Satellite Television in the Middle East Evaluation of Quality Programming in the 1990s: Al-Jazeera, Dubai, LBC, MBC, Future and Egypt Space Channel

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"Turn him to any cause of policy, The Gordian Knot of it he will unloose, Familiar as his garter" Shakespeare (Henry V, 1, i)

Television has developed unevenly in the Arab world as a result of the region's endemic political instability. Most of the Arab countries were under direct or indirect foreign occupation and had little to stay about the need for a better way of communication with the people. Television is an expensive medium and the money needed for its induction and development was invested in something more pressing and compelling during the 1950s and 1960s. In fact the history of television broadcasting in the Arab world goes back to the mid-1950s when a governmental broadcast operations were launched in Iraq, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia (Boyed 1999 and Ayish 2001). In the early 1960s, taking note of the medium's power in political mobilization and national development, Arab governments in newly independent states instituted television as a government monopoly (Boyd, 1999). As a result, the media policies adopted by governments have not served the Arab public interest. These policies and rules were and still are very restrictive and thus they had reduced competition rather than expanded it. The situation of direct control and the monopolistic approach was drastically changed in the 1990s. It is important to note that " In almost all Arab countries, television services were subordinated to ministries of information or other government bodies, thus turning into official mouthpieces of government policies as well as into outlets of national cultural expression."(Boyed 1999 and Ayish 2001) Television is financed by five sources of revenues: License fees, advertising, program sales among the Arab countries, state appropriations and renting of equipment and studios. As a general trend television seeks to propagate ideas, views, and sociopolitical programs supported by the various governments in the region. Boyed (1999) and Ayish (2001) rightfully stated that "In the 1970s, television systems in the Arab world were constrained by three major problems: insufficient local program production leading to external television imports, mainly from the United States and Western Europe; close government scrutiny and control, leading to prohibitive working environments, and shortages of human and financial resources, leading to dull and low-quality programming output."(Boyed 1999 and Ayish 2001). Television is an ideal tool for a culture that is family-oriented and "tends to center much of its entertainment around home"(Boyd, 1999)


Based on many dictionaries, quality refers to the totality of features and characteristics of a product or service that bear on its ability to satisfy stated or implied needs. Not to be mistaken for "degree of excellence" or "fitness for use" which meet only part of the definition. Hence, one is able to assume that the quality programming in television refers to the ability of a television service to satisfy intellectual, emotional, moral, social, cultural, and esthetical needs.

In discussing and evaluating a quality programming in television, one needs to raise the most crucial question which is; are there coherent criteria for judging programming quality ? Helena Sheehan (1987) stated " Most program makers are vague enough about their values, about how they judge what is good and what is bad in making their programs." Both programmers and program makers tend to be resentful of judgments on their work and or planning that do not conform to their own. Not that some critics do not give them cause for resentment. Furthermore, Sheehan found that critics are often arbitrary and indulgent in their likes and dislikes. They often fail to give any credible justification for their judgments. When it comes down to it, they can be vague as anybody else about specifying what criteria they apply (Sheehan 1987 and 2001.)


A comparative and quantitative approach was used for this study. …