The history of communication as an academic field of study in the Arab world goes back to 1939 when the Higher Journalism Institute (HJI) was established within the College of Arts at Cairo University (Cairo University 2004). By the early 1970s, Egypt and Iraq (Baghdad University) were the only countries in the Arab region to have full-fledged academic communication programs. In the early 1980s, however, mass communication programs mushroomed in many Arab universities, and as the third millennium dawned on the Arab world, almost all institutions of higher education offered some form of academic program in media studies.
From a historical perspective, communication studies in the Arab world have evolved in three distinctive post-World War II contexts: the modernization paradigm context, the dependency paradigm context, and the globalization paradigm context. In the three contexts, communication has developed in line with western-oriented perspectives about politics, culture, and social change. Daniel Lerner’s classic about the “passing of traditional Society” (Lerner 1954) seemed to have focused research on a presumed media role in socio-economic modernization. To a large extent, academic programs share some common features: they cater largely to undergraduate students, focus more on professional preparation, and shape themselves more according to western theories of media and society (Ayish 2003a).
Academic Communication Programs
In early 2006, there were 70 communication programs offered at different government and private Arab universities, which seek primarily to provide students with technical professional skills in print, broadcast, and electronic media as well as in public relations and promotional activities. The programs, structured along similar lines as western academic programs, address the mass communication phenomenon along technological lines as marked by print media, broadcasting, public relations, advertising, and online communications. Available data show that Egypt is leading the Arab world in terms of number of programs (19), followed by Sudan (9), the United Arab Emirates (8), and Libya and Algeria (5 each). It has been noted that communication programs offered at Algerian, Moroccan, and Tunisian universities are more aligned with French media training traditions while those in the rest of the Arab world are styled more along American lines.
As such the programs seek to prepare students in specialized areas of communication with little emphasis on the interdisciplinary nature of the field. But as convergence continues to bear on the media market in the Arab world, the programs find themselves, more than ever before, under pressure to adapt to evolving realities. The changing face of Arab media suggests that new media jobs are surfacing, and that there is therefore a need for new academic and professional training orientations. Unfortunately, most academic programs in the Arab world seem very slow in responding to the changes, while the programs being offered continue to focus on traditional rather than new digital and interactive mass communication.
Although the Arab world has witnessed an impressive proliferation of academic communication programs, the production of scholarly research has been limited. Ayish (1998) noted that Arabs’ earliest encounter with communication scholarship took place mainly during the post-independence era, when mass media infrastructures were being established as part of national development projects. Communication theorization was viewed as a luxury Arab researchers could not afford at a time when Arab societies were preoccupied with nation-building. In his review of communication research produced in the Arab world until the mid 1990s, Ayish (1998) noted that the works reflected clearly western influence not only in the framing of communication problems, but also in determining how they are methodologically approached.
A survey of research carried out over the past four decades reveals a range of areas and themes: propaganda, national development, cultural identity, Arab stereotypes, media hegemony, development of new conceptual views of communication from an Islamic perspective, representation of women, new technology, and globalization. To some extent, studies on psychological warfare were carried out in the spirit of Cold War politics when media were entrusted with huge mobilization functions (Nasr 1966; Tuhami 1974). The development communication research tradition arose out of growing interest in the role of media in social change in newly independent states.
While this tradition has spawned a wide range of works (Hatem 1982; Khateeb 1983; Abu Bakr et al. 1985; Tal’at 1987; Kazan 1996), the perpetuation of economic and social inequalities in Arab societies in the 1970s and 1980s gave rise to more critical research work drawing on anti-western perspectives. Arab countries were central parties to global debates over a New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO) in the 1970s and 1980s. Imbalances and biases in news flows from and into the Arab world were important topics of research which sought to shed light on the nature, direction, as well as orientation of news transmitted by major international news agencies and carried by Arab print and broadcast media. Most of the studies found notable discrepancies in news flow patterns, with western agencies dominating the news scene in the Arab world (Masmoudi 1985; Abdul Rahman 1995).
A tradition of research known as Islamic communication was in vogue in the mid-1980s. Basically, it was no more than an exposition of how mass media could be used to propagate Islamic ideas and concepts around the world (Imam 1985; Khateeb 1985; Shanqiti, n.d.). Such efforts fell short of meeting the minimum requirements of model-building in theoretical and methodological terms. With the advent of globalization in the early 1990s, communication research in the Arab world shifted more to scrutinizing the potential negative effects of satellite television and the world wide web (Ayish 2003a; 2003b; ECSSR 2005). The conceptual tools used to address this issue have been more descriptive than analytical.
In the age of globalization, communication research in the Arab world has also witnessed contributions of non-Arab scholars, mainly from the United States and the Untied Kingdom. Boyd’s work on Arab world broadcasting remains the most comprehensive account on radio and television systems in the region. Rugh’s classification of Arab press systems has also been an outstanding intellectual effort to describe and understand media landscape in the region. New contributions by Alterman (1998), Hafez (2001), Miles (2005), and Lynch (2006) have added new outside perspectives to mass communication literature.
Academic and Professional Associations
Though all Arab countries have had some form of a professional press bodies to serve as an umbrella for journalists, these association have developed mostly within governmentcontrolled mechanisms. The Arab Journalists Union is the central pan-Arab professional body serving as an umbrella for Arab journalists. National journalists associations, most of them with politicized orientations, are also operational in all Arab countries. There are also pan-Arab associations for broadcasting like the Tunis-based Arab States Broadcasting Union (ASBU), the Arab Broadcast Forum, the Arab Electronic Journalism Union, the Middle East Advertising Association, and the Middle East Public Relations Association. As for academic associations, the Arab world seems to be lagging behind in this respect with only one national association (Saudi Communication Association) and one international Arab–US Association of Communication Educators. These associations have annual conferences attended by media scholars and practitioners. The Arab world also suffers serious shortages in publications. There are only eight of them across the Arab World: the Egyptian Communication Journal, the Public Opinion Journal, the Media Research Journal, the Algerian Journal of Communication; the Tunisian Journal of Communication; the Saudi Journal of Communication, Transnational Broadcast Studies and the Global Media Journal.
General Trends and Future Directions
It seems that communication has come a long way in the Arab world in terms of academic preparation and professional development. There are over 70 communication programs across the region extending from the Atlantic Ocean in the West to the Arabian Gulf in the East. Yet, despite these diverse offerings, one sees limited significant contributions of Arab researchers to communication scholarship beyond the institutions of Western-style conceptual and methodological procedures. There has been an impressive abundance of academic programs across the region mainly to meet the growing needs of an expanding media sector marked by the rise of satellite television and the World Wide Web.
Yet, communication as a theoretical discipline with significant cultural peculiarities remains largely unaddressed in the Arab World. One reason for this feature might be related to the sweeping effects of Western, especially American communication traditions that sought to insulate the study of communication from political and ideological structural variables impinging on its form and content. Many research analyses in the Arab world have viewed communication in mass media forms with little concern for its relevant inter-disciplinary nature. In order to understand communication in its mass media manifestations, researchers need to shed light on its cultural peculiarities, the very features that make it a distinctive social phenomenon in the Arab World. In this sense, the employment of cultural studies discipline would be of great help.
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