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Arab State Broadcasting Systems in Transition

The Promise of the Public Service Broadcasting Model

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In an Arab region entangled in global political, economic, social, and technological transformations, it seems natural to see traditionally paternalistic state broadcasting systems going through transitions. It has been noted that in Arab countries where social and political reforms are highly visible, radio and television services have been most cognizant of the need to adapt to surrounding change. Yet, in the long run, if government broadcasters are perceived to evolve along a path most compatible with envisioned democratization trends, it is public service rather than commercial broadcasting that holds the promise for that democratic vision. State broadcasters share significant features with their public service counterparts when it comes to service universality, funding, social and cultural empowerment, and public interest orientations. It is true that state broad casters in Arab countries with a progressive democratic history have demonstrated a propensity to be more inclusive and pluralistic in addressing national political and cultural issues. But all in all, their institutional affiliation with the state has been highly inhibitive for the pursuit of independence in news and current affairs, documentaries, and religious and cultural content. To bring themselves into closer alignment with the PSB model, state broadcasters need to harness ongoing social and political reforms to address four central issues arising out of their relation ship with government: editorial independence, institutional autonomy, non-state broadcast competition, and program enhancement. The writer notes that those issues have been occasionally addressed in the contexts of new audio-visual laws, broadcast restructurings, state-commercial broadcasting co-existence, and professional and technological development. The writer concludes that only an institution of genuine democratic political, social, and economic reforms in the region would secure state broadcasters' transition into the PSB model.


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