Religious Broadcasting in the Middle East
Religious Broadcasting in the Middle East Conference
Islamic, Christian and Jewish Channels: Programmes and Discourses
30-31 January 2010
Møller Centre, Storey’s Way, Cambridge CB3 ODE
Organised by Cambridge Arab Media Project in association with the Centre of Islamic Studies
Sponsored by International Development Research Centre in Canada
Religious broadcasting in the area is not limited to ‘Islamic channels and broadcasting’. Rather it has expanded to include Christian and Jewish broadcasting which will be equally researched. Part of this broadcasting has evolved as a response to internal factors and changes that have taken place within their own particular settings. Yet other parts, especially Arabic-Christian broadcasting has, arguably, emerged in response to the dramatic rise of Islamic broadcasting. Television channels (the focus of the this project) as well as radio stations have been established in the past few years promoting Christian or Jewish ideals, again claiming a divinely-inspired and superior value system that is second to none.
The three types of broadcasting— Islamic, Christian and Jewish— offer a new phenomenon that is still as yet under-researched. Some of this broadcasting would insist on the ‘non-political’ nature of the issues discussed and promoted on their media outlets. Yet others would have no such limitation. But in total these channels and programmes comprise a truly new phenomenon in the area given their number, capabilities, audiences and outreach.
Over the past decade or more the influence of television broadcasting in the Middle East has become central to the shaping of public attitudes. This broadcasting varies in form, substance, scale of operation, nature of owne rship and outreach. While the most influential mainstream television broadcasting is news-focused, entertainment and religious broadcasting have been no less significan t. Mostly functioning against a public backdrop marked by sustainable authoritarian governments, political instabilities, wars and pervasive foreign military interventions, this diverse broadcasting has emerged as a somewhat unique platform for the expression of public views and opinions that would have otherwise been less heard if not totally disallowed. Numerous research approaches have analysed the various socio-political and cultural aspects of the impact of this broadcasting. Most of the research has focused, however, on the novelty of the phenomenon and the provision of venues for a Habermasian ‘public sphere’ within a Middle Eastern (and mainly Arabic) setting. The penetrations of hitherto low ceilings of expressions and the breaking of many taboos have been acknowledged as part of the greatest achievements of the news-broadcasting in particular. Relatively less focus, however, has been given to the substance and discursive contents that have been emerging with the mushrooming of countless broadcasting outlets, large and small. Or at least certain discourses of this broadcasting, including religious discourses, have not entertained as much attention and research as they really merit. In the midst of this uncontrolled wave of expansion and the technical ease and relative low cost of launching a satellite channel a number of purely ‘religious channels’ have appeared. Equally important, the mainstream channels, such as Al-Jazeera, the MBC and Dubai among many others have their own religious programmes and talk shows. Religious broadcasting in the area is not limited to ‘Islamic channels and broadcasting’. Rather it has expanded to include Christian and Jewish broadcasting which will be equally researched. Part of this broadcasting has evolved as a response to internal factors and changes that have taken place within their own particular settings. Yet other parts, especially Arabic-Christian broadcasting has, arguably, emerged in response to the dramatic rise of Islamic broadcasting. Television channels (the focus of the this project) as well as radio stations have been established in the past few years promoting Christian or Jewish ideals, again claiming a divinely-inspired and superior value system that is secondto none. The three types of broadcasting— Islamic, Christian and Jewish— offer a new phenomenon that is still as yet under-researched. Some of this broadcasting would insist on the ‘non-political’ nature of the issues discuss ed and promoted on their media outlets. Yet others would have no such limitation. But in total these channels and programmes comprise a truly new phenomenon in the area given their number, capabilities, audiences and outreach. The Cambridge Arab Media Project (CAMP) has designed a research project to map out part of the ‘religious-broadcasting-scene’ in the area and explore the main contours of this broadcasting. This research has involved a team of academics and experts who have been focusing on content analysis and maps of programming of these channels. This conference is the concluding phase of the rese arch where our researchers will outline their findings on the specific channels and programmes that have been monitored and analysed. We hope that the proceedings of this rese arch which will be published by Hurst and Columbia University Press will produce a much-needed framework of analysis and a base of knowledge for further research.
Please note that conference fees include attendance at the conference with refreshments/lunch only.
- Attending only 30.01.10: £25, Student/Concession £15
- Attending only 31.01.10: £25, Student/Concession £15
- Attending both days: £45, Student/Concession £25
- Conference dinner 31.01.10: £35, Student/Concession £20
Read about the resulting report: Religious Broadcasting in the Middle East
Saturday 30 January 2010
9.00 – 9.30 Registration
9.30 – 9.45 Welcome speech, Prof. Yasir Suleiman
9.45 – 10.15 Keynote speech, Prof. Naomi Sakr: Arab satellite media: where do we stand now?
10.15 – 10.45 Mapping Middle Eastern religious broadcasting: The project and the context
Speaker: Dr Khaled Hroub ( University of Cambridge)
10.45 – 11.00 coffee break
11.00 – 12.00 ‘Pure’ Salafi broadcasting: Al-Majd Channel ( Saudi Arabia)
Speaker: Dr Abeer Najjar ( American University of Sharja)
Discussant: Prof. Madawi Al-Rasheed (King’s College, London)
Chair: Dr Sara Silvestri ( City University and Cambridge University)
12.00 – 1.00 ‘Modern’ Salafi broadcasting: Iqra’ ( Saudi Arabia)
Speaker: Dr Ehab Galal ( University of Copenhagen)
Discussant: Dr Zahera Harb ( Nottingham University)
Chair: Dr Dina Matar ( School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)/ London)
1.00 – 2.00 lunch break
2.00 – 3.00 Religious broadcasting on mainstream channels: Al-Jazeera, MBC and Dubai
Speaker: Prof. Mohammad Ayish ( University of Sharja)
Discussant: Dr Tarik Sabry ( University of Westminster)
Chair: Prof. Christina Slade ( City University)
3.00 – 4.00 Sunni/Shia broadcasting divide in Iraq
Speaker: Mr Rafid Fadhil (Researcher, London)
Discussant: Mr Ehab Bessaiso ( University of Cardiff)
Chair: Dr Tilde Rosmer ( University of Oslo)
4.00 – 4.30 break
4.30 – 5.30 ‘Modern preachers’, mixed discourses
Speaker: Ms Olfa Tantawi , ( University of Cairo)
Discussant: Prof. Jakob Skovgaard-Petersen ( University of Copenhagen)
Chair: Dr Anissa Daoudi ( University of Durham)
5.30 – 6.30 Christian broadcasting in Arab countries
Speaker: Mr Sameh Fawzy , Egypt
Discussant: Dr Dina Matar (SOAS/London)
Chair: Dr Khaled Azab ( Alexandria Library/Egypt)
9.30 – 10.30 Jewish religious broadcasting on Israeli television
Speakers: Mr Yoni Mendel ( University of Cambridge) and Mr Ilan Manor ( University of Tel Aviv)
Discussant: Dr Tilde Rosmer ( University of Oslo)
Chair: Prof. Jakob Skovgaard-Petersen ( University of Copenhagen)
10.30 – 11.30 ‘Family business’ broadcasting stations – Al-Nas
Speaker: Ms Juman Quneis ( University of Birzeit)
Discussant: Dr Anissa Daoudi ( University of Durham)
Chair: Prof. Yasir Suleiman ( University of Cambridge)
11.30 – 12.00 break
12.00 – 1.00 Islamic vs Secular Media in Turkey: Deliberative Democracy and the AKP
Speaker: Dr Ayla Göl (University of Aberystwyth/University of Cambridge)
Discussant: Dr Khaled Hroub ( University of Cambridge)
Chair: Dr Abeer Najjar ( American University of Sharja)
1.00 – 2.00 lunch break
2.00 – 3.00 Islamist female activists and preachers: Broadcasting, platforms and issues
Speaker: Ms Gihan Abou Zeid, ( Policy Advisor, the Ministry of Family, Cairo).
Discussant: Ms Maria Way, ( University of Westminster, London)
Chair: Dr Abduallah Baabood, (Director of Gulf Research Centre-Cambridge)
3.00 – 4.00 Hamas broadcasting – Al-Aqsa channel in Gaza
Speaker: Dr Atef Alshaer ( School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London)
Discussant: Dr Noureddine Miladi ( University of Northampton)
Chair: Mr Ehab Bessaiso ( University of Cardiff)
3.00 – 4.30 break
4.30 – 5.30 Hizbualla broadcasting, Al-Manar Channel
Speaker: Ms Farah Dakhlallah, ( University of Cambridge)
Discussant: Dr Basem Mussallam ( University of Cambridge)
Chair: Dr Zahera Harb ( University of Nottingham)
News and Media
Watching religiously, Cambridge University Research News, 20 May 2010
A new survey of the boom in religious broadcasting in the Middle East reveals how the small screen is becoming an increasingly important battlefield in the struggle for people’s hearts and minds.
The report, by the Cambridge Arab Media project and Cambridge University’s Centre of Islamic Studies, follows a conference earlier this year and provides an overview of the little-studied but sprawling network of satellite television stations now operating in the region.
Since the 1980s, the number of satellite channels in Middle Eastern countries has burgeoned, from none to almost 500. In turn, the range of religious programmes available to viewers has become far wider than ever before, offering them alternative ideas not just about faith, but society as a whole. Researchers believe that television is, as a result, becoming an evermore influential means of social engineering in the Middle East. While a handful of the channels in question, such as al-Jazeera, are internationally recognised, the majority address specific, niche audiences and are unknown to the vast majority of Westerners. The report compiles the findings and observations of numerous academics, first presented at the Cambridge conference in January. It examines the religious voices and opinions which are emerging, the audiences they attract, and the influence that they may be having on people’s identities and views. The majority of stations considered are Islamic, but the document also covers Christian and Jewish outlets. In some cases, it finds that they are a force for unity, often in troubled states such as Lebanon, Israel and Iraq. Equally, however, it charts cases where Islamic “televangelism” has become a riposte to longer-standing, mainstream religious broadcasters. “These channels are often political tools which promote a particular vision of a social and political order,” Professor Yasir Suleiman, Director of the Centre of Islamic Studies at the University of Cambridge said. “The research covered in the report suggests that the presenters and participants in religious programmes are not simply arguing over the rightness and wrongness of their ideas, but claiming and contesting the authority to speak for Islam itself.” The review highlights a number of cases where clear efforts are being made, through television, to claim audiences on behalf of a certain religious and political ideal. This is not a feature of Islamic channels alone. Some Christian broadcasters in the Middle East were found to be using television to preach and defend their faith in the face of perceived marginalisation in the Arab World; not least in the case of al-Hayah, a channel which explicitly tries to convert Muslims to Christianity and has moved studios several times for fear of attack as a result. As the report also finds, however, the drive to influence viewers is not always an attempt to turn them to political extremism. More commonly, studies in a wide range of countries found that audiences were being encouraged to pursue a more pious and ethically sound lifestyle, although opinion differed widely from station to station as to what that might entail. Rather than trying to engender direct political change, therefore, many researchers found cases where television programmes were trying to effect a “re-Islamization of society”. Analyses of the al-Nas network in Egypt or the Iqra’ Channel in Saudi Arabia, for example, did not find that viewers were being encouraged to make political judgements as a result of religious broadcasts, but rather to focus on their individual and ethical behaviour in accordance with Islamic teaching and for the sake of a greater social good. Perhaps more surprisingly still, in some of the most troubled countries studied, this effort to encourage society to rediscover its religious identity is also used in an attempt to unite it. In Iraq, where there are now multiple Sunni and Shi’ite broadcasters, researchers found neither attempting to win over viewers from the other, but observed: “There was instead a kind of virtual reconciliation where sectarian political sentiments were present but not directly expressed. All channels tended to respect national unity.” Curiously, a similar picture emerges in Israel, where Jewish programming was aimed largely at progressive or secular Jews rather than the right-wing Orthodoxy which tends to dominate national politics. The most popular channel, Hidabroot, appeared to convey the message that regardless of audiences’ political or religious preferences, all had a common, Jewish identity which deserved respect. Further work, examining the nature of audience these channels generate and the impact their content is having, is now being planned. “We hope to launch this second phase of the project in the future, but it will need careful planning and project funding,” Dr Kahled Hroub, Director of the Arab Media Project said.
The full report is a joint publication by the Cambridge Arab Media Project and the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Centre of Islamic Studies. The research project behind it was also supported by the International Development Research Centre in Canada. Copies can be downloaded for free from here.
Dozens of Muslim, Christian and Jewish religious channels have been established, advocating differing forms of religiosity and shaping public perceptions through their transmission of discussion programmes, preaching, proselytisation pure and simple, and guidelines about how best to live a pious life. Even mainstream leading news channels such as Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya have broadcast popular religious shows since their inception. Some of this programming is highly politicised, such as Hamas’s Al-Aqsa or Hizbullah’s Al-Manar channels; other stations present themselves as apolitical, concerned only with preaching God’s word.
The highly charged political and religious ferment in the Middle East today has certainly been propitious for such broadcasters as they seek to convey their message. This has in turn reinforced the connection between the dominant ‘religious atmosphere’ and religious broadcasting. Based on monitoring and content-analysis of some of the region’s most influential religious channels and programmes, the contributors to this book offer pioneering insights into this uncharted terrain. They explore the themes, discourses, appearances and the ‘celebrities’ of this still expanding phenomenon of religious broadcasting in the Middle East.