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Arab Media Opens New Doors for Israelis
Written by Rachelle Kliger
Published Thursday, April 02, 2009
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(Dudi Saad/TML Photos)
The burst of information that has washed across the Arab world since the mid-nineties has caused dramatic changes in the media landscape.
 
Hundreds of satellite channels and a flourishing Internet have given Arabs ample means to dodge censorship and have their say.
 
Israeli journalists covering the Arab world also see new opportunities for opening windows.
 
Ksenia Svetlova, an Israel-based journalist covering the region for several Israeli media outlets, says she is always amazed by the immense curiosity she elicits on social networks when Arabs find out she is in Israel.
 
“When they see that Jerusalem is my hometown, there are tons of questions, or even to check the information. They ask ‘do people actually live there? What does it look like?’ “
 
“Israel is more known in the Arab world,” Zvi Yehezkeli, an Arab affairs correspondent for Israel’s commercial Channel 10 says. “But the Arab world comes with a lot of preconceptions from before the Arab channels brought Israelis to their television screens.”
 
The new Arab media is infinitely different from the media that existed before the satellite era, when the main source of news in the Arab world were state-owned television stations that toed the government line.
 
Today, channels like Al-Jazeera and Al-‘Arabiyya frequently interview Israeli officials on their regular programming, breaking away from the traditional no-Israelis policy.
 
But there are also attempts to stifle the newborn media. Regimes are trying to restrict satellite television, and popular websites such as YouTube, Facebook and the Skype service are frequently blocked in the Middle East.
 
However, Yehezkeli says we are hardly witnessing the demise of new media.
 
“We’re no longer living in the 70s, where someone says something and you can block him. If you block him, his mother will talk to Al-Jazeera or his uncle will post a message on Facebook. Arab regimes such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are studying how to join them instead of defeat them or abolish them. You can’t take out the plug. It’s too late.”
 
But information is a double-edged sword. Internet and satellite television are also used by terrorist groups to propagate their ideas and recruit new members.
 
Contrary to the popular perception that the new media breeds stronger democracies, Yehezkeli believes this is not necessarily the case.
 
“On the one hand there are a lot of media and TV channels, so people know more, see more and correspond more. The Arab world is more open to the West. But if you see what has taken place, there’s not more democratization.”
 
The moment an Islamic power like Hamas comes to power, it abolishes media democratization, he says.
 
Once Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in a violent coup in June 2007, the movement created its own satellite network and website.
 
“It doesn’t mean the Gaza Strip is more democratic – quite the opposite. Sometimes there is no straight correlation between more channels and more democratization,” Yehezkeli says.

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