Media @ McGill

Ali Mohammed--The growing impact of alternative media on traditional news and emerging democracy in the arab world


Over the past decade, the Arab World has witnessed accelerating changes in its media landscape related to the emergence of new information and communication technologies. By the early 1990s, satellite broadcasting, the Internet, and multimedia had begun to prevail in Arab countries, leading to changes in political communication and media coverage of public affairs. Spurred on by wide-ranging transformations and emerging social movements that oppose terrorism, globalization, and wars at various levels, these new voices and progressive movements have employed the alternative media to express and disseminate their political opinions and programs. As a result, the mainstream media are no longer the “only player on the block.”

Although emerging new alternative media in the Arab world utilize new communication technologies such as the Internet, as of yet, this phenomenon has not received much attention from Arab researchers, despite the critical importance of understanding the ways in which relevant social actors utilize new technology in a political and historic context that differs from the context of most of the literature that has addressed this issue. For my theoretical and methodological foundation, I will draw from the rich literature on alternative and radical media that has been produced in the Western context. I will use the theories and methodological approaches developed by this literature to ground my research on alternative media in the Arab world and, at the same time, situate and adapt them to a different social, political, and cultural context, while maintaining a constant awareness of the differences and similarities between these two worlds.

My project, which I intend to become a dissertation chapter, will examine various electronic forms of Arab alternative media, especially Weblogging as an emerging practice and a form of alternative media, as well as other new media forms, such as personal web sites and social movement websites that have proliferated on the Internet. Specifically, I will conduct interviews with Webloggers and social actors who produce or are concerned with alternative media, and perform a content analysis of a small sample of Weblogs and Web sites.

In a general sense, my project will investigate: the characteristics of alternative media; individuals and groups or organizations who are involved with this kind of media; the differences between how alternative media and mainstream media select their news stories, in particular, how the alternative media cover and articulate current events, the kinds of issues covered, how these issues are framed, and the struggle between alternative media and mainstream media in setting the public agenda; the changes within the journalistic profession being wrought by these new media forms; how alternative media in the Arab World is a counterpoint to the state-run mass media; how alternative media producers imagine and approach their audiences; and the challenges and opportunities associated with the alternative media in the Arab world. Last but not least, I will examine the democratic value of these alternative media and media practices when compared to the traditional mainstream media. As a focus of this analysis,

I will consider the implications of alternative media in regards to a transforming public sphere and emerging democracy in the Arab World.