by Mohammad Ibahrine, University of Erfurt
Arab World Television in the Age of Globalization: an Analysis
of Emerging Political, Economic, Cultural and Technological
Patterns. Hamburg: Deutsches Orient-Institut, 2003. 121
P. ISBN 3-89173-071-3.
During the last decade,
Arab media has undergone enormous changes. The trends and patterns
that characterize its modus operandi have been in constant flux,
under pressure from both external and internal forces. In lurid
headlines it has been hyped, vilified, and glamorized -- but
rarely studied as an academic subject. This is unfortunate,
because the lack of serious literature has obscured its rapid
development, making it difficult for observers to investigate.
Ayish begins his
theoretical chapter by dividing the analytical approaches to
media into three paradigms, namely the modernization paradigm,
the dependency paradigm, and the globalization paradigm. After
reviewing the existing scholarly literature on the globalization
paradigm, he argues convincingly that much of this literature
is empirically flawed because it focuses "more on globalized
as well as globalized audiences"
and "overlooks the rise of a new level of television flow
and impact within numerous world regions" (p.23). Moreover,
Ayish designs his understanding of globalization to be applied
in the subsequent empirical analyses, structured after the four
globalization components-political (Chapter 3), economical (Chapter
4), cultural (Chapter 5), and technological (Chapter 6). In
light of Roland Roberston's understanding of globalization,
Ayish argues that the powerful homogenizing forces of globalization
have not negated the existence of "an active interplay
between the global, national, and local" (p.23).
While the main thesis
of the book is that television development in the Arab world
in the 1990s was "a function of the interplay between local
and global forces in political, cultural, economic, and technological
sectors" (p.25), the book falls short of a detailed discussion
of Robertson's term "glocalization." Ayish refers
to the notion of "glocalization" (p.18), without discussing
it and without showing its relevance to his understanding of
a "media interplay model" that hypothesizes that the
local variables will depend upon the global variables. In the
second section of the book (Chapters 3-6), Ayish applies his
interaction model to assess the interplay of global and local
forces in the region since the early 1990s.
Ayish's second chapter
is a historical account of Arab world television history. He
divides the development of Arab world television into three
main periods. The first period is the formative phase (1954-1975)
and was characterized by the "commercial start" and
by "private players" that were engaged in these activities
"for purely commercial purposes" (p.26). The second
phase is that of national expansion (1976-1990). During this
phase, Arab regimes "sought to build up their national
broadcasting capabilities through training local staff; increasing
local production; pooling inter-Arab production resources, and
by extending transmissions to cover national territories"
(p.29). Imported programs from the United States, Europe, and
Egypt dominated the programming. The third phase is the regional
and global expansion since 1990 due to a number of developments,
including mass education, rapid urbanization, political transformation,
and technology diffusion (p.31).
Ayish outlines what
lies ahead for Arab world television. One trend includes the
convergence process that manifested itself in the "establishment
of webcasting services for multiple broadcasters." Another
trend is that of mergers. Arab regimes will have to adjust to
deal with these developments by, for instance, merging "multiple
satellite television services into single super channels"
to rationalize resources and be competitive (p.34).
During the past
decade, there has been much scholarly debate about the potential
of the satellite in creating a "genuinely free" public
sphere and the decline of the regime's influence since the early
1990s. Ayish goes a long way towards clearing up the confusion
surrounding the role of Arab satellite broadcasting in Arab
politics by means of two case studies, namely the case of Al
Jazeera and the Intifada.
In Chapter 4, the book examines critically questions of financing
broadcast operations and of financial survival, granted limited
Arab advertising markets. According to Ayish, there are five
patterns of television financing in the Arab world: government
budgetary subsidies, advertising, Pay-TV, media free zones,
and corporate pooling. Of enduring significance for the democratizing
role of these satellite outlets are media free zones in some
Arab countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and the United
Arab Emirates. These free zones are spaces provided to media
organizations to start their operations in a tax-free environment.
One of the book's
greatest achievements is the breadth of its primary research,
in that it draws upon a wide range of sources including interviews,
content analyses of news media coverage, historical investigation,
Internet research, and personal observations.
In addition to the
successes in developing a theoretical framework for the empirically
rich chapters, the book's most illuminating strength is its
typologies, of which the author develops a number. In the third
chapter, he distinguishes between three patterns of political
communication: traditional government-controlled television,
reformist government-controlled television, and liberal commercial
television. In the fifth chapter, he distinguishes between the
globalist pattern, the localist pattern, and the glocalist pattern.
A third typology in this book is elaborated in the sixth chapter,
where Ayish identifies two main technological policy patterns
-- the pragmatist policy pattern and the formalist one.
government-controlled television pattern is dominant in countries
such as Libya, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Yemen, Sudan,
Tunisia, and Morocco. The reformist government-controlled television
pattern is to be found in countries such as the United Arab
Emirates, Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain, and Algeria. The commercial
liberal television pattern is dominant in Qatar, Egypt, Saudi
Arabia, and Lebanon. Ayish's political communication typology
is usefully structured and bears some resemblance to William
Rugh's typology of the Arab media (see review
in TBS 12). Ayish, however, takes a far more practical approach
in defining the three patterns. There are, nevertheless, some
problems with this. For instance, the commercial liberal television
pattern is not in fact dominant in Saudi Arabia but rather is
funded by Saudi capital, hence the author's reference to MBC,
ART and Orbit when including Saudi Arabia in this third type.
who is interested in contemporary Arab media will undoubtedly
find this short book informative. Overall, it is highly sophisticated
and will be of considerable interest to scholars. It is highly
recommended for policy-makers, professional TV and satellite
observers, and anyone who is interested in one of the world's
most dynamic media landscapes.