“The Al Jazeera Effect: how the new global media are reshaping world politics”

The Al Jazeera Centre for Studies will launch the Arabic Edition of: “The Al Jazeera Effect: How the New Global Media are Reshaping World Politics” next Saturday in Doha, Qatar. The event is part of the upcoming Al Jazeera Forum, which has got an extensive section dedicated to social media.

The book is authored by Professor Philip Seib and translated into Arabic by Ezzeddine Abdelmoula, who works for the Al Jazeera Centre for Studies.

A brief synopsis about the book: The battle for hearts and minds in the Middle East is being fought not on the streets of Cairo, Tunis, Tripoli, Manama or Sana’a, but on the newscasts and talk shows of Al Jazeera. The future of China and other global powers is being shaped not by governments or bureaucracies of the ruling parties, but by bloggers working quietly in cyber cafes. In these and many other instances, traditional ways of reshaping global politics have been superseded by the influence of new media—satellite television, the Internet, and other high-tech tools. Al Jazeera is a paradigm of new media’s influence, and the Al Jazeera effect phenomenon is reshaping the world. The recently published Arabic edition of this topical book that cuts right through the new media debate comes at a time while Al Jazeera’s effect is manifest more than ever before.

About the author: Philip Seib is professor of journalism and public diplomacy at the University of South California. He is the author and editor of many books, including: Headline Diplomacy: How News Coverage Affects Foreign Policy; The Global Journalist: News and Conscience in a World of Conflict; Beyond the Frontlines: How the News Media Cover a World Shaped by War; Media and Conflict in the 21st Century; Broadcasts from the Blitz: How Edward R. Murrow Helped Lead America into War; and New Media and the News Middle East. Professor Seib is co-editor of the journal, Media, War, and Conflict.

Wadah Khanfar`s Al Jazeera at TED: “The future has arrived in the Arab world..and it is now”

Few days ago Wadah Khanfar, general manager of Al Jazeera network, flew to TED conference and give this talk which I would like to share here.

The enthusiasm he delivers in the talk is the enthusiasm of all of us that have been witnessing, particularly after 9/11, an escalation of violence, war, foreign invasions in the Arab region and now can finally welcome -for the first time-a  change which is not coming from outside.

He speaks about a “a new generation, educated, well-connected.. that has taught us new ways to express our feelings”.He points out at he failure of the old generation (and the old regimes, and the West that has been supporting them for decades) in understanding what this generation wants and dreams about. He wisely invites the West not to think about the Arab world “as oil only”.

Rather, it should think at this youth as a new resource, as “an opportunity to see stability, security and democracy”  coming from within the Region.

When he talks about  the fact that Al Jazeera has been banned from operating in Tunisia for a while (and Egypt also has been trying many times either to shut the Cairo office down or to jam the channel TV signal) he says something very important. Prevented from working there, (Al Jazeera)

” we found that these people in the street were our reporters”. People that are armed with light cameras, mobiles, Facebook and Twitter accounts, You Tube uploads.

I remember very clearly many years Mohamed Nanahbay, now head of Online at Al jazeera English, talking at a panel where somebody asked why Al Jazeera was investing so much in new media, by giving people light cameras and mobiles to film. Nanahbay smiled and said: “we are training our future reporters! This youth at some point will go down in the streets filmming and writing and they will remember of us. They will remember that we have opened a channel for them”.

Well, I think that now this long-term strategy has finally paid back. And Khanfar,  himself young (he`s 43 and already director general of the whole Al Jazeera network), has won over  the prestigious TED conference`s audience and Chris Anderson and maybe many US viewers..

Later today Hillary Clinton declared that” Al Jazeera is gaining more prominence in the U.S. because it offers “real news”–something she said American media were falling far short of doing”.

Definitely a different scenario from the 10 years ago “terrorist station”..

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A (surreal) virtual tour of Arab satellite TV channels during the “revolution” days..

Let me guide you on a quick virtual tour  through some Arab satellite TV channels tonight, while protests are escalating in Yemen, Libya and Bahrain and people being injured and even killed by army or thugs.

Let`s start from Libyan state TV. At the same time when videos like this one (“Protesters in Libya shot and killed by Gheddafi thugs”) are being circulated through social networks and many active Libyan tweeps like @ShababLibya are spreading real time news of  protesters being killed,  state TV was broadcasting patriotic folk songs in honour of the “leader” Gheddafi (malik al-muluk, “the king of the kings”). After the folk show was over, a mass demonstration was broadcast immediately. Not the same one we were informed about through Twitter or the Guardian or  BBC though: a very different one, populated by Gheddafi`s pictures and overcrowded by supporters of the regime.

Using the power of my remote control, I`ve jumped to Yemen state TV. This was much more interesting and engaging than hearing folk patriotic songs! Yemen Tv was broadcasting a Japanese TV anime dubbed in classical Arabic. Not even Russian film director and theorist Ejzenstein could have been so clever to alternate this gentle Japanese TV manga with Al Jazeera Arabic`s images from the Yemeni capital Sana featuring one of the opposition leaders and showing huge anti-regime mass protests. I love Japanese TV cartoons, but I have to admit I was a bit shocked by the courage shown by the Yemeni broadcasters to calm down its viewers with a Japanese-classical Arabic dubbed TV “placebo “.

Finally I`ve jumped into the more realistic TV images of this night spent watching the incredible TV offer of more than 500 Arabic satellite channels. Saudi state TV was broadcasting Tash ma tash, the controversial Saudi musalsal which in the past has dealt  with “hot potatoes” like religious diversity in the Kingdom, women`s and human rights, religious extremism.

Finally, a glimpse of reality-TV in this surreal performance of Arab TV channels during day #feb17 of “revolution”!

Re-enchantment of Arab Television

Just a reminder of this conference organized by Ehab Galal, my colleague at Copenhagen University, Denmark. Deadline is on 30 October so hurry up!

CfP:Re-enchantment of Arab Television

Copenhagen University, Denmark

The New Islamic Public Sphere Programme RE-ENCHANTMENT OF ARAB TELEVISION:

Call for conference paper and subsequent book proposals

The New Islamic Public Sphere Programme invites proposals for papers at the Conference on
Re-enchantment of Arab Television: Audience responses and identity constructions
to be held in
Copenhagen, 27 ­ 29 May 2011

The main issue of this conference is how Arab audiences respond to religion and
religious programming on Arab television. A focus on Islamic programming is particularly
requested, but also papers on audience responses to other religious programming are
encouraged. In spite of the common recognition that the effect of media has to be
understood in the encounter between media discourse and audience responses, very often
the Arab television audiences seem to be perceived as a passive, impressionable and
homogenous mass. This raises the need for further and critical reception and audience
analyses taking the heterogeneity and transnationality of the Arab audiences into
account. Thus, the main objective of the conference, and subsequent book proposal, is to
gain new knowledge about the Arab audiences and how they make use of TV in their
construction, negotiation and rejection of religious identities and practices.

The conference objective is to present and discuss qualitative and comparative studies
of Arab television audiences. This approach raises questions related to media and
(religious) identity formation as well as a number of methodological questions of
general interest for media and cultural studies. Concepts like meaning making and
individual identity construction are introduced as key notions in general but three
interrelated analytical approaches are suggested for further exploration. Firstly,
audience identification with religious identity as collective memory constructed through
storytelling. Secondly, audience use of religious programming as an instrument to live
and identify transnationally. And, thirdly, audience interpretation of religious
programming as basis for resistance towards political hegemonies.
These topics will be investigated at three seminar sessions wherein the following
questions might be examined:

•       How does tthe audience integrate the mediatised form of religious storytelling
in its own identity discourse and how does the audience construct collective identity
through media use?
o       Arab/Muslim audience as an analytical and theoretical concept with a focus on
theoretical discussions hereof.
o       Media theory on Arab/Muslim audience responses with a focus on methodological
and analytical questions.
o       Case studies on audience responses using cases related to television.

•       How is the transnationality of the Arrab television practiced and consumed by
the audience and what does this add to the transnational perspective as a theoretical
perspective on religious and cultural identity?
o       The Arab/Muslim Diaspora and its TV media practices.
o       The construction of transnational communities as spatial and/or virtual

•       How do Arabs/Musslims in different societal contexts make use of religious
narratives offered by the Arab television to negotiate, reject, and contest cultural and
political ideas, values and identities?
o       Arab/Muslim audience as a political public using religious television as source
for opposition and resistance.

Submission of proposals:
Abstracts (300 ­ 500 words) should be sent by 30th October 2010 too Ehab Galal at
(ehab AT hum.ku.dk).

Abstract, following this order: author(s), affiliation, email address, title of
abstract, body of abstract, short CV (max. 150 words).

A full draft paper of 8000 words should be submitted no later than 1st May 2011.

Selection of the papers will be made on the basis of quality and relevance to the
conference themes. Only accepted papers will get an answer by the date mentioned below.
Selected papers will be published in a special volume in English.

o       Submission of abstracts: 30th October 2010
o       Notification of acceptance of abstracts: 1st December 2010
o       Submission of full papers: 1st May 2011

Financial and other support:
All participants will be provided basic accommodation free of cost for a maximum of
three nights for participants within Europe; for participants outside Europe individual
arrangement will be made.

For additional information:
Organizer Ehab Galal
Assistant Professor in Modern Islam and Middle Eastern Studies
Department for Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies
University of Copenhagen
Snorresgade 17-19
DK-2300 Copenhagen S
E-mail: ehab AT hum.ku.dk

The conference will take place under the auspices of The New Islamic Public Sphere
Programme at the University of Copenhagen. For further information, see:

PHD School at Danish Institute in Damascus to focus on musalsalat and entertainment in the Arab media

Since Ramadan has become the “month of musalsalat”, this announcement will probably match with the general “mood”.

The Danish Institute in Damascus, together with Copenhagen University, will be hosting a PHD school entirely dedicated to the “Arab TV fiction and entertainment industries”. The school will be hosted by the Danish Institute in Damascus, a wonderful old Arab house in Old Damascus, from 25 to 30 November 2010. Everybody doing research on musalsalat or any topic related to entertainment is welcome to send a paper proposal. The full announcement can be found on the Danish Institute website or on Copenhagen university website. Deadline for paper proposal submission is 30 September.

The final day will host a seminar entirely dedicated to musalsalat, featuring Syrian and international experts.

“West by the Arab media” and musalsalat on YouTube

After many people asked for copies, and thanks to my Danish friend @moltke, I was finally able to upload  on my brand new  YouTube channel ThedonatellaDR (sounds a little bit “over” but not many other names were available) some excerpts of the festival “Occidente dai media arabi” that we held in January 2008 at Teatro Palladium in Rome, then replicated in a smaller version at the European Parliament in Brussels in April 2009.

After those two major screenings, I’ve been showing around during many academic presentations those incredibly interesting little fragments of Arab TV, and everybody kept asking “could you make a copy for me?!”.

Finally we won’t need to copy anymore and you could find this material online (it’s great that some teachers and educational institutions have been asking for it already).

Those are the 4 clips from the festival that we have uploaded on You Tube:

“Irhab Academy” (Terrorism Academy), Saudi Arabia 2006

Written by Abdallah B. Al Otibi -a former “wannabe” jihadist that now makes  “anti terror”television programs-   this is an episode of the well known Saudi musalsal “Tash ma tash” that has been broadcasted during each Ramadan for many years and it’s widely popular all across the Arab Region.

A powerful satire of the famous Lebanese reality show Star Academy”, “Irhab Academy” uses the strongest weapon of mass distruction -irony- to ridiculize terrorism as an act of stupidity.

“Block 13”, Kuwait 2001-2003

The Kuwaiti “version” (very different indeed, except from the drawings) of South Park set in a Gulf capital. The excerpt shows a funny scene with a copycat of Saddam Hussein triying to kidnap Kuwaiti scholarbus in a clumsy way.

“Al Hur al ein” (The beautiful maiden), United Arab Emirates, 2005

Directed by Syrian Najdat Anzour (one of the most controversial and acclaimed Arab directors), the soap opera tells about the 2003 terrorist attacks to a compound in Riyad, Saudi Arabia, that killed  35 people and wounded over 160, mostly Arabs.

“Saqf al alam” (The roof of the world), Syria, 2007

“Saqf al alam” has a special meaning, expecially those days that the Danish cartoons controversy has been revamped by the gloomy revelations of David Headley, who admitted an existing terror plot against Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten.

The scene that we have translated and uploaded shows that there could be another way to address the issue, which both Muslims and Danes should seek: dialogue.

The Al Waleed-Murdoch Middle Eastern connection raises Arab fears

Thanks to my Twitter friends, I’ve just jumped into this interesting Zawya’s article (based on AFP)  “Murdoch’s pan-Arab foray seen as ‘Trojan horse’ in Egypt”.

The article starts like that:

“The tie-up between Arab entertainment giant Rotana and pro-Israel media mogul Rupert Murdoch is viewed in Egypt not only with suspicion but as signalling the decline of Arab film and art heritage”.

I’m actually more surprised for this article coming from AFP rather than for its actual contents.

Arabs now fearing that this alliance would bring “normalisation” to Arab-Israeli relations and would result into a benefit for Israel  frankly looks a bit naif.

Murdoch and Al Waleed have been doing business together for a long time. The Saudi Prince is actually the only non- family member to own a stake in Murdoch’s News Corp capital (see 23 January post on this blog).

In 1997 the Time reports  Al Waleed stating that:

“I want to concentrate on communications, technology, entertainment and news. This is the future. News Corp. is the only truly global news and entertainment company.”

“His business investments in the Middle East, for example, provide him with direct access to Arab heads of state, on whom he may have a moderating influence, since many of Alwaleed’s international partners are Jewish and support Israel. “Religion has never been a barrier between us,” says Four Seasons Hotels Inc. CEO Isadore Sharp. “He mentioned once that we have similar value systems and moral principles.”
Al Waleed and Murdoch have been involved in a long time business friendship. Why are Arabs so scared of Murdoch bringing pro- Israeli arguments in the Region now that he owns a stake in Rotana?
Didn’t they know that the Prince has been directly involved in News Corp. for many years?
Why haven’t they questioned him before?
Al Waleed is a smart businessman, he has investments in major sectors of Western economies (hotels, entertainment, technology, etc). He is also smart in the Middle East, where at the same time he sponsors “liberal” pop channels like Rotana and Islamic entertainment stations like Al Risala TV.
Once I attended a media forum in Dubai, many years ago, and the Prince was there. At the time,  Muslim riots were exploding everywhere in France, particularly in Paris suburbs. The Prince said he was not happy about the way Fox News (which belongs to News Corp) was covering the events, being it anti-Muslims biased. So he just picked up the phone and called his long-time friend in order to “adjust” the coverage.
(as the AFP take reported by Zawya reminds: “When in 2005 Alwaleed was reported as saying he had influenced how Fox News depicted rioting in heavily Muslim suburbs in France, the conservative Accuracy in Media group called for an investigation”).
It’s a funny story and Arabs should bear this in mind when they start pointing at a pro-Israeli (or anti-Arab) conspiracy.
Is this starting only because Murdoch is finally coming himself to Region?
Did everybody in the Arab world really ignore that Al Waleed was doing business with Murdoch since long time ago?
Were they so “naif” to ignore the fact that, by owning a significant stake in News Corp., the Prince could have actually an influence himself on its editorial strategy instead of being  passively influenced by it?

Business is business, and sometime this is true also in the Arab world. Al Waleed has been working with Murdoch for many years in order to grow his commercial interests in Western profitable media industries. Being Murdoch a pro-Israeli or not, this doesn’t matter to Al Waleed so much. They are both businessmen in a global economy.
That would be great if Arab journalists and intellectuals would once focus on the deeper political-economical implications of this deal, perform the duties of  investigative journalism and do analysis, instead of going back always to the same old story of “conspiracy” which mostly helps maintaining a passive and not constructive attitude in the Arab world.

Monitoring Lebanese elections through citizen journalism

Lebanese elections are tomorrow but the buzz online has already started. Sharek961, the open source project built on the Ushahidi platform, is an independent, non-partisan group of people and ngos interested in monitoring the elections and promote trasparency. Many individuals and citizens will contribute sending their feeds through sms, web, etc and some very cool lebanese ngos like Smex and Rootspace are  members of the project. They also have a Twitter account @sharek961.

The Lebanese Twitter crowd will be very active tomorrow -as it is today-. The most used hashtag seem to be #Lebaneseelections and #Lebanon#Elections.

Also Meedan is putting lots of efforts in monitoring the elections. I will be doing my best, together with some of them, to report about how Arab media is covering the event. But we need more volunteers! So, pls, if somebody is interested to help us setting an Arab Media Monitoring Task Force (there are so many channels to watch!) send a Twitter message @donatelldr, an email at ddr@mediaoriente.com or join the discussion on Meedan. Shukran kteer!

Thoughts about the EU Parliament meeting on Arab media

The meeting about Arab media was hosted yesterday in the EU Parliament in Brussels thanks to the effort of PSE group.  Jamil Azzar -the one who created the Al Jazeera‘s motto “the opinion and counter opinion”- was there, and obiously was the one who received most comments, questions and critics. Al Jazeera is still an hot potato, even after 13 years of broadcast. I’ve been always thinking how strange and powerful is the fact that everybody has got an opinion about this TV station, even the ones who don’t understand Arabic. Many in the audience were still skeptical about AJ independence regarding Qatar and its policy, some of them praised the station for being the one who opened the way to free speech in Arab media, others -among them, a Lebanese from International Crisis Group– criticised the station for being too close to Hamas during the Israeli attack to Gaza of december 2008. He underlined that both Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya are following the “mass audience imperative” -focusing mostly on Panarab issues like Palestine and Iraq- while forgetting other dramatic crisis as the Sudan (he claimed International Crisis Group has been proposing Al Arabiya to broadcast footage and information from the country  for free for the past few years but they never accepted it-.

Ahmed Kamel, former head of Brussels bureau of Al Jazeera and author of the programme “Min Uroba” (From Europe), attacked the station for being linked to religious extremists and not being free from Islamists when it comes to its programmes.

The debate was also focused on the use of vocabulary: the eternal fight over the word “shahid” (martyr) used by Al Jazeera and by most of Arabic stations when it comes to people dying in Palestine under Israeli occupation. Kamel, who now works for BBC Arabic, didn’t agree at all with the use of this word, while Al Jazeera justifies it -only when it comes to Palestine- by claiming it is a “contextual word”, that is used only in the Israeli-Palestianian context.

I recently noticed in Damascus, when attending a panel about “objectivity in Arab media”, that the debate over “shahid” is not not only widespread in the Western world -where nobody understands what “shahid” really means and in which context the word is placed-. It also generated a very hot discussion in Damascus where -even if the majority of the audience was agreeing with using it for Palestine- some people openly declared that they disagree about it. Among them, the director of the new born Syrian channel, Orient (Mashrek) TV, based in Dubai.

The debate over Arab media is always very hot and I think we as Europeans will need  many years in order to discuss about this as a “normal” media system. There is still too much suspect, angryness, post-colonial imprinting when dealing with the topic.

Debates like the one hosted by the PSE group in the EU Parliament are really useful at least to have the two parts speaking one in front of each other, freely, without prejudice.

MBC’s Group content director, Badih Fattouh, and Hussein Amin from American University of Cairo were also present,bringing up to discussion respectively the topics of entertainment and of the Arab Charter to regulate satellite broadcasting in the Region.

After the panel, we screened some excerpts from my Rome Arab Tv festival, “West by Arab media”. I noticed that, once again, even in Brussels, the  “Irhab Academy” episode of the musalsal Tash Ma Tash is still the best welcomed by the audience.

If only Europeans were a little bit more ready to accept that the Arab world has got diversity and irony, too, maybe we could screen many other examples like Irhab Academy that would really take the debate over the Arab media at a deeper stage than Al Jazeera and terrorism only.

Arab Media at the European Parliament in Brussels

For those of you who are in Brussels or not too far, here you are some info about the conference organised by PSE at the European Parliament to be held next 29 april. I am going to moderate the first session, starting at 4pm, with Al Jazeera, Mbc, American University of Cairo‘s keynotes. At the end of the session, I will also deliver a speech about the Internet and current web 2.0 situation in the Arab world.

Second panel is starting at 5.45 pm till7.15 and will be moderated by Beatrice Patrie, member of the PSE, featuring speeches of Deutsche Welle’s Dirk Beusch, BBC Arabic‘s Ahmad Kamel, Anna Lindht Foundation‘s Andreu Claret. Thomas McGrath from European Commission will also join the panel.

At the end of the debate, from 7.30 pm till 8.30 pm, there will be a TV screening of some Arab Tv programmes that I had selected for the festival “Occidente dai media arabi” held in Rome last january 2008.

There are lots of interesting TV materials, including musalsalat, everything subtitled in english.

The event is open to everybody, so pls circulate.

In room ASP, A3G3, European Parliament, Brussels.