Book Review
Reviewed by Mohammad Ibahrine, University of Erfurt

Ayish, Muhammad. 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 cultural actors … 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 the interplay.

Ayish formulates 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.

The traditional 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.

Anyone 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.

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Copyright 2005 Transnational Broadcasting Studies
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