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New Media

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TeachMideast.org
A website for K-12 educators featuring innovative resource on the culture, geography, history and religions of the Middle East, including essays, classroom activities, downloadable multimedia content and interactive Google Earth tours.


Introduction

The moveable type printing press first appeared in Europe in the middle of the 15th century and revolutionized European culture, but the printing press wouldn't arrive in the Arab world until Napoleon brought it to Egypt in 1798. Perhaps Fernand Braudel's argument that the rise of European civilization was simultaneous with the decline of Islamic civilization explains this delay, but once it did arrive the "Print Revolution" changed the Islamic world just as it had Europe. Still, for whatever reason the impact of the printing press in the Arab world was a long time coming. In the 20th century, however, technological innovation has not taken nearly as long to reach the Middle East. This unit deals with "New Media" in the Arab world and their impact on the society. It may prove that the "Internet Revolution," perhaps also the "Satellite Revolution," have been at least as significant as the Print Revolution was some 200 years earlier. This unit explores the impact in detail.

Because of the National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education's emphasis on the potential of electronic media in education, it seems more than appropriate for us to devote a unit of this online resource to considering the impact of such media in the Arab world. Before beginning, however, it is probably necessary for us to define what we mean by the term "New Media." The phrase is generally applied to nearly all forms of electronic communication that have appeared since the text-only forms of online communication. In the Arab world the most significant changes in the media landscape have come from satellite television networks and from the internet.

At the beginning of the 1990s most of the Arab countries had only one or two state owned broadcast networks. Those who live in border areas were often able to capture broadcasts from neighboring countries, or in places like northern Morocco, from Spain, just across the Straits of Gibraltar. By and large,choice was extremely limited. By the end of the 20th century, however, satellite access was widespread and people all over the region were able to view broadcasts from as far away as the United States and Japan, but it was not these foreign language networks that had the greatest impact. Within a very short time wealthy Arabs set up their own satellite networks broadcasting from Europe, followed quickly by satellite versions of national networks. The origins, development and impact of these networks is analyzed in the reading "Whys and Wherefores of Satellite Ownership." The most revolutionary effect, however, was the Arab news network Al Jazeera. A video clip from the documentary "Al Jazeera: Voice of Arabia" and the reading "The Battle for the Arab Mind" discuss the importance of the network and provide a glance behind the scenes at its operation.

The Internet has had an even greater impact than satellite networks. Jon Alterman sketches the impact of the internet across the region (with the exception of North Africa West of Egypt) including some of the barriers to its acceptance. In the concluding essay from his book Islam in the Digital Age, Gary R. Bunt considers the use of the Internet in the communication of Islamic judicial rulings, as well cyber-activism on the part of Islamic groups. More detailed considerations of specific countries analyze the impact of New Media in Lebanon and Morocco.

As is certainly appropriate with articles on Internet technology, there has been a fair amount of research on the Internet in the Arab world that has been published online. You can explore these in the links list. Among the topics addressed in those articles are the increase in cyber-activism relating to issues and conflicts in the region, the construction of virtual communities, etc. The links will also allow you to explore some of the important sites of the New Media landscape. The bibliography, on the other hand, is a bit limited as research in this domain is only beginning.




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