Arabic culture is closely related to and often seen within the context of Islamic culture. all the laws, rituals, practices attached to the Islamic religion are adhered to within the geographical location of Arab states. Here it is not the individual but the society that holds prominence and the concept of social responsibility is very strong. On the other hand, American culture is all about the individual (Sullivan, 2006).
The concepts of democracy, egalitarianism, freedom and individuality that bind Americans, give it a certain mythic identity (Sullivan, 2006). Added to this equation are the different social subcultures that superimpose cultural diversity giving America the personality of a salad bowl (Sullivan, 2006). However, both these distinct cultures are today affected by a media-propagated, market-oriented cultural supply that is overburdened by commercialization and channelled towards a globalized culture (Sullivan, 2006). It is as the famous American poet. Allen Ginsberg put it, “Whoever controls the media, the images, controls the culture” (Thinkexist, 2001).
Since television was introduced in the Arab world, it was seen as a medium to revive culture, help heritage survive and promote inter-state integration. In fact, the Arab League Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (ALESCO) aimed at employing media to, “promote the principles of Arab-Islamic culture” (ALESCO, 1998). However, since almost all Arabic televisions were either directly owned by the government or controlled by its strict broadcasting laws, they were very strictly bound.
Defamation of religion, undermining of public order or criticism of the head of state was not allowed. protective policies only allowed programmes related to heritage, religion and education to cultivate congenital culture and social traditions.
Television programmes included Islamic discussions of contemporary issues, folkloric performances, talk shows about Arabic language and literature, display of traditional arts, crafts, sports, and heritage, live transmissions of religious celebrations and recitals of the Holy Quran (Sharjah TV, 2001). Though these programmes did not win viewers attention from a visual aspect since they lacked glamour and appeal, they did help reinforce, the concept of a pan-Arab culture. Thus, it can be safely said that the mission of television in the Arab world is that of a cultural institution.
In America, television’s role becomes much more crucial in the context of transmission of globalized culture, values and ideals. This transmission happened when commercialized media culture sold our own savoir faire back to us reworked into a sales pitch. Every emotion that an average person goes through, love, lust, rebellion, war, disgust were all mixed with a fair share of American refinement to produce programmes that though were unscripted, provided enough entertainment and drama to survive in the name of ‘reality shows’. These shows highlight values of individualism and materialism at the same time captivating multinational advertisers who happily fund these extravagances.
Investigative journalism which is considered real journalism in America is looked down upon by the Arabs who treat personal and family reputation with great respect. The uncovering of a President who has been cheating on his wife, may capture the attention of millions of Americans but it would never be allowed within the Arab media as it would hold gigantic consequences to the culture there.
Therefore, even in a globalized era, television within the Arab world only promotes a cultural discourse which is dipped in Islamic uniformity and values. Programming discourses here are decided not by viewers but by a politically motivated group who decides what is good or not good based on charters and policies laid down by tenets of Arab-Islamic culture.
Sullivan Danny (2006), The Melting Pot Versus The Salad Bowl, Retrieved on 07 November 2011, http://daggle.com/the-melting-pot-versus-the-salad-bowl-111
Thinkexist (2001), Allen Ginsber Quotes, Retrieved on 07 November 2011, http://thinkexist.com/quotation/whoever_controls_the_media-the_images-controls/154221.html
ALESCO (1998). Arab League Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Arab satellite television channels at the service of Arab-Islamic culture. Tunis: ALESCO.
Sharjah Television (2001). A Brief Note on UAE Television from Sharjah. Sharjah, UAE.