Book review: (UN) Civil War of Words, Media and Politics in the Arab World by Mamoun Fandy
Before reading the introduction to this book, I was expecting to have a technical account of the working of the Arab media relative to important events such as September 11, the invasion of Iraq in 2003, coverage about Al-Qaeda activities and other important events that relate them to Arab/Muslim audiences in the region and the impact that news network like Al-Jazeera had abroad.
I was intrigued to find an account which is much more related to the political and social environment in the Arab countries, with a historical background and explanations about some aspects of the Arab culture, all of which makes the Arab media a very special case, impossible to analyze and understand by using classical Western approaches of media studies and concepts like public/private divisions of the media, content analysis based on audience preferences and the self-entitled economics, “private and independent” media outlets like Al-Jazeera and many others, regarding their balance of costs and incomes from commercials and ads.
Having practically no knowledge and no previous experience of Arab culture and politics, with the exception of a few lessons for the present course, I found it very interesting to read, perhaps the points and examples used by Fandy could be bit repetitive, but that nevertheless serve well to illustrate the intricacies and different political agendas of the Arab media, since I believe that this book is directed for readers, like me who have no experience of the Arab media and of the politics behind it.
[...] In the former case, the State Department was careful to choose the right personnel and then give them the means and the autonomy necessary to carry with its job of promoting Western liberal values and presenting professional journalism that was far superior in quality to any communist run media (even Gorbachov admitted to getting his news from Radio Free Europe since he didn't trusted his own media). This came along with a commitment to the mission that didn't stop the radio stations from working even after several employees received threats, were routinely persecuted and even assassinated by the communist secret services of Central and Eastern Europe. [...]
[...] Relating to the main point of his book, Fandy underlines his argument that the Arab media is political and that it cannot be understood outside the sociopolitical and historical context in which it operates. For this, Al- Jazeera and Al-Arabiya are good examples. The former being created by Qatar while the latter by Saudi Arabia, they cannot be understood without relating to the larger context of Qatari-Saudi relations and their policies in the region. The organization of the media in both countries follow more or less the same patterns of ownership and media laws that were first developed in Egypt, with the same clientelist system of the Kafil (sponsor) in work. [...]
[...] And finally, by making the promotion of democracy and political change its main public diplomacy goals in the Middle East, America became hated by the national elites of authoritarian and totalitarian Arab regimes. In fact, the only group left to support America’s goals for political change is the liberals, which represent at best a very small parcel of the political picture of the region. They are not cheerleaders of America but potential allies in a struggle to change the political realities of the Arab world. [...]
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