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Citizenship and Democracy: Participants Discuss Media and Civic Discourse

Ninth Annual AUSACE Conference, 18-21 November 2004, Cairo

Building bridges and fortifying existing ones through co-operation and understanding between the US and the Arab World's communication experts is the best way to bridge any gaps created by the tragic events of 9/11 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. This was the consensus among the eighty-eight academics, students and media professionals who attended the ninth annual Arab-U.S. Association for Communication Educators (AUSACE) conference held in Cairo from November 18 to 21, 2004.

The theme of the conference, an annual event consisting of speeches, discussions, workshops, and research presentations, was "Media and Civic Discourse: Citizenship and Democracy." Presentations at the conference covered several areas in both English and Arabic, including topics such as media democracy, bureaucracy and citizenship, women, media and peace, and media ethics.

The keynote address on "Media Reform in the Middle East" was delivered by Hussein Y. Amin, Chair of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at the American University in Cairo. Amin said that despite evidence that media in the Middle East is still trying to deal with handicaps resulting from strong ties to the political system, worn economic models, centralized media structures, and inferior performance, they do have a chance of competing in this era of transnational and global media. He pointed out, however, that this would require steady progress in decentralization, privatization, liberalization, modernization, and democratization. Amin also said that unless governments in the Middle East are prepared to take the necessary measures, their media will soon be sidelined and their historical dominance of the region will come to an end.

Calling upon countries of the Middle East, Amin asked that governments act now to implement comprehensive media reforms that will change their media from the old, static, authoritarian model to a new, dynamic, libertarian media system that will help the region's media compete on an open market.

Finally, Amin concluded that by setting strategies and goals for better media, strong and responsible media systems can be built, able to meet the future challenge and capitalize on opportunities for future generations.

Addressing the participants during the opening ceremony were Amr Mortagy, dean of Business, Economics and Communication at the American University in Cairo, Leonard Teel, director of the Center for International Media Education at Georgia State University, Ibrahim Saleh, conference coordinator at the American University in Cairo, and Mohamed Selim from the Graduate Students Association at The American University in Cairo. All offered words of inspiration and encouragement.

Panel sessions covered a wide rang of topics. They also were lively, animated, and typically followed by intense debate during the question and answer sessions that followed.

Coverage of the war in Iraq and other conflicts in the region was discussed extensively during the conference. One of the panels, moderated by Richard Welch from Mercyhurst College, was devoted to debating different interpretations of the various types of coverage. Panelists included Wayne Hunt from Mount Allison University, Canada, who focused on the vocabulary of terrorism in his paper "Canadian media and creation of a Canada corps" while Jack Barwind and Philip Cass from the College of Communication and Media Sciences, Zayed University, offered a comparative analysis of Arab and American media framing of Middle East issues. Ibrahim Saleh from the American University in Cairo spoke of "Islamophobia" in coverage of war and terrorism in the post 9/11 world. Safaa Kanj of Agence France Presse and Ralph Berenger of the American University in Cairo presented the results of an ethnographic study of how AFP editors and reporters covered the second Intifada for different audiences. Haneen Zogby, of the Media Center for Arab Palestinians in Israel, presented her study of how and why media coverage of a nation's conflict was successful in ignoring international obligations.

Other panelists chose to look at the media's performance after conflicts. Ennam Abdelghanie from Hokkaido University, Japan, focused on Al Jazeera's representation of the issue of democracy in post-war Iraq, while Mary Lou Beall of Mercer University picked the provisional Iraqi constitution as the focal point of her study.

Several papers presented throughout the conference dealt with new media technologies and their impact on societies. Shafiqur Rahman and Jyotika Ramaprasad from Southern Illinois University compared the coverage of the Iraq crisis in The New York Times with the paper's online version and that of Yahoo news. Ralph Berenger of the American University in Cairo offered a study of how political will can close digital divides, focusing on how the information and communications revolution has caught governments in the gap between what they can readily provide by way of information policies while securing their sovereignty and security, and their citizen's hunger for more information, more access, and more freedom to benefit from the global communications explosion. Meanwhile, Lamees el Baghdady from the American University in Cairo presented a study of the impact of mobile phone cameras on Arab society, and Yousef Alfailakawi of Kuwait University looked at the impact of mobile phone Short Message Services (SMS) on Kuwaiti society. Samar Shunnar from Al Najah University, Palestine, studied the role of the Palestinian website in promoting the democratic process, while Lamya Tawfik of Modern Sciences and Arts University presented a study on the personal home pages of Arab youth in conflict zones, focusing on how young people in Algeria, Iraq, Palestine, Sudan, and Lebanon use this new medium to communicate more freely. Safran Almagati and Mohamed Algarni from Umm al-Qura University, Saudi Arabia, spoke about the role of new media in increasing political awareness amongst Saudis.

Another session dealt with media, news, and entertainment. Amongst the panelists was Wayne Wanta from the University of Missouri who presented a study of Fox News viewers. Wanta brought to the attention of listeners how "Foxification" is taking place in television news and how Fox News audience members differ from other news consumers. On the same panel, Rasha Abdullah of the American University in Cairo shed light on barriers to news and entertainment production in Egypt. She proposed new approaches for Egyptian media leadership. Zulkiple bid Abd Ghani from the National University of Malaysia also participated in this panel with a study of entertainment in Muslim media.

Amongst the distinguished panelists were Hanzada Fikry from the American University in Cairo, who presented a study of a popular talk show Al-Qahira Al-Youm or "Cairo Today," and Iman Mahrafa of the International Academy for Media Science, who gave a presentation on the Egyptian cinema's portrayal of terrorism. Assya Yassin from Modern Science and Arts University also spoke, proposing a human rights-based model for developing public information and communication policies in Egypt and Mahitab Ezz el Din, Modern Science and Arts University with a study of the impact of transnational television networks on local news conception.

Salma Youssef from 6th of October University analyzed the development of photojournalism as a communication tool in the electronic press, while Jyotika Ramapradad of Southern Illinois University and Naila Hamdy from the American University in Cairo presented their findings from a study of the functions of Egyptian journalists, looking at their perceived importance as compared to their actual performance. Farid Abu Daheer of Al Najah University in Palestine looked at the development of mass media and its impact on press freedom and Azza Abdel Azeem from United Arab Emirates University studied the impact of Arab music satellite stations on the ethics of Arab youth.

The theme of Arab women in the media was a subject that dominated several panel discussions and the ensuing audience questions, indicating an increased interest in the status of women in the media field.

Several conference participants focused solely on women-related studies, including Ali Al Hail, currently a consultant to the Qatar Radio and Television Corporation, whose study dealt with the role of women in the Gulf region today. His presentation emphasized women's entrance into the traditionally male-dominated area of business and the way in which the Arab mass media neglect business women. Henrietta Aswad from Georgia State University and Marwa Al-Mut'afy from the International Academy for Media Science both presented papers dealing with women in Arab mediascapes. Aswad's study focused specifically on the issues of gender equality and women's empowerment, examining the role of women in Arab media during the current reform era, while looking at the cultural and political obstacles that may be contributing to women's inertia in the media world. Her study offered a textual analysis that also highlighted the responsibilities that women bear for their own disempowerment and searched for how the Western concept of "equality and empowerment" is affecting women's efforts in Arab patriarchal societies. In addition, American University in Cairo graduate students Dalia el Nimr and Rasha Allam chose to look at the image of women in Arab media, with El Nimr's study narrowing in on female singers on Arabic music video clips and the mode in which they are depicted, while Allam gave a general overview of women's representation in media across the region and discussed the introduction and development of a pan-Arab media watch project.

Berlant Kabeel, a doctoral student at Cairo University, also presented a study conducted in Egypt highlighting the challenges and barriers faced by young female professionals who work in the field of television production and who are trying to pursue a successful media career. Meanwhile professional panel members Sonia Dabbous of Akhbar Al Yom, Hisham Kassem of Al-Masry Al-Youm, and Mirette Mabrouk of Business Today engaged the audience in a heated debate about women and their advancement in the media industry.

The conference also drew on the work of media experts from the professional community, resulting in the participation of many panelists, including Dahem El Khatani and Sahar Talat of ARD television, David Applefield, William Wallis, and Mona Zaki from the Financial Times, Bayan Tall of Jordan TV and Radio, and Hosny Abdel Wahab from the Middle East News Agency, Egypt.

Since media education is still the main concern of the majority of participants, a panel was dedicated to media education in various Arab countries. Amin discussed the case of media education in Egypt, while Safran Almagati from Umm Al-Qura University focused on media education in Saudi Arabia and Abdelghani Jbara from the Arab Institute for Studies and Research analyzed media education in Morocco, while Mahmound Taraby of Lebanese University examined the status of media education in Lebanon. Once again, other participants and audience members had the opportunity to share some of the experiences, challenges, and frustrations media education is encountering in the region.

Eminent moderators at the conference included Ramez Malouf from the Lebanese American University, Hamdy Hassan from Misr International University, Carolyn Codamo from Georgia State University, Ali Agwa from Modern Arts and Science Univeristy, Kenneth Starck from Zayed University, Hassan Mekawy from the International Academy for Media Science, Ed Freedman from Zayed University, and Maggie Halawani of Cairo University.

This year AUSACE has introduced several excellence awards for the first time. Funded by a grant from the US State Department, these awards were given to selected winners. Three awards were given to the best faculty papers. First place was won by Ahmed el Godi from Modern Arts and Science University for his work on mass media and system control. The second place prize went to Nagwa el Naggar from Misr International University for her study of the role of communication in youth's participation in civil society activities. Third place went to Doaa Darwish from the American University in Cairo for her study of Egypt's radio development and current trends.

In another category of prizes, student awards, Amna Abdel Mohsen, Abdel Mohsen Al Ajeel, and Dalal A Waheeb from Kuwait University won first place for their work on the impact of airplane audio-visual media on passengers. Megan Beall from Georgia State University received second place for her outstanding work on the Arab-Israeli War of 1948 as covered by US and Arab media, while Mohamed Selim from the American University in Cairo received third place for his analysis of the Internet in Egypt, focusing on prospects, challenges, and the public's choices.

Two awards were also given to the best journalistic endeavors in the region. Najia Houssari of Al Hayat newspaper, Lebanon, whose investigative reports led to the release of a wrongly accused woman and a change in Lebanese law, received the award for 2003. Hisham Kasem, publisher of A- Masry Al-Youm in Egypt and former publisher of the Cairo Times won an award for his remarkable efforts in the field of journalism, which recently culminated in the launching of a new and independent daily newspaper.

As part of the same grant, AUSACE will continue to award more scholarships to send talented young students to media internships in the US. Through the program, students from Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan will be able to work in media outlets and study in US universities.

Several interns from last years selection joined the conference with a panel entitled "Bridging Cultures: The AUSACE Internship Project," moderated by Leonard Teel from Georgia State University. Addressing a large audience, Richard Welch of Mercyhurst College, Mahmoud Taraby of Lebanese University, Ahmed Hidass from the Institut Superieur d'Information et de la Communication in Morocco were joined by students Heba Agamay and Roba Khorshid from the American University in Cairo, who shared their experiences as media interns.

Numerous recommendations were made at the closing session of the conference, including the encouragement of media professionals to participate in an electronic chat through the AUSACE site in order to discuss media education and its problems, photojournalism, women's media images, images of Islam and Arabs in the US media, and images of the US in Arab media. Recommendations also included the promotion of environmental journalism and media studies in the region. In addition, participants encouraged studies of women in the media and barriers to their success, as well as to highlight research in media reform in all areas.

Other recommendations included the addition of an online monograph to deal with the problems and challenges faced by Middle East media. Participants also recommended the introduction of teaching new media and the training involved in this.

Finally, due to its great success, the continuation of student and faculty exchanges were encouraged.

AUSACE also has successfully launched The Journal of Middle East Media (JMEM), a journal dedicated to research on media in the Middle East. The AUSACE board of directors announced the confirmation of Mohamed el Nawawy of Georgia State University as the journal's senior editor with sub-editors in both the US and the Arab world.

The Board also announced the appointment of Douglas Boyd of the University of Kentucky as the vice president of AUSACE beginning June 1, 2005, when Mahmoud Tarabay of the Lebanese University will become president.

The Tenth annual AUSACE conference will be hosted in Kuwait on November 17- 21, 2005, with the sponsorship of Kuwait University and the Center for International Media Education (CIME) at Georgia State University. The following conference will be held in Morocco in 2006 and the US in 2007.

About Naila Hamdy

Naila Hamdy is a TBS Senior Contributing Editor.

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