Posted on April 12, 2011

Citizens and media consumers are set to wield more power as technology and consumption habits change, according to participants at a panel discussion in Doha on Sunday.

The discussion, “From Media Revolution to Street Revolution: Twenty Years of Commercial Arab Satellite Television” was hosted by Northwestern University in Qatar and moderated by Al Jazeera English presenter Sami Zeidan. The panellists represented the creative, business and academic sides of media. Arab audiences have gone from being passive consumers of news that used to be produced only by an elite few to participating in the news-making process, said Rima Karaki, a television host, radio presenter and author. “Communication used to be one-way,” Karaki said. “From leaders to people.”

Now, thanks to the evolution of media and specifically the rise of social networks, citizens have control over what becomes news. Social networks were used widely by protesters during recent uprisings in the Middle East, notably in Tunisia and Egypt, to co-ordinate activities. Those protests ultimately led to the fall of regimes that had endured for decades.

“Even before the widespread use of social networks, Arab audiences had seen an incredible evolution in media over the last 70 years,” said panellist Marwan Kraidy, an associate professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at University of Pennsylvania in the US. Kraidy said that in 1940, news travelled the Arab world by word-of-mouth, which was the primary source of news for most Arabs.

But by 2000 Arabs had gained access to radios, newspapers, the Internet and as many as 60 satellite TV channels. Arab speakers now have access to the same breadth of information as speakers of any other language in the world, Kraidy explained, including sport, news, business, and entertainment programming. In addition to growth and an array of new choices, Arabs are also changing the way they interact with television, the panellists said. In the past, people around the world, including Arabs, watched television without the interference of other media. But television viewers today have started to incorporate other types of media into their viewing, using social networks and text messages to discuss a show while they’re watching it, Kraidy said.

The panel discussion on Sunday was the capstone event to two days of discussion and insight into the state of Arab media and media teaching methods.

source: Gulf Times