Monopolies, Minarets and Videos

By Hammami, Sadok | UNESCO Courier, February 1995 | Go to article overview

Monopolies, Minarets and Videos


Hammami, Sadok, UNESCO Courier


Because of strict state monopolies and inadequate programme output, the Arab public is looking elsewhere for what it cannot find at home.

In the Arab world, where demands based on identity and religion are forcefully pressed and where the present is continually haunted by the past, the question of communication is fraught with drama. All societies are nowadays concerned by the link between cultural identity and the globalization of communication, but it is a distinctive feature of the Arab world that memories of the past intrude into the very heart of modern life. This revival of the past is particularly noticeable in the field of communications.

The place of the media is closely linked to the status of the "sanctuary" in the community. In and around the mosque there grows up a culture of resistance not only to modernization but also to the authorities, thus reviving an old form of territoriality in which the new media are always faced with competition. There is an extraordinary competition nowadays between the sound of the muezzin echoing from minarets and the visual fascination of satellite dishes - symbolizing the contradiction of a world technologically united but culturally fragmented.

But this paradox shows itself mainly in state media monopolies and in the many forms of resistance to which they lead. The communication issue is a focus for all the cultural blockages that have characterized the development of these societies: state hegemony, the breakdown of political bonds, a return to tradition. . . . Originally required to be tools for development, the media (notably television) have helped to intensify the authoritarian nature of the established order. By consistently devoting itself to the glorification of charismatic leaders, television has in general fostered the personality cult in politics.

In the Arab world radio and television, with a few exceptions, are limbs of the state monopoly. Access to them is strictly controlled. Economic factors such as rising production costs, political factors such as the restraining effect of censorship, and social factors such as increased demand resulting from the growth of the middle class, all help to aggravate a creative crisis. Egypt, the only Arab country with its own programme industry, is the only exception. This situation drives people to seek elsewhere what they cannot find at home, and makes for increased cultural dependence on the outside world.

The saucepan strategy

Three different strategies tend to be adopted. One is to plug surreptitiously into other networks - a common practice in North Africa, because of the proximity of Europe. …

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