The Middle East media have changed considerably over the last decades. Prior to the introduction of satellite broadcasting, internet and liberal press, the Arab world and society had the evident state control and highly limited censorship. However, the new technologies made a ground for further development of the Arab society, especially the public affairs. The authoritarian policies in the particular region have been seeking to tackle with the new situation but appeared to be powerless. Globalization has made the majority of the Arab countries get used to the media changes and developments. The introduction of new censorship laws and thus the stretch of the authoritarian influence on the satellite sphere became the results of the changes. The new challenges were also caused by the terrible tragedy in September 11 in the USA and the Iraq War in 2003. Due to such a complicated situation, new perspective drawings and developments were searched.
History of the Arab Media
The media freedom in the Middle East over the last century was determined by the interaction of technological, economic, social, and political factors, including independence from the French, British and Ottoman empires, the formation of Israel state and its continuing war with Gaza, civil military conflicts, and the Gulf War (Essoulami, 2006). Rapid increase of oil price, development of literacy, and competition between various sources of mass media also influenced the development of the liberal and extent media and human freedoms.
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In the particular regions such as Egypt, the independent Arab written press did not exist till the middle of the 19th century. Concerning Syria and Iraq, the written press was introduced a few years later; however, it was the target of constant censorship, and Syrian-Lebanese journalists had to move abroad to other countries (Essoulami, 2006). In Egypt, the press freedom was guaranteed. In Turkey, some journalists who sought to struggle the authorities were punished by incarceration and newspapers ban. However, since 1908, the legal and political restrictions were ruined. Primarily, these changes allowed developing an independent press in Egypt, Syria, and Iraq. Consequently, 144 newspapers appeared in Egypt (Essoulami, 2006). After the World War II, the press became an efficient mean to struggle for independence. The national economics of the Arab states should have been built based on freedom and rights of the citizens.
In the second part of the 21st century, the satellite broadcasting was introduced. On April 14, 1976, the Arab Satellite Communications Organization was established (Kraidy, 2002). Its main goal was to serve the informational, cultural, and educational needs for the population. Due to great financial resources taken from the oil price boom, Saudi Arabia was the main financier of this organization. The capital of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh, became the headquarter of the organization. The first satellite was sent into space in 1967, the second one was successfully launched by U.S. space shuttle, Discovery, in 1985 (Kraidy, 2002). ARABSAT launched the second generation satellites in July and November 1996 (Kraidy, 2002). Their advanced technical capacities became a competitive source in the region and a sufficient contribution to the Arab world globalization.
Due to technical development, Arab governments encouraged private companies to share the distribution of information and entertainment for more than 300 million Arabic speakers. In 1991, the primary satellite was broadcasting by the Middle East Broadcasting Center. The Egyptian government satellite channels have a great amount of contenders. The Arab Radio and Television was broadcasted in Arabic and English in 1993 (Kraidy, 2002). Later, it was followed by Orbit Satellite Television and Radio Network that transmitted about 19 television channels. In1996, the Middle Eastern vast territory was filled with various satellite programs. Taking into account the competitiveness on this market, some government services such as Libya TV, Yemen TV, Jordan TV, and the Syrian Satellite Channel were the stoic rivals for private companies, including MBC, ART, Orbit, the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International, and Lebanon’s Future Television (Kraidy, 2002).
Causes of Globalization Effects
The political influence has shaped and formed the new media industry and was a barrier for the growth of the latter. Satellite television and press have undermined government restrictions in order for the transmission of various programs to be conducted from any Arab country and for the signal to be received by any other country. Some experts argued this development and explained it as the sign or movement of a pan-Arab society released from state censorship. Approving this fact, it should be mentioned that satellite television programs are used nowadays as conductors for a democratic reconditioning of the society (Irmie, 2014). Consequently, in such a society, audience would mobilize and take part in the political life of the country. Though some states in this region partly allow the freedom to media, they still provide substantial control.
The marketization of the media was a force to disrupt the voice monopoly provided by authoritarian regimes. The profound political focus and martial style of Al Jazeera have quickly acclimatized the Arab audience in a dramatic way; it is shut out of the large Eastern market for political grounds despite its huge audience. In 2004, the Saudi Arabian owners of the channel have changed its management to transmit more pro-American coverage facing the risk to lose market share (Irmie, 2014).
The Internet has made the Arab press alive. Disregarding the high level of illiteracy, the rapid expansion of mass education and high value set on the texts in Islamic culture confirms the globalization encompassed the print media. Globalization has helped to overcome the difficulty in reaching the audience in the Middle East due to the price of the press and the risk that government could stop it using censorship (Ulrich, 2009). However, these newspapers were widely circulated among the elites who can now freely post their information online. Thus, the Arab world has extremely changed.
The cultural consequences of Arabic satellite television are dual. On the one hand, international mass media have strengthened cultural connection between Arab and West countries. Festivals, exhibits, competitions, and industrial cooperation are considered the most desirable consequences of media development. Mass media have grown a pan-Arab consciousness. This became the first step to the identification. Some experts paid particular attention to the Arab vernacular language, which has become a kind of pan-Arab lingua franca. These developments highlight the Arab “imagined community” with the same concerns and regional belonging.
On the other hand, the growth of the Arab broadcasting has resulted in more imported programs from the Western countries, which create controversy in conservative Arab society. The so-called “Western cultural invasion” becomes a top theme in religious and political discourse of the Arab world (Urschel, 2000). The point is that the regional traditions, language, and conventions are under threat of elimination due to Western values. Additionally, the Eastern conservative social views on sexual issue are challenged by Western values and media standards in which the sexual request is used as a marketing tool. The domestic print press, named as a socio-cultural judge, from time to time criticizes the TV’s perceived excesses. One more urgent issue is the consumer culture. The consumerism is a matter of learned behavior stoked by the media in a commercial media sphere that the Arab media situation has become at a fast pace (Urschel, 2000).
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Many disputes have appeared between Saudi Arabia on one hand and European and Arab media companies on the other for publishing or transmitting information considered offensive to Eastern values. While consumerism is not the red flag for Arab supporters of tradition in sexuality, it is a strong force for cultural change that will grow since the majority of Arab countries have the goal of integration in the global economy.
In spite of immense growth, transnational satellite television in the Arab countries is at the level of infancy. There are numerous evident facts that the Arab society has a number of limitations and constraints on the way to become globalized. However, the development of media, including the Internet and networking tools, has obviously made a great contribution to the society’s global participation and democracy development. In the Arab world, privately owned satellite television stations are still indirectly controlled by the ruling elites. Government stations are still the official voices of the regimes. Hence, the country has much different and restricted from the European and Western worlds.