Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

Challenging Authority in Cyberspace: Evaluating Al Jazeera Arabic Writers

Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

Challenging Authority in Cyberspace: Evaluating Al Jazeera Arabic Writers

Article excerpt

Literature Review

In 2003, Al Jazeera's coverage of the US invasion of Iraq helped to make the network one of the most popular media networks in the Middle East. Since then, its Arabic and English channels and sites have been studied extensively, both in scholarly work and in popular culture. In general, these studies can be classified into four categories: studies on the origins and development of the network, studies that compare or contrast the network with other news agencies, analyses of the effects of the network's growth, and analyses of the network's audience.

When studying the evolution and origins of Al Jazeera, many studies use the growth of satellite TV in the Arab world and Qatari politics as a starting point. In 2003, Miladi conducted such a study when he traced the network's inception and historical development (Miladi 2003). Similarly, in 2007, Zayani and Sahraoui analyzed the origins and development of the network's organizational culture as a means of understanding its inner working culture and practices (Sahraoui and Zayani 2007). Earlier, in 2005, Miles had traced the history and development of Al Jazeera and its attempts to provide a counterbalance to Western media dominance (Miles 2005).

Other studies, like Ghareeb's, have focused less on the organization's historical development but more on its effects on contemporary politics and media (Ghareeb 2000). Likewise, Zayani examined the effects of Al Jazeera on international politics and media by exploring how the network's rising popularity has destabilized the hegemony of Western media (Seib 2005). In a 2002 book, El-Nawawy and Iskander carried out a more in-depth research on Al Jazeera's impact on international media (El-Nawawy and Iskander 2002).

Still other studies look at the organization and its impact through the lenses of its audience. Abdul-Mageed and Herring studied readers' comments on Al Jazeera's Arabic Web site as a means of assessing the impact of the network's articles (Abdul-Mageed and Herring 2008). Auter, Arafa, and Al Jaber analyzed the demographics of Al Jazeera viewers in a 2004 study, while Johnson and Fahmy explored how the network's supposed political agenda affects its credibility (Fahmy and Johnson 2008).

Some studies have focused on analyzing Al Jazeera by comparing or contrasting it with other major news organizations. Works by Qusdi (2003), Barkho (2006), and Carney (2006) contrast Al Jazeera's news coverage with the coverage of major western media outlets, like BBC and CNN. Other studies performed by Barkho (2007) and Gerhard (2010) explore the similarities between Al Jazeera and Western media outlets as a means of gaining a better understanding of the organization. Still other works, like Abdul-Mageed and Herring's 2008 article, compare Al Jazeera's English coverage with its Arabic coverage.

Although the intensity and quantity of these studies testify to the importance of Al Jazeera and its increasing role in the Arab media landscape, as yet no study has been designed to explore the nature and identities of the network's content providers, especially those of its Arabic political writers. Since Al Jazeera's main language is Arabic, its primary audience is Arabic speaking and its popular impact has been historically noticed in the Arab world, exploring the background, style, and content of its Arabic political authors is crucial in measuring the organization's influence and rigor in challenging the political status quo in the Arab world. This article probes this side of the network in order to assess its role in mainstream Arab politics and high culture.

Satellite Television and the Rise of a Freer Arab Media

Since Al Jazeera's rise is related to the growth of satellite television in the Arab world, its impact on the Arab street is situated in the larger context of the history and role of satellite television in expanding Arab public sphere. Satellite television first garnered attention in the Arab world in the early 1990s. …

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