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Books in Brief

Al-Jaber, Khalid. The Credibility of Arab Broadcasting: The Case of Al Jazeera. Doha: National Council for Culture, Arts and Heritage, 2004. Hard cover. 118 pages. ISBN: 99921-25-26-3. No price listed.

Reviewed by Ralph D. Berenger

Arab world academics are fascinated with the impact of Al Jazeera on viewing habits, and many studies have been conducted by student scholars and academics of that particular transnational broadcasting phenomenon. But few have had the wherewithal--financial or otherwise--to conduct a global study of the Arab Diaspora. 

Qatari Khalid Al-Jaber is no exception, though he has turned his master's thesis at the University of West Florida into a thin book that attempts to examine why Arabic-speaking viewers watch Al Jazeera, which originates from his hometown of Doha.

As a pilot study, Al-Jaber surveyed a convenience sample of Muslims from thirty-two countries who live in the United States. A total of 346 responded to a series of fifty questions about why they watch Al Jazeera--or visited the station's English website--and how their "use" of the media "gratified" them. Adding to the classic uses and gratifications study, Al-Jaber asked questions designed to assess the credibility of the satellite broadcaster, based on credibility studies developed by the American Newspaper Editors Association.

The average respondent was a 32-year-old male, who had lived in the US for seven years, watched TV more than five hours a day (one to two hours of which were Al Jazeera), and whose annual family income was between $15,000-25,000. The typical viewer had at least a college degree. They watched Al Jazeera mostly for up-to-date news, and they gave high marks to the station for its credible news that was essentially moral, unsensationalized, and audience-oriented.

With a global viewership estimated at between 45 and 50 million, Al Jazeera is a key player in public diplomacy between the Western and Arab worlds. Al-Jaber's conclusion is that viewers in the United States, and by implication Arabic speakers around the world, find Al Jazeera presenting fair and balanced news and analysis and provides a connection to scattered Arab communities.

DeFleur, Melvin L. and Margaret H. DeFleur. Learning to Hate Americans. Spokane, WA: Marquette Books, 2003. 128 pages. Paperback. ISBN: 0-922993-05-X. $29.95. 

Reviewed by Sahar Sedky

Learning to Hate Americans by Melvin L. and Margaret H. DeFleur monitors the impact of the US media on teenagers' attitudes towards America in twelve countries, three of them in the Middle East. The authors, professors at Louisiana State University, blame US entertainment media for shaping negative attitudes towards Americans. The book has implications for transnational broadcasters who transmit US-made entertainment products, and scholars interested in the long-term effects of media on young viewers.

The dozen countries studied were Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, South Korea, Mexico, China, Spain, Taiwan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Nigeria, Italy, and Argentina. Teenagers were asked their opinions on twelve statements concerning Americans, accumulated between the 2001 Afghanistan war and 2003 Iraq war. Teens in almost every country had extremely negative attitudes towards Americans. Almost all agreed that Americans are violent, materialistic, criminal, and sexually immoral. Only Nigeria, Italy, and Argentina gave positive responses to many culturally oriented items, while Pakistan, China, and Taiwan gave positive responses to some of the individual US attributes.

American pop culture was a major element in shaping significant negative stereotypes of Americans in these twelve countries, though the cumulative effects of negative news and propaganda might well have contributed to "a climate of hate." The majority of the respondents knew Americans only through media portrayals since few of study's the participants had ever visited the US or even had contact with an American. Although participants were fans of Eminem, Britney Spears, Baywatch, or the Sex and the City series, they seemed to believe that Americans are violent, criminally oriented, and imperialistic, and that American women are sexually immoral. Respondents also stated that they were eager to watch American entertainment depicting elements absent from their own lives, such as action and sex, as well as dangerous behaviors such as shootouts, car chases, and criminal activities.

Elasmar, Michael G The Impact of International Television: A Paradigm Shift. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003. Paperback. 212 pages. ISBN: 0-8058-4220-9. $25.

Reviewed by Lamees M. El Baghdady

For decades, media professionals, scholars, and researchers, have used the cultural imperialism paradigm as a theoretical framework to explain the effects of international television programs on local viewers. This is one of the first books from leading media scholars that challenge the widely accepted view that developing countries are dependent on media products and accept them at their cultural peril.

More importantly, Elasmar introduces a new alternative paradigm that media researchers should consider while conceptualizing the impact of transnational television. However, Elasmar focuses on international entertainment rather than on news programs and does not tackle the thorny questions of governments' international policies or the objectives of multinational companies. 

The book seeks to remove three key legs of the CI stool, namely that TV programs encourage consumption of products manufactured in the country of origin, that many domestic viewers will be frustrated, and that the values and beliefs embedded in the imported TV programs will influence the value structures of domestic viewers.

Elasmar and contributor John Hunter conducted meta-analysis procedures to assess the strength of the impact of imported entertaining television programs. 

After analyzing both published and unpublished works on the impact of international entertainment programs from1960 through 1994, Elasmar and Hunter come to the conclusion that CI theory was rarely questioned or even quantified empirically.

The dominant perception among the majority of international observers was that imported television programs have a strong and homogenous influence on domestic viewers. But after conducting meta-analysis Elasmar concludes that foreign imported TV programs have a weak and often negligible impact on domestic audiences. He observed that most researchers assumed that foreign programs affected viewers directly without considering other factors and influences (such as opinion leaders and multi-step flows of information).
In Chapter 9, Elasmar introduces an alternative paradigm to CI, "Susceptibility to Imported Media" (SIM). Through this model, Elasmar argues that prior information represented in knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes about a group, and the perceived utility and involvement in content, are all pre-existing schema that will determine how TV content will be comprehended, retained, and recalled. 

Elasmar also introduces readers to the Media-Accelerated Culture Diffusion (MACD) concept that claims all cultures influence each other, without the conspiracy claim that often colors the CI paradigm. He stresses the idea of culture diffusion due to the existence of "a continuity of indirect causation from culture event to culture event through the medium of human intermediaries" (p.173).

Hills, Jill. The Struggle for Control of Global Communication: The Formative Century. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2002. 327 pages. Hard cover. ISBN 0-252-02757-4. $39.95.

Reviewed by Aliaa Dawoud

In The Struggle for Control of Global Communication: The Formative Century, Jill Hills examines the conflict between media companies and governments over communication control. Hills also delves into the international struggle to control global communication, in which multinational media companies and powerful governments play significant roles.

In its eight chapters, the book records the "political economy of international communication" in the era between the nineteenth century and World War II, using today's terminology and "power relations" to interpret this data. As the book demonstrates, a fierce national and international struggle to control global communication continues today. 

The book traces the struggle from the era of "submarine cable technology" in the nineteenth century and the international dominance by Reuters, then a British government entity, through the beginnings of global media technology following the Second World War. 
Hills concludes that even when private companies controlled global communication, the powerful governments of the time played an essential national regulatory role. These countries also altered the international trading atmosphere to serve the interests of the private companies affiliated with them. Today, the situation has not changed.

The book is an excellent reference for courses studying the history of global communication, as well as for those interested in the historical role of governments and multinational companies in the control of mass communication.

Kilani, Sa'eda. Freedom Fries: Fried Freedoms, Arab Satellite Channels Struggle between State Control and Western Pressure. Amman: Arab Archive Institute, 2004. Paperback. 233 pages. ISBN: 892-4-2004. No price listed.

Reviewed by Rasha El-Ibiary

Are worldwide governmental endeavors to achieve democracy, human rights, and freedom of expression disingenuous? The struggle of Arab and American governments to control cable and satellite television in the Middle East has raised questions about democracy and free expression in the Arab world. 

Arab governments' actions and reactions toward Arab satellite channels, including "interference and disturbance" with (on-air) talk shows, is described by Sa'eda Kilani as "some kind of a tactical struggle" by Arab countries within the authoritarian, "leader-subject," relationship with media in the Arab world.

The Arab states' moves to control free expression on satellite channels and propagate their own views range from getting their own people into on-air talk shows in order to "cast their opinion and disturb the flow of arguments of their opponents," to opening special offices in their departments and diplomatic missions to "follow debate shows on satellite channels and participate in them as individual viewers," says Kilani. 

Journalists are often banned from covering political demonstrations. Videotapes are confiscated and journalists are harassed or imprisoned. Arguments are always ready to justify censorship. Any reporting on human rights violations is perceived as "exposing the country's dirty laundry to 'foreigners'" which might harm the economy and smear the country's reputation. "Who they are kidding?" asks Kilani. "Their reputation is already smeared."

Outraged by Arab satellite channels' critical in-depth coverage of the 2003 Iraq war, the US administration verbally and physically assaulted the two main transnational channels, which it accused of being "violently anti-coalition." Subsequent attacks against Al Jazeera included pressure on Qatar's emir to rein in the channel's "anti-American opinions," having its reporters briefly banned from the New York Stock Exchange, having its English-language website hacked, and having Al Jazeera's offices in Kabul and Baghdad hit by US missiles.
Such actions or reactions, not only inspired rage against the US, but also contradicted its expressed goal of spreading democracy, human rights, and free expression in the Arab world. 

The US has focused only on its "image," not its "policies" in the Middle East, dedicating tens of millions of dollars to establishing new Arabic media outlets-Alhurra Television, Radio Sawa, and Hi Magazine. Alhurra's goals are promoting "free elections and free markets, free press and free labor unions" not only in Iraq, but in all Arab countries "burdened with extended royal families and presidents for life," says Kilani.

The goals and means to achieve them seem contradictory, she says. "These are the same royal families and presidents for life whom the US still wholeheartedly supports and depend on." As a result, Alhurra inspired more skepticism and anger, emanating from "both pro-and anti-American camps," against the US is promoting freedoms while "allying with dictatorship regimes, supporting their so-called 'GONGOs (Governmental NGOs),' and disregarding human rights violations.

Pelton, Joseph N., Robert J. Oslund, and Peter Marshall (eds). Communication Satellites: Global Change Agents. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004. Paperback. 387 pages. ISBN 080-5-8496-29. $39.95.

Reviewed by Effat Khalifa

Communications Satellites: Global Change Agents gives an overview of the evolution and impact of satellites through a multidisciplinary collection of essays, written by professionals and scholars from a variety of fields. 

The book is divided into seven sections of fifteen chapters by twelve authors, each analyzing satellite technology from a different perspective. It begins by explaining the historical and political impacts this technology has had, and will continue to have, on the economic, social, and political aspects of the world today, as a tool accelerating globalization.

Though some undergraduates may find the technical aspects of satellites difficult to understand, they will find easier reading when the book reviews the various functions of satellites, such as intelligence and surveillance, missile defense, and command and control of military capabilities under the so-called dual use function. Not everything on satellite is broadcast television, radio, Internet, and mobile phone services, the student will learn.
In addition to building a better understanding of how satellites work and provide benefits of a more earthly kind, the book also discusses the role satellites are playing in increasing "techno-economic efficiency," by making the targeting of particular markets easier through computer-program driven trading, which is defined by the authors as "transnationalism" (p. 268). Despite the great impacts such benefits are having on our world, the distribution of those benefits remains an issue, since, due to what the book calls the "digital divide," developed countries tend to gain a much wider range of benefits. 

Students will also find interesting a chapter on the impacts of communication satellites on society, both positive and negative. The book argues that satellites have had as great an impact since their invention 40 years ago as Guttenberg's press.

The first part of the book broadly covers the topic of communications satellites as global change agents by discussing the changes they have caused or facilitated in a number of different areas of our lives and the current and future impacts of those changes. The second section of the book explains the technical aspects of satellite technology and may be too technical for casual readers with no engineering background. It also adds little to the book's stated topic. The book would be more valuable if, after the discussion of the different trends of "teleshock" and "telepower," a chapter could have been added that discussed the efforts taking place in the world today to limit culturally undesirable information disseminated by communications satellites. 

Sakr, Naomi (ed.) Women and Media in the Middle East: Power through Self-expression. London: I.B. Tauris, 2004. Paperback. 248 pages. ISBN: 185-04-3545-6. $27.50.

Reviewed by Ralph D. Berenger

There is much to recommend to readers in Naomi Sakr's latest offering, a departure from her previous excursion into Satellite Realms (see TBS 9), but in many ways a more important book. Where Satellite Realms froze to a moment the dynamic situation concerning transnational broadcasting, Women and Media in the Middle East tells a different story of the cross-border broadcasting in the Muslim world, mostly through the words of women.

This is a book that should not be confined to women's studies classes, though it would be appropriate there. Instead, it should be integrated through the curricula of the burgeoning number of journalism schools in the Middle East, mostly filled with thousands of young Arab women hoping some day to be a "famous" journalist. This book gives those hopefuls a dose of reality while at the same time leaving open the possibility that the historically dismal history of women communicators in the Middle East is a thing of the past. Women activists-many of them journalists and broadcasters-have made a difference throughout the region, as this book attests.

This book introduces the reader to women from Morocco to Turkey who overcame social, cultural and economic difficulties in film, newspapers, television and even the Internet. Thirteen authors contributed eleven chapters to this book, which ought to appeal to media and development scholars, political scientists, and sociologists interested in the Middle East. Their stories are as educational as they are inspirational. 

Exceptional chapters from Sonia Dabbous, Zahia Samil Salhi, Sahar Khamis, and Lina Khatib draw symbolic meaning from women's struggles in their professions and as activists, thus becoming "mothers" of their nations, if not the region, since media products are often a shared feast. Magda Abu-Fadil contributes to this theme by examining the international role of female communicators to furthering global understanding of the condition of women in the Middle East, while Victoria Firmo-Fontan examines the role of women on Lebanon's controversial Al Manar, a television channel operated by Hizbollah.
Deborah Wheeler, one of two American contributors to this book, examines Internet usage in the Middle East, which, contrary to worldwide figures, is male dominated by a very wide margin, and how female users in the region seem not to consider developing a "global voice."

An unusual attribute of this book is how smoothly the reader can move from chapter to chapter because it has a 'single author feel" to it that students will appreciate. Most edited collections lack uniformity in writing style and voice, which this volume clearly has. 
Other contributors to this volume are Benaz Somiry-Batrawi, Gholam Khiabany and Annabelle Sreberny, and Haya al-Murghni and Mary Ann Tetreault.

Dr. Sakr, a new member of the TBS Journal editorial board, teaches in the School of Media, Arts and Design at the University of Westminster, London.

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