Emergence of Middle Eastern "Geo-media"?
By Khaled Hroub,
Centre of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies - University of
past decade and a half the mushrooming of transnational satellite
broadcasting in the Arab region has brought the entire Arab
mediascape to a new phase. Satellite broadcasting has without
a doubt left a remarkable impact on Arab societies. Among the
aspects relating to this medium that have been analyzed are
the manner in which it has raised the ceiling of the freedom
of speech and broken through many known taboos; its harmonizing
effect on pan-Arab identities and/or its encouragement of patrimonial
ones; the manner in which it has provided a replacement for
Western media dominance; the manner in which it has encouraged
the fragmentation and/or the integration of Arab societies;
etcetera. Arab governments by and large have become exposed
to an unprecedented number of questions regarding their policies
and the failures of these via programs broadcast within this
new medium. In response, these governments have counterattacked,
denouncing satellite broadcasters-mainly Al Jazeera-for being
the mouthpiece of their opposition, who, in actuality, have
been excluded from any other platform in the political process
in their countries.
and impact of this medium have also come under the continuous
scrutiny of external players, mainly the United States. The
rise of transterritorial channels coincided with the intifadas
in Palestine and, later, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and
the broader context of the American 'war on terrorism."
Thus, after initially welcoming this new medium as constituting
a sphere of freedom, Washington has become increasingly anxious
and critical of the role that it has played and continues to
play. The current American administration has recently accused
the main Arab TV channels, such as Al Jazeera and Al-Arabiya,
of inciting hatred and mobilizing Arab public opinion against
American policies in the region.
short period of time Arab satellite broadcasting has come to
occupy a central role in the political arena-locally, regionally
and internationally. States such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt
(and also Iran and Israel since both have set up Arabic-speaking
channels) allocated enormous resources to compete at this front.
about transnational TV broadcasting can be found in almost all
current political, cultural, and social discourse. Such discussions
are either laudatory or critical. From political speeches of
state leaders, to intense intellectual debates within academic
and media circles, to the ordinary "chit-chat" of
people in the street, the role of this new medium seems to figure
high in everyone's expectations.
in this medium and its impact cuts across all strata of Arab
societies and goes far beyond their borders. Satellite broadcasting's
crucial role in the presentation and analysis of foreign policies
directed toward the region, current daily live coverage of the
Anglo-American occupation of Iraq notwithstanding, elevates
this medium into a new strategic position. This is a new development
where media is playing a significant strategic role, a role
that goes far beyond its role in other regions of the world
where the stakes for major foreign powers, principally the United
States, are not as high as they are in the Middle East.. The
peculiarity of the American military strategy and presence in
the region, the mere existence, along with the American defense,
of Israel, and the awkward and uneasy love-hate relationship
between some Arab regimes and the United States all give this
new medium a far greater scope than any medium before. Whether
the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq constitutes liberation or
occupation; the Iraqi attacks against Allied targets, resistance
or terrorism; and the Iraqi Ruling Council, a legitimate national
government or a mere puppet in the hands of the occupiers-the
manner in which these issues and events are defined lies in
the hands of this new medium.
such a portrayal do on the ground when the new realities are
dictated by a powerful military force and other classical strategies?
Quite a lot. One could safely assume that much of the unrest
and political violence in Iraq is due to the media coverage.
As a free and media-hungry society, Iraqis tune their televisions
to Al Jazeera, Al-Arabiya, and other Arab channels which transmit
wider anti-American sentiment from all parts of the Arab world.
Pro-American views are also given their fair share of the coverage
but are far less influential in terms of size and argument.
The outcome is an increasing shift against the American occupation,
far surpassing the short period of rejoicing that came with
the fall of Saddam Hussein. When the media comes to play a central
role in affecting the interplay of local, regional, and international
politics and partly re-orients the outcome, it no longer constitutes
a medium providing purely news coverage process or information.
Instead, it becomes a complex process that goes hand-in-hand
or head-to-head with other grand strategies - it becomes "geo-media."
of geo-media in the Middle East implies that the media is becoming
a crucial aspect of international affairs in the region. It
is not only a major tool of foreign policy but is sometimes
the most important tool. Some small Arab countries have discovered
that they can compete with big ones for leverage and prestige
by pouring massive resources into media. The case of Qatar versus
Saudi Arabia and, to a lesser extent, versus Egypt is a telling
example. Qatar is amassing far more prestige and political influence
than its size or location would merit merely because of Al Jazeera.
If in recent history countries used to rely on 'geo-politics'
and/or 'geo-economics' to gain influence and dominance, in contemporary
forms of globalization, geo-media seems to follow suit. Indeed
geo-media is capable of attaining certain goals that were unattainable
by means of other 'geos' simply because this or that state lacked
to the aforementioned observation, The Second Cambridge Conference
on Arab Satellite Broadcasting was held in March to assess Arab
and Western TV coverage of the war in Iraq and to provide further
insights not only at the 'hard' geopolitical and state level
but also on various 'softer' fronts. Such media coverage must
be analyzed and contextualized within the broader debate of
Muslim/Western relationships. The media in general-TV media
in particular-is increasingly becoming enormously influential
in shaping perceptions and creating dominant discourses across
the globe and specifically across binary divides, be they real
of war, media is often brought under further scrutiny in terms
of what role it should play. Should the media challenge official
narrations, support them, or simply (and with tremendous difficulty)
attempt to speak the "truth"? Such scrutiny has been
evident in the wide-ranging discussion of media performance
in the war in Iraq.
and its consequences has been a historic milestone in reshaping
the Middle East and forming the future relationship between
the West and the Middle East. It remains to be seen whether
this historic juncture will further the hostile nature of current
mutual perceptions between the Arab/Muslim world and the West
or create positive new ones. The role of the new geo-media in
this process is central. The manner in which it directs Arabic
perceptions and attitudes towards the present situation in Iraq,
inciting hostile reactions towards the war, is just an example
of its growing power. TBS