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Media in the Arab World

posted on: Jun 5, 2024


By: Raisa Sami / Arab America Contributing Writer

It is essential to talk about the Arab World in terms of its sub-regions in order to understand the role that media plays there. Every sub-region has unique qualities that have a significant impact on the role of media, especially television, in national development. 


Egypt is a major regional media player, with its press being influential and widely read in the region. Its TV and film industry supplies much of the Arab-speaking world with various productions. The country has two state-run national TV channels and six regional channels and is a key player in satellite TV. Egypt’s publications fall into four groups: state-owned publications, political parties’ publications, and independent Egyptian publications. Egypt was the first Arab nation to have its satellite, Nile Sat 101. The country’s first private TV stations, Dream 1, Dream 2, and Al-Mihwar TV, broadcast via satellite in 2001. The state monopoly on radio broadcasting was broken with the arrival of private commercial music stations in 2003.


The Libyan government and foreign workers have expressed dissatisfaction with the quality of Libyan television and radio programs, citing political criteria rather than expertise. This has led to decreased program quality and reduced ability to produce programs of interest to the general population. Broadcast signals in the southern part of the country are not yet effectively reaching the rural areas. The Libyan government claims that mass media have received low priorities for support due to the country’s economic crisis.


Morocco’s private press is free to investigate and debate taboo issues, but freedom of the press has its limits. Low literacy levels limit newspaper readership, and competition among publications for advertising is intense. The government owns or has a stake in Morocco’s two television networks and plans to allow private investment in state-run broadcast media and the official news agency. Satellite dishes are widely used, giving access to a range of foreign TV stations.


Lebanon’s media institutions have played a less positive role in areas such as education, training, and national development. The Lebanese press has been more of a purveyor of views than a platform for discussion among various groups or opposing points of view. Both licensed and illegal broadcasting have failed to provide Lebanese citizens with information to satisfy their real societal needs. Television broadcasting in Lebanon relies heavily on imported programs, most of which are alien to Lebanese culture. The government has remained largely interested in asserting its control over news broadcasts while paying little attention to the kind and quality of programs. Radio broadcasting, both licensed and illegal, differs little from television, except that radio programs are locally produced, mostly for entertainment purposes.


In Jordan, the role of mass media in national development has always been recognized. In response to calls from the United Nations Educational Scientific and Culture Organization (UNESCO), Jordan was one of the few countries in the mid-1970s to establish a Development Communication Department at the Ministry of Information. This department produces television and radio documentaries, as well as short messages relating to the environment, public sanitation, agriculture, vocational training, and safety at home and work. Mass media in Jordan has always reflected this mixed system outlook, with newspapers and other print media falling in the private sector domain while broadcasting remains a government concern.

Saudi Arabia

In Saudi Arabia, mass media are used for both curricular instruction and national development, with closed-circuit television being used for female students due to segregation in universities. Kuwait’s press freedom is guaranteed under the 1961 Press and Publishing Law, but censorship regulations have been implemented since 1986. After the Iraqi invasion in 1990, the government lifted censorship, but journalists continued to experience various restrictions.


Qatar’s mass media initially aimed to build a modern nation, with electronic media being developed to bridge the gap between the oil boom and internal development. Priority is given to education and cultural content, with increased government financial support reinforcing private newspapers. Qatar’s rapid press development is a result of strong government support and the recruitment of well-trained journalists. However, dwindling government financial support and the “Qatarization” of media staff pose challenges.

United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has experienced steady growth in its mass media industries, serving the communication needs of both the Indigenous population and the expatriate community. The UAE’s mass media is undergoing consolidation and is collaborating with Arab Gulf Cooperation Council countries. However, the industry has largely relied on foreign workers due to a lack of local training opportunities. The political stability of the UAE has led to continued prosperity for the media industries.


Oman has made significant strides in using the media for informational, educational, and entertainment purposes over the last 25 years. About 74% of radio programs are devoted to entertainment, religion, and news, while 54% of television programs are devoted to information and guidance in health, education, agriculture, industry, family affairs, and childcare. English language radio programming provides approximately 47% of its output in the form of light and popular music, 33% in classical music, and 20% in non-musical programs.

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