Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts US Media Outreach to the Arab World: Reaching a Larger Audience More Effectively and for Less Money

US Media Outreach to the Arab World: Reaching a Larger Audience More Effectively and for Less Money

  • May 8, 2014

US Media Outreach to the Arab World: Reaching a Larger Audience More Effectively and for Less Money

  • May 8, 2014

This is a brief summary of remarks by FPRI Senior Fellow Joseph Braude in response to questions from Ron Granieri on the May 6, 2014 episode of the FPRI “show” Geopolitics with Granieri. The audio file of the full interview will be posted shortly on FPRI’s website. Braude, also a Senior Fellow at Dubai’s Al-Mesbar Center for Studies and Research, is currently at work on a book about Arabic media.

America’s considerable spending on Arabic-language media ventures goes primarily to one pan-regional television network and one pan-regional radio network, both based on a model envisioned in the months following September 11 that is far less relevant to the region today:

– At the time, pan-regional TV networks like Al-Jazeera dominated the public discussion. Today, they have lost considerable market share to national television networks with a greater focus on domestic debates in their respective countries. The ongoing American attempt to address the entire region all at once, from Casablanca to Baghdad, is less likely to succeed than in the past. 

– Political discourse in the early years following September 11 was largely caught up in perceived struggles between dark and light: America vs. the Muslim world; Israelis vs Palestinians. While these themes remain prominent, they occupy far less airtime than in the past. The greater concern which dominates Arab public discussions, in this ongoing period of upheaval and change, is the internal dynamics of Arab societies and debates over the future direction of each country. As such, what was once a prime directive for America’s Arabic broadcasts — to improve perceptions of the United States among Arab publics — is less urgent than in the past.

The United States needs to rethink its strategy toward media engagement with Arab publics. In a broadcast landscape of unprecedented complexity, Americans should adopt an approach based more on partnership with local media players who advocate policy agendas both salubrious for their societies and consistent with American interests and values. These agendas including “themes of change” that have proven especially resonant in the region today: the rule of law, a culture of egalitarianism and tolerance, and a political climate grounded in critical thinking and deliberative discourse. By providing training, education, content partnerships, and other forms of support to indigenous media that embrace these themes, the United States can reach a collectively larger audience – with greater precision, at a lower cost, and in a manner helpful to promising new media projects that ultimately take on a life of their own.

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In presenting these ideas at FPRI’s Geopolitics with Granieri this week, Joseph Braude provided an example of a homegrown Arab initiative designed by its youthful creators to promote critical thinking in Saudi Arabia. Watch it here.