Media experts: Power shifts toward people in media industry

April 11, 2011

Citizens and media consumers are set to wield more power in media as technology and media consumption habits change, according to a group of media thought leaders who participated in 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 was moderated by Al Jazeera English presenter Sami Zeidan. The panelists 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 the rise of social networks, citizens have control over what becomes news.

Leila Mroueh, a fellow panelist and an independent broadcast content producer, agreed.

“Every single one of us we’re all editors,” Mroueh said. “Thanks to our social networks.”

That shift in power will allow ordinary citizens to take control of media and “use it as a force for good,” she said.

Social networks were used widely by protestors during recent uprisings in the Middle East – notably in Tunisia and Egypt – to coordinate activities. Those protests ultimately led to the fall of regimes that had endured for decades.

Even before the wide spread use of social networks Arab audiences had seen an incredible evolution in media over the last 70 years, said panelist Marwan Kraidy, an associate professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at University of Pennsylvania in the United States.

Kraidy told the audience that in 1940 news travelled the Arab world via 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 said, 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 panelists 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 andtext 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.

“We were extremely excited to have such an esteemed gathering of experts on Arab Media from leading institutions across the world meet up and discuss with our faculty in communication and journalism ways to develop and enhance the teaching and researching of Arab media,” said Joe F. Khalil, a visiting assistant professor at Northwestern. “This two-day event will no doubt benefit teaching and researching Arab media during what many considers a transformative moment in their development.”

Other panelists included:

Nakhle el Hage, Director of News and Current Affairs, Al Arabiya News Channel.