Arab and European Satellites over the Maghrib

By Ahmed Bedjaoui

Mainly because they belonged to the French colonial empire, the people of the Maghrib had a long tradition of film before they became television viewers. Television reception had its start in the late fifties when the three countries of the northern Maghrib were still under French rule. The first transmission came in 1957 in Algeria, then still considered an integral part of France. The launching of local television stations was part of the French response to the successful propaganda program developed by the Algerian Liberation Army through the production of a series of films. Television appeared in 1962 in Morocco and in 1966 in Tunisia. Needless to say, the three countries bowed to the French tradition of state-run media monopolies. Nevertheless, they also wanted to create a framework for sub-regional cooperation. As a response to their membership in the European Broadcasting Union's Eurovision, the three countries decided in 1966 to create MaghribVision. The first shows were aired in 1970, only to come to an end in 1975 with the conflict on the Western Sahara, which caused a long-lasting quarrel between Morocco and Algeria.

Because it was a colony (while the neighboring countries were protectorates), Algeria inherited a structured regional network that enabled the regime to achieve in 1974 the unification of the transmitters in the north of the country. By the end of the seventies, 95 % of the territory was covered and the government decided to subsidize half of the price of TV sets. This state intervention allowed 85% of households to have almost free access to the national channel. Wishing to disseminate the image of his socialist ideology to the remotest enclaves of the population, President Boumediene decided as early as 1975 to invest in one of the first attempts to use satellite technology for the coverage of Algeria's immense Saharan territory, where less than 10% of Algerians lived. The state-owned broadcasting organization known as RTA (Radiotélévision Algérienne), opted for a transponder on an Intelsat satellite designed for indirect transmission to fourteen small local relay stations on Band C. Half of the capacities were used for radio and TV frequencies and the rest for telephone connections. At that time, individual reception required an eleven-meter dish. Still used today, the system is based on sixty local relays, although the signal is sent through a new generation of satellites such as the New Sky NNS 7 on digital band KU, which allows both direct and indirect transmission covering the whole African continent. For instance, state-owned Algerian TV covers the city of Nouakchott (where half of the population of Mauritania lives) with a small transmitter installed in the Algerian embassy. . Morocco uses the same device to achieve complete coverage of its national Television station through satellite. At the beginning of the eighties, the Maghrib countries were connected to the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) through Eutelsat. In addition to EBU, Algeria was also connected to the socialist countries of the IRT Organisation via Intersputnik.

The French and Arab Temptations

After their unsuccessful attempt to escape from French dominance through sub-regional co-operation and still wishing to counterbalance European influence, the Maghrib countries opted to create a second transnational framework for the Arab World in the form of the Arab States Broadcasting Union. The countries of the Maghrib played an active role in the formation of this union; Abdallah Chaqroun, former manager of the Moroccan national TV, was the first general secretary, and Tunis was named the headquarters. Even before Arabsat was created, Abd el Kader Bairi, an Algerian TV leader, had already been appointed manager of the project in 1982.

The Arab States Broadcasting Union was formed in 1984. At the moment, Northern Maghrib channels and the European-trained engineers and experts appeared to be the most dynamic and experienced producers of modern programming in the Arab world, after Egypt. In Algeria, the volume of transmitted local images reached an average of 44%. Even these advances were not enough, however: the manager of Moroccan RTM confided in an interview to El Maghrib magazine in 1985 that "my ambition is to produce one hour daily, but we would need to increase the budget of our television by 400%."

Who could predict that, with the advent of Arabsat and at the very peak of their reputation and power, the state-run channels of the Maghrib were going to lose their dominant place and become passive, consumers of Eastern Arab media?
The first Arabsat satellite, named A2 and launched in 1982, was used for telephone use as well as for the exchange of programs between the state-run channels in the Arab world. Algiers was chosen as the location for this centre. The founders of Arabsat were very respectful of the state monopoly in force in the 22 member countries. However, it rapidly appeared that the technical potentialities of the two first Arabsat satellites considerably exceeded Arab production capacities. Indeed, it may be said that the first Arabsat satellite was as costly as it was underused. As the Egyptian expert Hamid Kandil put it, "Arabsat was designed, produced, launched, supervised and controlled by others. The Arabs transferred the product, not the process. It is the same old story: we stole Aladdin's lamp, but when the spirit escaped from it, we proved to be unable to put it back." (1)

Aborted Inroads on State-run Monopolies

While the governing elites, whatever their ideology or political system, seemed satisfied with the state-run monopolies, many experts warned that an invasion of their Hertzian space was immanent. Governing elites were advised to invest in the creation of new channels, to encourage a dynamic production policy, and to prepare to compete with a national private sector before having to face the space channels in a battle in which victory was far from assured. Conscious of their fragility in the face of the approaching tide, and in spite of their reluctance to abandon their monopolies, the three countries reacted in different ways.

Of the three national channels, Algerian Television seemed at the beginning of the eighties to be the most structured in terms of production capacities. In 1984 Algerian experts chose to launch a second national channel which was supposed to stimulate the public service. A few months before its inauguration, President Chadli cancelled the project and condemned Algeria to live another twenty years with a single channel.

Because they were more conscious of the fragility of their positions, Tunisia and Morocco adopted a different approach. Tunisia was the first country in the region to create a breach in the state monopoly when it decided to allow the Italian RAI Uno to install Herztian transmitters, which by 1989 covered the whole country. Given the limited number of Italian-speakers, the competition was far from fierce. The real danger might derive from a French-speaking channel. While Algeria was closing its all-Algerian second channel, the Tunisian government very cleverly decided to launch, under a joint venture agreement with France, a second channel based on France's state-owned France 2 programs. As if to show the limits of this opening, the French news bulletins were replaced by an official local bulletin; eventually the channel dispensed with the French partner and became Canal 21. On the 1992 anniversary of President's Ben Ali's November 7th take-over of power, the channel Horizons Tunisia (a subsidiary of Canal + France) began its transmission of partly encrypted programs. Most of these were sent from Paris via the satellite Intelsat VI before their transmission through the local network. The subscription fee was the equivalent of US$25. In order to be profitable, the project needed to reach a target audience of 50,000 to 70,000 subscribers. A few years later, the subscription price and the growing competition represented by MBC killed the channel, which never exceeded 20 000 subscribers, thus discreetly turning Tunisia back into a complete state media monopoly control.

In Morocco, the state monopoly on broadcasting frequencies started to crumble with the end of the exclusivity retained by the state over national radio. King Hasan II decided to allow a joint venture (with the French SOFIRAD and Saudi interests) to launch a private radio station called MEDI 1 in the former International Zone of Tangiers. This channel adopted a certain amount of freedom in its treatment of foreign affairs. It is still very successful among the Maghrib audiences because the two languages most widely spoken in the Maghrib, Arabic and French, are used alternately. A few years later, in 1988, the commercial channel 2M International applied the same principle to television. The new channel was a shared project between SOREAD, a Moroccan Company controlled by ONA, a state institution SOFIRAD, and the French channel TF1. The new channel was also financially supported by the French Government. Using Intelsat 5F3 relayed by re-transmitters, 2 M I transmitted mainly French encrypted programs (mainly in French) and produced a few hours of local unscrambled shows. However, as in the case of Horizons Tunisia, M 2 I's ambition of gaining 90,000 subscribers was far from being achieved. This situation led the Royal Government to buy back the foreign shares and to transform 2M into the state's own second channel.

The close relations established between the Moroccan Kingdom and France in the framework of the Francophone Organization opened the way to Tv5 Europe in Morocco. The channel started its transmission in 1984 through a satellite (Ecsl). The better-off received the channel with a big dish and the rest of the population on the national Herzian network. However, when a Tv5 news bulletin covered G. Perrault's book "Our Friend the King," the king decided to boycott Tv5 and to hand the earth network to a less subversive channel-the Saudi-funded MBC. A further channel Canal Horizons attempted to enter the Moroccan market in 1994 but quickly failed though Canal Horizons Afrique programs are presently sent via satellite to the whole continent. There is no doubt that the commercial destiny of 2MI and Canal Horizons Morocco were both partly undermined by the unscrambled presence of Tv5 and MBC.

If Tunisia pretended to make inroads on state monopoly and Morocco really tried to, what about Algeria? As mentioned above, in 1983 the Algerian authorities had banned an attempt by TV experts to launch a second channel. The year after, they initiated a reform of the broadcasting system that broke it into four state companies. The reorganization resulted in the destruction of the best performing production facilities in the region and in the growing mediocrity of the sole channel. The 1988 riots showed the great anger of the population against the state-run media, especially television. After the adoption of a pluralist constitution in 1989 and an Information Law in 1990 which protected freedom of expression and the right to be informed, the Head of Government Sid Ahmed Ghozali signed a decree which guaranteed the private sector free access to frequencies for transmitting new channels. The new law was observed except in respect of the state monopoly on television, which, though illegal, remained in place. The upshot is that, since 1989, Algeria has developed perhaps the most independent and aggressive printed press but one of the most mediocre television networks in the Arab world. As Lotfi Madani writes, "State television, envisioned as a way to accelerate national unity finally has radically denied the deep cultural differences which actually shape an integrated society." (2)

The Whole Sky for a Dish

Meanwhile, starting in 1987, the best off among the ruling classes in the Maghrib began to buy the expensive equipment which would allow them to develop their schizophrenic relation to the Kings and "Zaims" on the one hand and to the former colonizing country on the other. The undeclared object of their desire was embodied in the French channels which had started transmitting their programs by satellite. Thus, only very few could have a free access to other sources of news without suffering from the language obstacle.
A year later the 1988 riots that took place in Algeria showed for the first time the extent of popular discontent. The failure of the political system represented by the governing party and its double rejection by the elite and the poorest people led to a rush towards the satellite dishes. This failure was also manifested in the lack of popular credibility in the official media. "It was as if in the collective imagination, the breach with all forms of archaism inevitably meant access to the new technologies, regarded as the compulsory passage to Modernity." As a consequence, and "while they had proved under socialist rule their inability to find a consensus" on the maintenance of common living spaces, the Algerians collectivized their efforts in order to share the price of the expensive equipment necessary for satellite reception of foreign news. A survey led by the government's CENEAP clearly indicates that the largest number of those who get connected (for the equivalent of US$ 50 per family) to a satellite dish live in popular buildings and that every dish is linked to anywhere between 120 to 300 homes with small re-transmitters in between. Although the phenomenon was still very new, Lotfi Madani writes that, according to a Proxima Conseil survey, at least 35 % of Algerians (9 million) had connected their TV set to a dish antenna between 1988 and 1993. (3) This strong collective movement clearly expressed hope for alternative form of social and political communication. As Joëlle Stoltz wrote in an article entitled "The Algerians Watch Dallas," "This spontaneous form of united gathering against the state, its abuses and failures" is the expression of the meeting between social dynamics and the lust for technical innovation.(4)

Moreover, the Maghrib regimes managed to insidiously and massively transfer the activities related to news, culture, and entertainment to the state-run TV channel, as if they wanted to imprison the individuals in their homes in order to obtain their allegiance to the official speech delivered every night at eight. The number of tickets sold in Algerian film theatres reached 23 millions in 1982 to fall to 11 millions in 1990 and less than one million in 2003. During that period, 95% of the film theatres closed their doors. The regimes still consider the film industry an obstacle to the control of their public opinion through the monopoly of a national channel. They are convinced that the state-run channels will finally win back the wayward viewer for the crucial news slot and therefore shape their political perception of the national sphere.

Following Boumediene's death, there was consensus amongst Algerians that socialism had failed and that there was a great need for deep democratic reforms. Ten years later, and in spite of the country's agricultural and natural resources, the system was still based on Party/Nation/State rule and proved unable to produce anything other than corruption. In 1988, Algeria was confronted by an enormous economic crisis that seemed to signify the collapse of the entire system.

The advent of the space channels came in this climate of deterioration. The Algerians (but also the Tunisians, and History would show later that the Moroccans were in the same mood), who did not believe their national media any longer, wanted to have access to other sources. I would like to insist here on the fact that the movement towards the foreign space channels was a response to the free choice made by citizens from within their society. The term "invasion" is rather used by the state "apparatchiks" who prefer to refer to "the masses" instead of "citizens."

Abdallah Chaqroun, the former ASBU manager, compares the reactions of the three regimes to what they considered as a dangerous invasion. According to Chaqroun, in 1985 Tunisia was the first country of the region to pass a bill that necessitated would-be satellite dish owners to acquire preliminary authorization from the ministries of Interior and Defense, a move which meant that dishes were more difficult to acquire for ordinary citizens. This coercive measure did not prevent the percentage of equipped households from increasing from 5% in 1991 to 39% in 1998. Riadh Ferjani who gives these statistics adds that two thirds of the purchases were unauthorized. In 1992, the Moroccan government decided that it would charge a tax of US$ 700 for each dish purchase.(5)

Observing the aftermath of the 1988 riots and the rapid dissemination of the dishes in the popular suburbs, the Algerian authorities opted for an attitude of total "laissez-faire," which led 60% of Algerians to receive satellite channels by 1998. More confusing, adds Chaqroun, was the repressive decree issued by the French government in 1993 which required citizens to apply for a permit from local councils before installing a dish. While aesthetic reasons were cited to justify this decision, in fact, the decree essentially targeted immigrants (most of them Arabic speakers) who were trying to connect their sets to Arabic channels and, starting from 1997, to the Algerian B. Mostefaoui which is a simple off-shoot of the state-run television station. Algerian TV was received in Europe through Eutelsat. It was soon followed by the Moroccan first and second channels (2M) and by Tunisian TV.

Attraction/Rejection Schizophrenia

Contrary to the Middle East, where only the highly educated elite could follow English-speaking channels, the majority of the people of the Maghrib either have a good understanding of French or are completely fluent. On the other hand, compulsory education had considerably increased the percentage of people who mastered Arabic. This bilingual situation meant that viewers in the Maghrib, who were geographically close to Europe and culturally close with the Arab World, had a choice between Arab and French channels. At the beginning, four of these latter channels attracted the majority of the viewers, who were seduced by the images of a successful commercial model of society. That was a time when satellites meant modernity and success; that time lasted until the invasion of Kuwait and the war led by an international coalition against Iraq in 1991.

In terms of communication, the first Gulf War was, according to Nur ed Dine Sail, a former program manager at Canal + (France) and 2MI (Morocco), "the end of something and the beginning of a new era…The liberal West permitted the American Army to impose censorship on every image sent to us by CNN, transformed by Bush and Saddam into a sort of world media monopoly. Suddenly, war-time communication has turned into a non-communication system." (6)

With the socialist French administration supporting the war against Iraq, it was as if the European channels seen by viewers in the Maghrib were broadcasting pain and awe when they were expected to deliver pleasure and comfort. French president Mitterand seemed very irritated by what he scornfully qualified as the demonstrations of the Maghrib "street." A divorce was inevitable, and the majority of the population in the three countries tried to find heaven under the Arab satellites. Referring to a survey carried out in Morocco in 1993 by Sunergia, Hassen Smili writes that state-owned TVM remained far ahead of the other channels, followed by 2M and MBC, which had already won 14% of the audience, and Spanish TVE with 13%. Tv5 achieved only 5%, just a little more than Algerian TV (mostly viewed by the neighboring populations of eastern Morocco) with 4.6%. (7)

Set up by the Saudi billionaire Sheikh Saleh Kamil and first based in London, MBC was the first satellite channel to achieve significant penetration of the Maghrib. Its non-subscription status and its all-Arabic programming combined with European know-how effectively seduced Maghrib audiences. B. Mostefaoui notes that, according to a SOFRES survey taken in 1993, the Arabic-speaking, rural, and less-educated audiences in Morocco watch more MBC than 2M or TV5. This is also true for the Algerians, when we compare MBC to the French channels. The same survey proves that the French channels' influence is now limited to young people and to a small percentage of the richest families living in the big cities.(8)

The War in Iraq and the Media

One of the outcomes of the first war against Iraq was the global loss of credibility of the western media. This distrust existed within Europe itself but was strongest and most permanent south of the Mediterranean among the partners of the European Community. Everyone knows that viewers may distrust TV news and yet continue to watch it in massive numbers. Maghrib audiences who used to compare on the one hand the "infotainment" supplied by the French channels (often based on confrontations implicating their own leading politicians) and on the other the tireless, immutable rituals of their king or president discovered a new brand of journalists working for MBC: they seemed to combine European cleverness and freedom of expression with an Arab anchor presentation style. These journalists also seemed to have a deeper insight into Arabs' concerns. This combination seems to have nourished the viewers' alienation and bicultural schizophrenia as it was a perfect compromise between their reality and the images they received from a foreign environment. And it was delivered in Arabic, with moral monitoring. In fact, neither the state-run nor the satellite channels have radically changed the Maghrib viewers' self-conceptions or visions of the world, especially with regard to their aspirations to modernity and democracy. Both the public and the private systems are nourishing the two contradictory elements that compose the Arab citizen (especially in the Maghrib): the attraction towards what Europe can bring as a model of consumption, and the rejection (or the fear) of what the Western World implies in terms of the necessity for the individual to free himself from his cultural bondage. The virtual dividing line could be their relation to the public sphere when they watch their national TV and to the private sphere where they express their own choice for a foreign channel.

According to a study undertaken in Algeria and Tunisia, the majority of male viewers watch the evening news on the sole Algerian channel even if they spend more time on the foreign channels. The same study showed that 60% of the females prefer to stay with the Arab channels throughout the day. This seems to confirm that whatever the degree of attraction to or rejection of the ruling system, people's loyalty to the major news journal may appear as a form of allegiance to official speech. Consequently, within the private sphere, their schizophrenic behavior is founded on the relationship between their rejection and their attraction to the different sources of information. And thus, as Dina El-Khawaga writes, "The growth of the satellite channels seems to delight both transmitters and receivers. The states affect to pretend that the satellite technology is an evidence of their modernism and political opening…, while the opposition forces see in these channels an efficient means of expression and public visibility."(9)

In Algeria however, the Islamic Fundamentalists at first attempted to combat the new satellite channels, or at least to persuade the population to reject the dishes, which they called "devil dishes." However, after the 1991 war against Iraq and before the parliamentary elections, the Algerian official channel opened up its talk shows and programs to the leaders of the Islamic Salvation Front who suddenly discovered the great advantage of having their movement be media-borne and propagated. After their victory, and the subsequent cancellation of elections, these same leaders discovered that overseas they were the object of fascination for European media and that these media outlets were ready and willing to keep them on the air. Thus, they continued to address their supporters by using the means provided by "the enemy."

On the opposite side, the ruling classes in the Maghrib started to develop a defense strategy against what they (and the French) call "the cultural invasion." This strategy has a name-"the cultural exception."

In an article entitled "Cultural Dependence and Audio-visual Creation," Yvonne Mignot-Lefebvre argues that the idea of western media's growing hegemony over southern media is overstated. Instead, she thinks that the new offerings on the world market have created an attraction among audiences for new programs like those produced by Globo in Brazil or Televisa in Mexico, programs that have led to a revival of Amerindian roots. To these examples we might add those Arab series which fascinate millions of watchers.(10) We may also welcome the apparition of a new "transnational" model of visual consumption.

As N. Sail observed, the more our societies set their eyes upon universality, the more we see an aggravation of a frenzied nationalism that inevitably leads to a more or less quiet schizophrenia. The nature of the new demands placed upon television media lies within the different repressed cultural components that structure the Maghrib societies. The need is not created by the repeated offers made by the Arab and western satellite channels but by the call for recognition that is expressed by any society. Tunisian researcher Larbi Chouikha confirms that the choice of images does not go travel through the state filter. Demand is now formulated and built into the private sphere (which is mostly, however, collective) after conflicts, negotiations and compromises between different social, cultural and cultural behaviors. Chouikha concludes that "the remote control allows many travels without a visa."(11)

The Situation after the Second War in Iraq

After the success of MBC, a large number of Arab satellite channels appeared in the Maghrib skies. Among those that have had a visible impact on audiences is the Saudi-funded ART, which recently acquired the exclusive rights for the African soccer championship and nearly prevented the Maghrib channels from screening the matches in which their national teams competed. A compromise was reached a few days before that happened, but if it were to happen in the future, the on-screen absence of national teams would be resented as a severe blow to what is still considered as emblematic of the old conception of sovereignty.

The third channel that for a time seemed to attract viewers before taking a back seat in the region was the also Saudi-owned Orbit. Nilesat and its digital decoder was also present among a small percentage of the audience. The greatest novelty, however, was the intrusion of the Qatar-based Al Jazeera into the small circle of all-news channels, alongside BBC world, CNN, and the French LCI. Because it seems to flatter Islamic values-the ruling elite would even say that it backs Islamic fundamentalism-Al Jazeera and its talk shows rapidly gained a large audience, often at the expense of MBC. Since it moved from London to the Middle East, MBC has been reproached for programming films that are less in conformity with Islamic values and ethics. With the terrorist attacks on New York and the invasion of Afghanistan, the impact of Al Jazeera increased again and it has become dominant after the invasion of Iraq by the Coalition. One may remember that in spite of massive demonstrations against the first war in Iraq, the people of the Maghrib had showed a rapid but deep disappointment after Saddam's shameful defeat. Since the different Arab regimes failures had failed to resist Israel and the West, the peoples of the Maghrib felt willing to move away from pan-Arab ideology and get closer to Europe. At that precise moment, they wanted, through the remote control, to limit their relation with the Arab World to what the satellite channels would provide in order to nourish a segment of their cultural identity.

When the USA expelled the Taliban from power, the reaction of the populations of the Maghrib (who had suffered from terrorists training in their own countries) was rather positive. With the second war in Iraq, the disaffection of the people there for Arab problems were confirmed. Except for small number of rallies in Morocco, most North African cities remained quiet and yet attentive to the news coming from the Gulf. This situation was turned to good account by Al-Arabiya which found a point of entry to the local audience. From that time on, Al-Arabiya, which is transmitted through Hotbird, has been sharing the all-news slot with Al Jazeera, which however remains dominant in the region.

In fact it seems that the most widely viewed program are the talk-shows, especially when these involve participants from the Maghrib and/or when they deal with Islam, fundamentalism, and relations with the Western world. Again we can see here that these channels are nourishing the cultural conflict that lies within the unconscious of every individual in this Arab-Berber land.

Two other channels-the all-religious Iqra', launched by Sheikh Saleh Kamel and received in the Maghrib through Arabsat and Hotbird and the Lebanese Shiite-oriented Al Manar, backed by Hizbollah-have lately appeared in the North African skies. The former is often viewed on Fridays and holy days, or after the faithful leave the mosques. The latter is curious in its expansion of Shiite propaganda among a Sunni population, a population that indeed practices the austere Malekite rite. The Lebanese LBCI is also popular among young people who can afford to have more than one set, since it is believed that the station does not possess sufficiently Islamic values.

Since 1997, state-run Algerian TV has tried to broadcast its programming on a satellite channel, via Arabsat, targeting the three and a half million North Africans that live in Europe and the Arab world through Canal Algérie and Algerian TV 3 respectively. These two channels have proved to be a poor copy of a poor national television, which still devotes one hour a day to the president's activities. The same can be said of the Moroccan and Tunisian channels. 2M seems to be the Maghrib channel most widely watched in France.

Worried about the loss of influence of the French channels in the Maghrib and irritated by the presence of Arabic-speaking channels coming from the other side of the sea, the French government has decided to launch an all-news channel which is supposed to compete with CNN and Al Jazeera; the government, however, has not put a sufficient amount of money into the project.

However, a new kind of satellite channel is appearing on Maghrib skies, one that is initiated by Algerian-born French citizens. The first one is Beur TV, which, although it is supposed to target the French population originating from the Maghrib, is viewed by many Algerians. The second is Berber TV, whose audience consists of the 10 million people in Algeria and Morocco who speak Amazigh, the language of North Africa before the advent of Islam. The third is KTV. This last channel is an all-news channel based in London; it belongs to Moumen Khalifa, the very controversial billionaire whose financial empire collapsed last year in Algeria. The common factor among these three channels is that although they have a European status, they nonetheless address Maghrib audiences in a style that blends the European and the Middle Eastern Arab.

These channels have gained a place in the Algerian internal political arena and their impact on the April presidential elections has proven to be sometimes crucial. Ali Benflis, the FLN candidate addressed his electorate from Paris in one of the Berber dialects through Berber TV. That was quite a striking novelty that may have its importance in the final verdict. Most of the other candidates imitated Benflis, and even President Bouteflika decided (in spite of his opposition to any breach in the state monopoly on TV and radio frequencies) that one of his last interviews would come through Al Jazeera (without at the same time ignoring the French-Algerian channels based in France).

As we can see, competition in the information market has deeply modified the Arab vision of the role of the media and its capacity to counterbalance what some resent as Western "hegemony." The question is whether this change will stay on a consumer level or whether it will be able to enhance the political and democratic vision of the average Arab viewer. Daoud Kuttab expresses his doubts "about the 'liberal' vision of steady progress towards democracy through free competition in the information market."(12) My conviction is that Arab societies have changed and that the Arab media, especially the satellite channels, are simply confirming and accompanying the process. Most of the regimes in the Arab world have seen the advantage of "instrumentalizing" the satellite channels. These channels reinforce what Jon Alterman calls "a real basic identity"(13) and have become a privileged space for media diplomacy. The regimes offer a modicum of exotic freedom to their citizens, knowing perfectly well that most of them will be present at the nightly ritual show of the king or president's activities. The all-news channels play the role that the print press plays in Algeria: they are free to say or write whatever they want, but once it is done, everybody returns to his former occupation and life goes on. The freedom of the press in the Western world is the natural result of a democratic evolution that started with the Enlightenment several centuries ago. Democracy and the rule of law create the freedom of the press, and not the reverse. TBS

Dr. Ahmed Bedjaoui is a journalist and television producer and teaches audiovisual journalism at the University of Algiers. He created and for nine years has managed REMFOC, a European Community program dedicated to professional journalists in the Maghrib.


1. B. Mostefaoui "La Télévision Française au Maghreb," L'Harmattan, Paris 1995.
2. L. Madani, "Modalité et usages de la réception télévisée par satellite au Maghreb" in Naqd 8/9, Alger 1995.
3. Op .cit.
4. J. Stolitz "Les Algériens regardent Dallas" in Les Nouvelles Chaînes. PUF, Paris 1993.
5. A. Chaqrun in Le Maghreb et le défi de l'image satellite. ISJ, Rabat 1996
6. N. Sail "Images, Satellites et Maghreb" in Le Maghreb et le défi de l'image satellite, op. cit.
7. Smili, H. "Défi international et programmation nationale" in Le Maghreb et le défi de l'image satellite, op.cit.
8. B. Mostefaoui "Les sociétés maghrébines sous influence" in Naqd op.cit.
9. D. El-Khawaga, "Le Journalisme télévisuel dans le monde arabe : l'essor d'une nouvelle profession" in Mondialisation et nouveaux médias dans l'espace arabe. Maisonneuve & Larose, Paris 2003.
10. Y.Mignot-Lefebvre, "Dépendance culturelle et création audiovisuelle" in Naqd, op.cit.
11. J.P. Bras, Hermès N° 23-24, Paris CNRS 1999
12. C. Ayad, "Middle East : Media Pluralism Via Satellite" in TBS 11 Fall/Winter 2003 (
13. C. Ayad, op.cit.

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