The rise in popularity of Arabic-speaking foreign-owned media outlets over the years has generated the misconception that money and technology can buy credibility. These foreign-owned news platforms, which early on boasted prime influence, have receded alongside the idea of neutrality in reporting, according to a recent article in the London-based Al Arab newspaper. Despite this decline, however, they still maintain a sizable viewership when compared to local Arab media outlets like MTV, LBCI, Al Jadeed, Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya.
According to Mohamed Shoman, the Dean of the Faculty of Mass Communication at the British University in Cairo, foreign-owned stations like BBC, VOA, DW, and RT Arabic have been considered more credible than local news stations despite serving the interests of the foreign governments funding them. These outlets cover topics with a high level of professionalism, supplementing coverage with analysis and diverging opinions.
Foreign outlets remain more influential among viewers because they operate with a higher degree of professionalism when dealing with political issues. They adhere to their own set of rigid values in their coverage, inspiring more confidence, unlike local news stations, which constantly change their positions. Meanwhile, local media outlets have been emulating foreign-owned media outlets by spending large sums of money to gain influence over the Arab public opinion, believing this will help build a credible image.
Despite its initial success, however, foreign-owned media struggles with its own flaws. Most notably, many perceive prejudiced and propagandistic coverage. This presents a problem primarily to overseas viewers, who cannot compare the quality of discourse presented in news coverage against the reality experienced in their own countries. The public views these outlets less favorably because they are aligned with the countries that finance them. Why then do local viewers continue to turn to foreign-owned media outlets for news?
At the heart of it, Arab viewers do not trust their own media outlets. Though local news outlets have begun to adopt similar practices to their foreign-owned counterparts, they fail to live up to similar levels of quality and professionalism. Following the Western model of news, reporting does not pave the way to success, according to Egyptian journalist Muhammad Saeed Mahfouz, who says that spending money to buy viewers does not create credibility. He cites Al Jazeera, which he claims is not credible despite its reach of millions of viewers because its core values and political stance constantly shift, often following the shifting politics of its Qatari hosts.
Arab viewers are also conscious of what they are watching and are not deceived by the “glamour of images, colors, and theatrical performances” that typically characterize local Arab media coverage. Though the news coverage by foreign media outlets is far from neutral, viewers are able to verify exaggerations and allegations themselves. Media experts believe the idea of objectivity is illusory, unreasonably ideal, and does not exist in practice, as cited by Al Arab. Therefore, the professional manner in which the information is presented is more appealing to the audience than the dramatized — and often obviously misleading or false — news coverage of local news outlets.
The success of foreign-owned news satellites rides on the shortcomings of their local counterparts. Foreign-owned media platforms take advantage of a vacuum in Arab media: the lack of meaningful, rich coverage, which was overpowered by propaganda carried out by regimes, according to the Al Arab newspaper. By occupying this void, these outlets have been able to increase their own influence and promote their own political agendas. Local Arab media, though making technical and aesthetic strides by following the Western model, still cannot perform up to par.
Copyright © 2021 by Al Jadid
Copyright © 2021 by Al Jadid