural, political,
and communications concerns and policies. This paper will quickly
try to address some of these.
- Since independence, the middle classes have tended to focus
on studying education. More and more university and college
graduates became teachers, and education was traditionally the
first field to allow entrance to women. With the modernization
that occurred at the end of the last century, this heritage
gave the superficial impression that education is a 'traditional'
field that is outdated and old-fashioned. This led to the conclusion
that educational topics are traditional in comparison to modern
topics such as politics, scientific innovations, fashion, and
the latest business news.
- It is not a secret that all our pan-Arab stations depend on
(AP, AFP, Reuters, etc.) to a varying extent. The global wire
services are also the main source for our news agenda, which
in turn shapes our talk shows to a great degree. As the wires
services' agendas for the Arab World are not related to educational
news, such issues are ignored and only raised when they are
connected with "political stories," as discussed earlier.
- It seems that one of the reasons for ignoring students' issues
is our tendency to "look down" on children and eventually
"look down" on their issues. This sidelining of students
and their issues has had a dramatic effect on educational debates.
Again, although this point is beyond the scope of this paper,
it is worthwhile mentioning it.
- While "Politics" in the general term colors
all our TV screens, journalists do not look deeply into the
"political culture" that is built into the schools
at the very first step: teaching each citizen "the values,
norms, beliefs, sentiments, and understanding of power and authority"
(Amin 2002: 127). Education is Politics and Politics is Education,
but people do not want to see it like that, and authorities
do not want to admit that.
journalists seem interested enough in discussing political issues
some of which go back thirty or even fifty years to understand
who is responsible for certain outcomes and how certain events
happened, they seem to lack a similar enthusiasm for finding
out who is responsible for the educational crisis in which we
are living now and its historical and political roots.
Concerns and Policies - This naturally brings us to the
journalists themselves. To say that Arab society needs debates
on education is obvious. To create such debates is another thing.
One cannot put all the blame on the journalists. In any talk
show or interview, two people are involved; the journalist needs
a good interviewee. There are very few Arab critical contributors
who have the passion and the vision to change a traditional
talk on education into a modern innovative discussion.
interviewees for such talk shows are mostly from the ministries
of education (MOE) and/or from universities or education departments.
There are few private sector educational institutes or critical
NGOs that can contribute different activists. Therefore, there
is no lobbying for children's educational issues. Children can't
lobby and adults don't lobby for their children.
be altered by having many parties contributing to the debates
so people might no longer regard educational talk shows as closed
intellectual academic meetings that the ordinary citizen is
incapable of interacting with.
other hand, among the Arab media institutes, there are professionals
specialized in politics, in economics, in culture, and in sports.
Yet there are no educational correspondents, reporters, or editors.
In other countries, it is common to have journalists and educational
editors specialized in education. Gordon Dryden, who for many
years was New Zealand's most popular radio talk show host, is
a bright example. He has spent many years searching for breakthroughs
in learning. He is the author of The Learning Revolution and
has produced twenty-two television programs on the subject (for
more information, look at www.thelearningweb.net,
last accessed February 1, 2004). In addition, a quick look at
The Independent, The Guardian or The New York Times
reveals the daily writings of educational journalists and educational
editors. This is something that is completely absent in all
pan-Arab newspapers and TV stations.
the factors that contribute to the lack of an "education
journalist" specialization is the higher education system.
In the universities and colleges that offer media programs in
the Arab World, those programs are rarely designed to allow
or encourage a combination between Media or Communications Studies
and Education (major - minor or double major). However, in many
prominent and not so prominent universities, there is a traditional
major/minor combination linking Media and Political Science
or Media and Arabic or English Literature.
aimed to shed some light on the hypothesis that there is an
absence of debates on education on pan-Arab TV screens, a matter
that has been ignored by mainstream Arab media researchers and
critics. The researcher took Al Jazeera for a horizontal case
study. It applied script content analysis to all talk shows
during the last five months of 2003. The hypothesis was verified.
There was not a single talk show on an educational topic. It
was also interesting to note how an educational issue became
a "media" topic when it became connected with a "political"
fever, e.g., following the USA's criticisms of some Arab educational
this research conceptualized and examined the connection between
television and debates on education as a dynamic process and
a multi-factoral phenomenon and not simply as an effect association.
Historical, structural, cultural, political, and communications
concerns and policy were highlighted. Methodological and theoretical
limitations were also discussed. The study also tried to look
at the various aspects of this absence to establish an analytical
framework which future research can develop.
not merely an issue of balance, where political debates are
everywhere and debates on education are nowhere. It is a core
social issue where diversity of content is vulnerable and, therefore,
democracy is in danger. Educational debates can be widely influential,
especially as the current schooling system already faces many
"rotten" aspects. Such educational discussions need
to be down-to-earth and visually attractive to help the communications
revolution play its role in achieving a learning revolution.
Damen: MA in Communications Studies from Leeds University/UK,
Dec. 2003. TV Documentary Maker, Anchor and Researcher.
Part time Instructor at the Media Department - Petra University/Amman.
Children Rights Activist. Co-author of four books on children
issues. Participated in several international and pan-Arab conferences
and workshops on Communications and formal/non-formal educational
issues. Toured twelve states in the USA (2001, 2003) to promote
women's peace efforts. Worked as a communications consultant at
UNICEF and UNDP School Net Project. First one-woman-show documentary
"Waiting for Light" participated in Milano Film Festival,
Italy (Sep. 2001), Chicago Film Festival, USA (April 2003) and
IAMHIST XX Conference, UK (July 2003). E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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