Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 04/2010

Shifting Sands: The Impact of Satellite TV on Media in the Arab World

Deborah Horan

March 2010

National Endowment for Democracy


Media in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are freer than they were a decade ago, with a proliferation of satellite television news channels leading the way. Arab newscasts cover events in real time, sometimes scooping their Western competition with spot news coverage of regional conflicts. Talk shows regularly stir controversy by airing contentious views, breaking social taboos, and giving regional platforms to political opposition groups. Government-run media have been forced to compete or lose audiences. Yet most governments in the MENA region have managed to retain a tight grip on media, whether through the arbitrary application of restrictive and vague press laws, limits on media production, or a kinship, political, or business relationship with media owners. There are exceptions, and transnational news channels generally operate under fewer constraints than local broadcasts. But only three Arab countries, for instance, were ranked “partly free” for media by Freedom House in its 2009 Freedom of the Press index; the rest remained “not free.”