Beyond Facebook: media support in the Arab world
Abir Awad explains how the BBC WST is supporting journalists and producers to provide socially responsible and locally appropriate coverage of current events to audiences across the Arab world.
These are extraordinary times in the Arab world, as huge political upheavals bring dangers and uncertainties, but also new hopes and possibilities.
Inevitably, much attention has centred on the role of media; on journalism, citizen journalism, the internet and new forms of social media in the 2011 revolutions.
The BBC WST’s work in the region focuses on encouraging respective national media to adopt an active and effective role in building civil society and to facilitate greater political participation.
As current events continue to unfold, if the media plays this role right, it can help tackle the sense of frustration and disenfranchisement that the world has been witnessing.
Few, if any, of the Arab countries have known anything other than tightly-controlled state or partisan media and there are now high expectations from the national media in each case to follow the example set by the so-called Facebook kids.
Now more than ever people will expect their media to look different, to reflect their new realities.
"People will expect their media to look different, to reflect their new realities."
But this is about much more than Facebook. In order to engage people effectively there is no one-approach-fits-all solution. Both the message and the medium must be right, so we’ve been working across all platforms: radio TV and online.
The BBC WST has just completed a project titled 'socially responsible media platforms for the Arab world', which demonstrated that inclusive media can help tackle the sense of frustration and disenfranchisement in Arab society at a time when the region faces significant political, social and economic challenges.
Building on seven years of experience creating effective community radio (Al-Mirbad Radio) during the conflict in Iraq, we’ve helped four provincial radio stations in Yemen to develop interactive, participatory programmes that deal with access to local services.
Equipping journalists to provide coverage of their own communities, we’re building journalistic newsgathering skills following the basic rules of impartial and responsible reporting, but also introducing the very notion of holding officials to account.
We’ve also trained bloggers and aspiring journalists in Syria, and created the world’s first Arabic web drama in Lebanon.
In much of the Arab world, TV remains the ultimate mass appeal medium. In a 2010 survey of 1000 Egyptians, 98% were regular TV viewers, and 86% daily viewers.
Two-thirds watch more than three hours of television a day, mostly dramas and films. Moreover, the majority of those who watch drama expect to learn something and to be influenced by it.
"Drama audiences in the Arab world expect to learn something and to be influenced by it."
In Egypt and Jordan we have been working with local production companies to develop mass appeal dramas. The first of those, Dawran Shoubra (Shoubra Roundabout) has gone to air at the start of August, in time for the Ramadan season and we expect it to reach tens of millions in Egypt and across the wider Arab world.
The dramas contain messages of community cohesion and self-empowerment; they tackle corruption, poverty, religious tensions, radicalism and youth disenfranchisement.
Our work has been designed according to research and industry analysis carried out as part of the project. All activities have one key element in common – they all support the development of organic regional content that is run on local platforms.
Instability in countries, especially in the Middle East, can have widespread impact beyond national borders.
A country where social and political injustice is allowed to prevail will invariably be a much greater breeding ground for extremism, violent extremism and a community that cannot tackle those rogue elements from within.
We hope tackling these issues through popular soap opera and drama can help communities to explore a new space for change.