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Privatization and Transnational Communication

The Third Annual Conference of the Arab-U.S. Association for Communication Educators (AUSACE)

The third annual conference of the Arab-U.S. Association for Communication Educators (AUSACE) was held in Helnan Shepheard Hotel in Cairo, Egypt, September 7-10, 1998. The conference was hosted by the American University in Cairo and co-sponsored by Georgia State University's Center for International Media Education and Transnational Broadcasting Studies. The theme of the conference was "Privatization and Transnational Communication."

More than fifty presentations were delivered and discussed during the three days of the conference. In his opening remarks, Conference Chair Hussein Amin noted that although transnational media in the Arab world is a very recent development, it has made significant changes and brought Arab subcultures together, and as a result, the dissemination of information throughout the Arab world is now occurring at an accelerated rate. Amin added that transnational media present a perfect means for electrifying and facilitating political, economic, social and cultural development in the region.

John Gerhart, president of the American University in Cairo, indicated in his opening remarks that one of the most important lessons he has learned in his twenty-nine years of work in development is the importance of communication and the immense power of the spoken word and the visual image. As educators, he said, one of our greatest responsibilities is teaching our students how to communicate effectively, whether by using the latest computer or satellite technology or simply by speaking to one another.

His Excellency Mohammed Safwat el-Sherif, Egypt's Minister of Information and the keynote speaker at the conference, stated that Egypt and other countries face a great responsibility to preserve national identity in an era of multiple choices, the age of open skies and the growing importance of transnational media. The Egyptian transnational media strategy, he said, started in the 1980s by preparing audiences to receive international broadcasts from different parts of the world, and thereby bringing different cultural directions and ideas.

Discussion in the three days of panel sessions focused on main themes such as media and communication technology, educational technology, women and communication, privatization, and cultural communication. The research and papers listed below are a selection representative of these key conference themes.

A few years ago, transnational media as we know it today had no existence in the Middle East. The region had no internet access, and the few direct-to-home (DTH) satellite channels offered little threat to the monopoly state-run national TV channels. Jon Alterman of the United States Institute of Peace analyzed the new transnational media, indicating that it will bring greater transnational links between Arabs and the likely ascendance of a new sense of Arabism. [Editor's note: Alterman explores these themes further in this issue's article Transnational Media and Social Change in the Arab World.] Naomi Sakr of London's City University looked at regulatory issues of direct-to-home satellite broadcasting in the Arab world, examining how regulations on satellite-related issues operate on national, regional, and international levels.

Internet-related technologies and their applications was another major area of study. Richard Welch from Kennesaw State University, Katherine Teel of Georgia State University, and Shirley Biagi from California State University-Sacramento studied electronic magazines and examined issues related to their creation and publication. They concluded that the internet is a realistic, practical, accessible medium and has the capability of reaching a mass audience. Ahmed el Gody of the American University in Cairo discussed the uses of cybercafes in spreading internet literacy in Egypt and concluded that internet cafes have do have an impact on developing internet literacy in the state. Mohamed Tarabay of the Lebanese American University discussed the challenges of the internet for the Arab journalist, using the Beirut daily newspaper An-Nahar as a case study. He concluded that Arab news media and personnel are not fully employing the possibilities of the internet in their day-to-day news gathering, reporting and writing.

New technologies are being employed in the classroom as well, and as this is a particular concern of AUSACE, several presentations dealt with exciting new projects and possibilities for educators. Roger Gafke and Ronald Naeger of the University of Missouri at Columbia explored the use of the internet to edit students' stories long-distance, indicating that this is a positive step in the development of transnational reporting and newswriting classes. Douglas Barthlow from Georgia State University discussed student TV productions and the possibilities of seeking distribution off campus, and recommended enhancing cooperation between universities and distributors. The problems involved in training TV journalists in Egypt in the age of transnational broadcasting were touched on in a paper by Abdallah Schleifer, director of the Adham Center for Television Journalism at the American University in Cairo and TBS senior editor. Schleifer noted that thanks to news organizations like CNN, BBC, WNBC and MBC, TV journalism is no longer an unrecognized craft in the Arab world. His paper also shed light on the Adham Center experience.

The evolving role of older, more traditional means of communication, among them telephone networks, radio, and print, was also explored. Abdel Ghani Jbara from the American University in Cairo analyzed telecommunications and economic development in Morocco. James Danowski from the University of Illinois examined the performance of Arab countries' global telephone traffic networks, and concluded that in contrast to broadcast media, the network-based media carrying messages over telephone circuits promote less unified global networks and instead an increasing variety of subgroups. Douglas Boyd of the University of Kentucky examined WorldSpaces Digital Radio and the new age of international radio broadcasting in the Middle East. The differences between English and Arabic magazines were examined in a paper by Shems Friedlander of the American University in Cairo. He examined graphics, typography, photography and ethics on the printed page and pointed out that the Middle East will eventually have to comply with global standards if advertising, magazines, books and websites are to go beyond local frontiers.

Social and political concerns complemented technological ones, with one of the key topics being women and communication. Octavia Naser of CNN International tackled issues of women and education in her paper titled "Investing in Women: Education, Training and Job Opportunities." Sonia Dabbous from the American University in Cairo talked about the experiences of three prominent Egyptian women writers in the context of the role of women's press in demanding women's political rights. Michael Hage of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) examined the representation of rural women, who are critical to the functioning and development of agriculture in the Middle East, in the region's mass media.

In the domain of cultural communication and media, Yahya Kamalipour from Purdue University at Calumet described the concepts of information and image wars, saying that a positive global image is needed for transnational corporations and their products as well as nations and their people. Adel Iskandar, a journalist in Halifax, Canada, took another angle on intercultural communications with his four-year ethnographic study of Canada's Arab immigrant population and their relationship with the Western media.

The precarious and difficult positions of national media and the processes of privatization were considered in a session titled Cultural Communication and Privatization. Leo Gher of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale discussed the principles for transformation to free market economics in the Middle East. Specific local studies complemented this wider view; Yorck Von Korff from Hamburg University, Germany examined Egyptian journalists' professional standards and the challenge of privatization and sketched the development and the performance of the private press in Egypt. Darin Klein from Georgia State University made a preliminary exploration of how state-owned and party-owned newspapers differ in their coverage of recent political, economic and social issues in Egypt.

The diversity of themes and ideas presented at this conference is evidence of transnational communication's regional and global impact. As stated by Dr. Carolyn Crimmins, acting president of AUSACE, in her opening remarks at the conference, communication educators must be part of the effort to understand the new systems of transnational communications, global communities, and global cultures. To this end, AUSACE, as an outcome of the Cairo conferences: recommends the following:

  • putting the energy of this meeting toward developing a momentum toward transnational communication education.
  • the formation of a committee that will explore and oversee the implementation of transnational communication for education between the Arab world and the United States.
  • the development of interactive websites between Arab and U.S. universities to allow faculty and students from these two regions to communicate directly with each other and to strengthen their relationship on a personal, professional and academic level.
  • immediate formation of discussion and interest groups of faculty and students from the Arab World and the United States to participate in an open dialogue of issues of interest and concerns in fields such as education, culture, politics and economics. The conference also recommends that Arab and US faculty and students take maximum advantage of and utilize e-mail services in this regard.
  • the field of transnational media education is growing very quickly, particularly in satellite communication education. The conference recommends taking maximum advantage of what transnational media is offering now in order to contribute to building the regional and global information society.
  • the introduction and implementation of adequate training programs for better use of the transnational media. Positive growth of transnational media depends on training programs in areas related to technical writing, editing, production, and management. The conference also recommends that academic and practical courses should be offered to orient and teach professionals how to broadcast to and address the globe.
  • the conference realizes the significant and critical contributions of the professional communications community to the success of this Cairo conference. Strong efforts should be made to bridge the gap between the academic and the professional world. Interaction between academic institutions' faculty and students and the media enterprises' staff and professionals within Arab countries, between Arab countries, and between the Arab world and the United States is very important.
  • equal opportunity for women in all fields related to the media. Under-representation of women in the journalistic profession is a problem that should be under investigation.
  • an end to the misrepresentation of women in the media, in all countries and at all levels
  • the continuation of the development of private and public media in general and in transnational media in particular
  • an emphasis on joint research projects, especially with regard to new methods and techniques that are introduced along with transnational media, and that careful attention should be given to the role of research. Cooperation in the field of research is essential to ensure the success of transnational media.
  • Finally, the conference recognizes the role of transnational media in societal development and attitudinal modernization, and recommends enlarging the scope of media freedom and enhancement of media credibility in the Arab world to close the gap with other regions' competitive transnational media.

About Hussein Amin

Hussein Amin is the director of the Kamal Adham Center for Television and Digital Journalism and Professor in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at the American University in Cairo.

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