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Shahira Fahmy 2008

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  • Who is Winning the Hearts and Minds of the Arab Public?

    An examination of how Arab viewers judge the credibility of Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya, Al-Hurra and local Arab stations

    BY THOMAS J. JOHNSON

    MARSHALL AND SHARLEEN FORMBY REGENTS PROFESSOR COLLEGE OF MASS COMMUNICATIONS

    TEXAS TECH UNIVERSITY BOX 43082

    LUBBOCK, TX 79409 [email protected]

    (806) 742-6500 EXT. 253 (806) 742-1085

    AND SHAHIRA FAHMY

    ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR SCHOOL OF JOURNALISM UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA

    TUCSON, AZ [email protected]

    Thomas J. Johnson (Ph.D., University of Washington) is the Marshall and Sharleen Formby Regents' Professor, College of Mass Communications at Texas Tech University. His research interests include political communication and new media communication technology effects.

    Shahira Fahmy (Ph.D., University of Missouri) is an associate professor in the School of Journalism at University of Arizona. Her research interests include new media, political communication and visual coverage of war and terrorism in the Middle East. Manuscript accepted for publication in International Communication Research Journal. January 2010.

  • Who is Winning the Hearts and Minds of the Arab Public? - 1

    Who is Winning the Hearts and Minds of the Arab Public?

    An examination of how Arab viewers judge the credibility of Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya, Al-Hurra and local Arab stations

    Abstract / This study surveys Arab satellite television users through a questionnaire posted on

    Al-Jazeeras Arab-language website to examine how credible they judge Al-Jazeera, Al-

    Arabiya, Al-Hurra and local Arab stations. More specifically, this study compares and contrasts

    the degree to which Al-Jazeera users judge the satellite networks in terms of depth, accuracy,

    fairness, believability, trustworthiness and expertise. It also examines the degree to which

    support for press freedoms, ideology, demographic, political measures and reliance predict

    credibility of Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya, Al-Hurra and local Arab stations.

    Keywords / Credibility/ Al-Jazeera / Al-Arabiya / Al-Hurra / local Arab stations, Arab media.

  • Who is Winning the Hearts and Minds of the Arab Public? - 2

    Who is Winning the Hearts and Minds of the Arab Public? An examination of how Arab viewers judge the credibility of Al-Jazeera, Al-

    Arabiya, Al-Hurra and local Arab stations

    Al-Jazeera emerged as the dominant voice in Arab public discourse for opening its lines

    to the Arab people and providing them a forum to voice their views. The station has also been

    recognized as the CNN of the Arab World for its refusal to parrot the official line of Arab

    government officials and its commitment to accuracy and balance while at the same time

    showing an Arab perspective on the news (el-Nawawy 2003; el-Nawawy & Iskandar 2002;

    Lynch, 2006). However, by 2004 the supremacy of Al-Jazeera was challenged by the emergence

    of several satellite competitors including the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya and the U.S.-sponsored

    Arabic language satellite station Al-Hurra.

    While several studies have surveyed Arab audiences to examine the credibility of both

    Al-Jazeera (Auter et. al, 2004, 2005; Johnson & Fahmy, 2008, 2009) and its U.S. competitor Al-

    Hurra (Dabbous, & Nasser, 2009; el-Nawawy, 2007; Telhami, 2005, 2009; Wise, 2005), less

    attention has been paid to credibility of Al-Arabiya, even though in some parts of the Middle

    East, its ratings have surpassed Al-Jazeera (Snyder, 2006a, 2006b). Few studies have

    systematically compared and contrasted credibility of Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya, Al-Hurra

    (However, see Dabbous & Nasser, 2009) and local Arab media and no study could be found that

    has examined what factors predict credibility of these Arab satellite stations.

    This study surveys Arab satellite television users through a questionnaire posted on Al-

    Jazeeras Arab-language website to examine how credible they judge Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya,

    Al-Hurra and local Arab stations. More specifically, this study compares and contrasts the

    degree to which Al-Jazeera viewers judge the satellite networks in terms of depth, accuracy,

  • Who is Winning the Hearts and Minds of the Arab Public? - 3

    fairness, believability, trustworthiness and expertise. It also examines the degree to which

    attitudes toward press freedom, demographics and political measures correlate with credibility of

    Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya, Al-Hurra and local Arab stations.

    Source and Sponsor Credibility

    Early persuasion research found that expertise and trustworthiness were the two main

    factors influencing credibility of a source (Hovland et al., 1949, 1953). Expertise referred to the

    degree to which the audience consider someone qualified to know the truth of a topic, while

    trustworthiness referred to the degree to which the audience perceived the person was motivated

    to tell the truth about that subject.

    The emergence of the Internet focused attention on source credibility as well as expanded

    the definition of what is considered a source (Metzger et al., 2003). Internet researchers

    considered the websites themselves as sources of information.

    Studies by Johnson and Kaye (1998, 2002) found that differences between online and

    traditional versions of the same source were not significantly different, as people focused on the

    credibility of the source itself rather than the way information is delivered. Other studies have

    suggested that different news organizations are rated differently for credibility (Pew Center for

    People and the Press, 2006).

    Credibility in the Arab World

    Until the mid90s, Arab people had little reason to trust the information they received

    from their media as Arab governments held a monopoly over television. Arab governments

    believed that television should promote national development goals. Therefore, television

    stations operated within ministries of information and were funded by the government (Rugh,

    2004). Journalists enjoyed few press rights because they were perceived as part of the

  • Who is Winning the Hearts and Minds of the Arab Public? - 4

    government bureaucracy and should be working on behalf of the government (Fahmy &

    Johnson, 2007b; Lynch, 2006; Rugh, 2004).

    Scholars suggest the rise of satellite news networks, most notably Al-Jazeera, in the wake

    of the Gulf War not only has caused Arab governments to encourage more Western style of news

    gathering and presentations, but have also served as a political and cultural phenomenon that

    have transformed the Arab region (el-Naway & Iskandar, 2002; Rugh, 2004; Seib, 2007).

    Satellite news networks such Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya and Al-Hurra news have adopted a

    more Western style broadcasting style with state-of-the art technology, advertising as a source of

    revenue, and broadcasting a wide range of news and public affairs programming shows, as well

    as entertainment and family-oriented offerings (Ayish, 2001; Seib, 2007).

    Credibility of Al-Jazeera

    As credibility scholars have demonstrated, credibility is a perception held by the

    audience, not a trait inherent in a medium (Berlo et al., 1969). Therefore, credibility perceptions

    can vary widely depending on who is asked. This seems particularly true for Al-Jazeera.

    Al-Jazeera is condemned as a news source by both Arab governments and coalition

    countries alike. Arab governments criticize Al-Jazeera for negative coverage of Arab leaders, for

    interviewing Israeli and Western officials, and for covering taboo topics such as sex, polygamy

    and government corruption (Jamal & Melkote, 2008; Zayani & Ayish, 2006).

    Similarly, Western governments have accused Al-Jazeera of presenting the news,

    particularly Iraq War stories, from a pro-Arab perspective, (Zayani & Ayish, 2006) and for

    ignoring journalistic values by presenting graphic images of civilians injured or killed by

    coalition forces (Fahmy & Johnson 2007a). Worse, coalition governments claim that the network

    has aided terrorists because it has frequently aired tapes from Osama bin Laden and by al-Qaeda

  • Who is Winning the Hearts and Minds of the Arab Public? - 5

    intermediaries (Seib, 2007). On the other hand, Al-Jazeera has been hailed by supporters as the

    CNN of the Arab World for being one of the most important news organizations and a leading

    political actor in the world today (Miles, 2005; Seib, 2007). The English-language version of Al-

    Jazeera has been touted as a potential conciliatory medium that covers contentious issues as a

    way conducive to cooperation, negotiation and reconciliation (el-Nawawy & Powers, 2008).

    Although Al-Jazeera has been criticized by some for being less critical of the Qatar

    government, which provides it with its funding (Zayani & Ayish 2006), Al-Jazeera has won a

    loyal following as the first Arab news source to offer Arab viewers a largely uncensored 24-hour

    news service that has provided them the opportunity to express their views through live phone-in

    shows (el-Nawawy & Iskandar, 2002; Zayani & Ayish 2006). Consequently, studies have found

    that Al-Jazeera ranks extremely high in credibility among Arab audiences (Association for

    International Broadcasting, 2008; Auter et al., 2004), even more than CNN or the BBC (Johnson

    & Fahmy, 2008, 2009)

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