Distribution Channels of Communications in the Middle East
Channels of communications in the Middle East take a different form yet the same shape as the American’s. Although the media in the Middle East was victimized for yeas, it managed to find its way to light and freedom. Communication technology has been introduced to the area. TV has taking a greater preference within the majority. The Arab world has been introduced to livelier programs in all walks of life. News has been taking a larger space in the Middle Eastern’s daily life. As we know, the political situation now in the Middle East is quite critical in some areas. Of course, technology has been introduced first to certain countries unlike others based on the population’s high life standard. And, means of communication vary in many countries depending on the social and economical differences. In this new atmosphere of increased freedom and competition, Dubai has been making strenuous efforts to become the main media centre for the Middle East through the Dubai Media City project in which I am aiming to be working there.
The press can be divided into three categories: government-owned or semi-official press, newspapers published by political organizations, and those that are privately owned. Not every privately-owned newspaper can be considered editorially independent; generally, they are owned by wealthy individuals who have political views or seek absolute influence. The press in some countries such as Egypt has the freedom of speech; Egyptian journalists are pretty much entitled to publish whatever occurs in their surroundings regardless of the political or religious restrictions. On the contrarily, the press in Saudi Arabia is absolutely interfered by the government. The Royal family in Saudi Arabia has long held a monopoly of political, religious, and social power over its citizens. The government currently bans all opposition political parties and tightly controls domestic media outlets. With few exceptions, Arab journalism in general tends to be uninspired and follows tired conventions. This is partly the result of censorship and/or licensing systems and restrictive press laws.
Traditionally, TV stations have been government-owned and government-run. Contents are strictly controlled in terms of news, debate, views as well as other programs that conform to “Islamic values”. Until the 1990s almost all television channels in the Arab countries were rigidly controlled. With the emergence of the satellite channels, restrictive channels were increasingly challenged. Even though we can still see those restrictive channels in the mean time, the dramatic change that is happening in the Arab societies, because of the satellite technology, is undeniable. Before the Gulf war there was no Arab TV news and a large credibility gap between Iraq’s propaganda machine and other Arab government presses. In the first four days of Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait, there was a news blackout. As a result all Arabic TV stations started airing CNN. That proved government-owned media didn’t work.
In general, privately owned and non-governmental channels introduced livelier programs aimed at a pan-Arab audience and also adopted a more professional approach to news and current affairs. The pioneer in this field was the news channel, Al-Jazeera, which is financed by the government of Qatar but has a large measure of independence. Al-Jazeera, many of whose staff originally came from the BBC, became the first Arabic channel to provide extensive live news coverage, even sending reporters to previously unthinkable places, such as Israel. Al-Jazeera also broke new ground with its discussion programs which looked at issues from more than one point of view and often raised subjects that had previously been taboo.
The ability of the internet to provide uncontrolled flows of information across national boundaries was viewed as an alarming development by some Arab governments. Several of them – including Saudi Arabia, Syria and Tunisia – restrict access to certain websites (though there are well-established ways of circumventing the censorship). For several years it was very difficult to produce web pages in Arabic, which meant that initially internet use was confined to the education elite who could read European languages. This has gradually changed, though internet use is still less than in many other parts of the world. The usage of the internet varies in many countries in the Middle East based on the financial income, the general life standard and the educational level.
Mobile TV is up and running in at least eight countries across the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa). With Saudi Arabian (where I am from), mobile users topping a Nokia global poll demonstrating 49 percent interest in watching TV on their phones. In the US, it is 8 percent. The Arab World is hovering to be a leading mobile content market.
Of course market dynamics varies in different regions, with the Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia. The market of Mobile TV, or let say mostly all entertainment tools, in Saudi Arabia is highly used than all other countries in the region. This is because of the fact that entertainment options in Saudi Arabia are limited – with no movie theaters for example.
However, beyond the Kingdom and the other relatively high standard income states such the UAE, Qatar and Kuwait, mobile TV is also being offered by a number of providers in Egypt and Jordan, and even being pitched to lower income migrant workers across the region. The main priority, in many countries with low income states, is to provide the bare necessity to the population away from luxuries.
TV Revolution in the Middle East
Thanks to business and technology that they have come together once again to stimulate change in the Middle East. And because of the emergence of Pan-Arab all-news networks, conservative elements of Arab society are now under threat from a lucrative new broadcasting model known as interactive television.
Both social and economic, the phenomenon of interactive television has taken off in the Middle East like few other regions in the world. SMS, Short Message Service, runs an endless stream of messages from viewers along an ever increasing number of screens in many households across the Arab world.
Over the past five years, SMS text messaging has become one of the most popular means of communication in the region. In Saudi Arabia, for example, over 60 percent of mobile subscribers now send text messages, with the majority of users aged 18 to 24, according to a recent survey by AC Nielsen.
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