Satellite TV News and Arab Democracy (Journalism Practice)

Vol. 2 No. 1 Feb. 2008 —

The red and white banners of Lebanon’s anti-Syrian protests in the spring of 2005 were a testament to the transformational power of the Arab media revolution. Without al-Jazeera and the new constellation of Arab satellite broadcasters, it is unlikely there would ever have been a “Cedar Revolution,” as a Bush Administration official quickly dubbed the spontaneous protests that ended Syria’s 29-year military presence in Lebanon. However, television did not drive out the Syrians, any more than it gave birth to some new form of Lebanese democracy. TV cannot alone create change. It is an agent of change—more specifically, a tool used by the architects of change. Arab television is providing a level of cover to those who seek democratic change and it may even be supplanting at least some of the traditionally more bloody battlefields of the Middle East by allowing confrontations to play out through the camera rather than the gun. Yet an emerging corporate feudalism, in which the majority of semi-independent media outlets are owned by individuals who are part of, or close to, the ruling families of the region, means that red lines still exist which constrain journalists and limit the pace of change.

Vol. 2, Issue 1, 2008

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