"The author... through this highly readable historical and empirical study, has advanced the definition of the nature of the public sphere in Israel." —Communication Research Trends, Volume 29, No. 1, 2010
The Arab Public Sphere in Israel: Media Space and Cultural Resistanceby Amal Jamal
In this pathbreaking study, Amal Jamal analyzes the consumption of media by Arab citizens of Israel as a type of communicative behavior and a form of political action. Drawing on extensive public opinion survey data, he describes perceptions and use of media ranging from Arabic Israeli newspapers to satellite television broadcasts from throughout the Middle East.
In this pathbreaking study, Amal Jamal analyzes the consumption of media by Arab citizens of Israel as a type of communicative behavior and a form of political action. Drawing on extensive public opinion survey data, he describes perceptions and use of media ranging from Arabic Israeli newspapers to satellite television broadcasts from throughout the Middle East. By participating in this semi-autonomous Arab public sphere, the average Arab citizen can connect with a wider Arab world beyond the boundaries of the Israeli state. Jamal shows how media aid the community’s ability to resist the state's domination, protect its Palestinian national identity, and promote its civic status.
"The Arab Public Sphere in Israel is an important book. It focuses on an almost invisible minoirty, the Arab citizens of Israel, and offers an unprecedented account—indeed, a historical benchmark—of media production and consumption among them." —Political Communication, Vol. 28, 2011
"An acute and sensitive account of how Palestinian Arabs' use of and access to media within Israel and in wider Arab space has evolved. There is no study of comparable quality for any other Arab country." —Dale F. Eickelman, Dartmouth College
The growth of media technologies in the Arab world has generated scholarship concerned with how developments in the media sector impact political, social, and cultural patterns in the region. Jamal's contribution to this scholarship is excellent because he uses changes in the media sector to illuminate key questions about state-minority relations and media consumption in the Arab world. In focusing on the communicative and media-consumption behavior of Palestinian citizens of Israel, Jamal (political science, Tel Aviv Univ.) demonstrates how minorities negotiate power relations and confront political exclusion. Arab media in Israel has always been subject to state censorship. However, with the advent of new technologies and the liberalization of Israeli press laws in the 1990s, which led to growth in both the Hebrew and Arabic presses, the Palestinian citizens of Israel have displayed media-consumption patterns that traverse both their Israeli reality and their wider Arab cultural world. Thus, this minority community has developed a 'double consciousness,' reflecting connections to both the Arab and Israeli public spheres. Jamal's book provides an excellent and engaging account of how this community negotiates these two spheres and how it exercises agency through its communicative behavior. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty. -- ChoiceS. N. Abboud, Susquehanna University, April 2010
"[A] compelling account that deftly mixes historical, theoretical, and empirical approaches, creating a multidimensional study that should be of interest to both scholars of the region and those concerned with minority media practice across the globe.
" —Cinema Journal
The growth of media technologies in the Arab world has generated scholarship concerned with how developments in the media sector impact political, social, and cultural patterns in the region. Jamal's contribution to this scholarship is excellent because he uses changes in the media sector to illuminate key questions about state-minority relations and media consumption in the Arab world. In focusing on the communicative and media-consumption behavior of Palestinian citizens of Israel, Jamal (political science, Tel Aviv Univ.) demonstrates how minorities negotiate power relations and confront political exclusion. Arab media in Israel has always been subject to state censorship. However, with the advent of new technologies and the liberalization of Israeli press laws in the 1990s, which led to growth in both the Hebrew and Arabic presses, the Palestinian citizens of Israel have displayed media-consumption patterns that traverse both their Israeli reality and their wider Arab cultural world. Thus, this minority community has developed a 'double consciousness,' reflecting connections to both the Arab and Israeli public spheres. Jamal's book provides an excellent and engaging account of how this community negotiates these two spheres and how it exercises agency through its communicative behavior. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty. ChoiceS. N. Abboud, Susquehanna University, April 2010
"[A] compelling account that deftly mixes historical, theoretical, and empirical approaches, creating a multidimensional study that should be of interest to both scholars of the region and those concerned with minority media practice across the globe... [M]akes an important contribution to scholarship on media and resistance across the Arab world and beyond." Cinema Journal
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The Arab Public Sphere in Israel
Media Space and Cultural Resistance
By Amal Jamal
Indiana University PressCopyright © 2009 Amal Jamal
All rights reserved.
Media Space, Political Control, and Cultural Resistance
* * *
Minority (Mis)Representation and the Rise of Minority Media
When looking at the literature on media and minorities, one notices a clear trend in the attention paid to this relationship that may be helpful for understanding the communicative behavior of the Arab community in Israel. At the initial stage, most studies that analyzed the social, political, and cultural roles of the media focused on its function in social change, mobilization, and control. Neither the liberal-pluralist nor the critical-Marxist, the analytic strategies dominating the scene, paid sufficient attention to social diversity, disparities, and conflicts between social groups as they played out in the media.
Since the 1960s, especially with the rise of the civil rights movement in the United States, more attention has been given to the representation of various social groups in news outlets. Under the influence of constructivist theories of identity formation, theorists realize that the media plays a central role in the construction of social identities and feeds into social conflict. As a consequence, the representation of various social groups in the media occupies a rising number of scholars. Furthermore, the role of the media in shaping the ways in which people look at their social reality is the focus of many studies. As a result, the lack of representation of minority groups or the stereotyping of these groups in mainstream media has been targeted as a major source of inequality and an important factor in maintaining social disparity. A growing number of scholars seek to demonstrate the relationship between minority representation in the media and racism, discrimination, and marginalization. Lack of equal representation and stereotyping of minorities has been a central strand in media studies, something that has only recently been taken up by the Israeli academic community.
Only in the 1990s were questions finally raised regarding the role that the media plays in constructing social identities and shaping ethnic relations in Israel. Ella Shohat was a pioneer in pointing out the role that cinema plays both in suppressing Oriental Jewish identity and in colonizing the minds of Oriental Jews with an Ashkenazi Zionist worldview. This trend was later expanded to include the role of the media in establishing social hierarchies and in symbolically eliminating the Israeli social and geographic periphery, emphasizing instead the metropolitan centers. Despite the fact that the marginality of the Arab minority and its stereotyping in the Israeli Hebrew media have begun to draw some attention, this attention is still insubstantial and lacking in rigorous theoretical grounding. The marginality of Arabs in mainstream Israeli media is being described rather than explained. Little attention has been paid to the major reasons behind such marginality, something that requires more historical and empirical attention. The history of the Israeli media and the role played by the state in shaping the placement of the Arab minority in Israeli society and polity needs to be considered in order to provide a convincing explanation for the communicative behavior of the Arab community. The following study is located within the context of state-minority relations in order to shed light on the historical and political factors that explain Arab communicative behavior, especially the strategies chosen to deal with the marginal and negative representation of Arabs in Israeli media.
In recent decades, the study of patterns of media consumption and of consumer satisfaction with media content has become a highly developed field of research. The increasing power of the media to shape public and political agendas, coupled with a massive increase in the avenues of transmission, has raised questions concerning media consumption, particularly its significance in societies composed of culturally, ethnically, and nationally diverse groups. The relationship between media culture and sociocultural diversity is one key to understanding political dynamics in multicultural societies. The influence of the newspapers people read, the radio stations they listen to, and the television networks they watch has become immense. The factors affecting media consumption patterns in general and the impact of media consumption in particular have thus attracted the analytic gaze of media researchers, sociologists, and political scientists.
An important assumption in this field of research is that patterns of media consumption correlate with individual or group worldviews, cultural considerations, and political interests. Abundant research has established the salience of media consumption as an indicator of behavioral, cultural, political, and economic trends. Patterns of consumption, the contents consumed, the times of consumption, and the degree of satisfaction and reliance on the media as a source of information and entertainment constitute gauges of consumers' identities. Communicative behavior and media consumption thus serve as important indicators of consumers' organization and exploitation of time while simultaneously revealing sociocultural affiliations and illuminating significant sociopolitical processes. Many researchers maintain that the technological developments that have contributed to the growth of the media as a dominant social institution have diminished the influence of traditional social agents, such as the family, or other modern agents, such as political parties. Simultaneously, these trends have contributed to the evolution of political and social identities that transcend the immediate boundaries of sociocultural space. The mediation performed by the mass media has thus altered social relationships, empowering those social groups that control media content at the expense of other groups. These events explain why the issues of who controls the media and what contents various social groups consume are so important.
Therefore, the analysis and understanding of consumption patterns can reveal how different social groups construct their relationships with their environment. It follows that media consumption and satisfaction also provide indicators of how consumers relate to the social, political, and cultural actors in their environment. This is particularly true in multiethnic and multicultural societies where each social group develops its own consumption pattern on the basis of existing constraints and opportunities. One of the main assumptions guiding this book is that media consumption patterns influence the individual's cultural and personal space while also reflecting rationally calculated preferences; hence the description and comprehension of these patterns have become important features of sociological and political research in all societies.
Communicative behavior and media consumption patterns are not solely affected by rational considerations. Research in this field has long since demonstrated the influence of custom and structural constraints, such as language limitations. Not only are communicative behavior and media consumption often uncalculated; they may not even be homogeneously conscious. Consumers do not perceive the media exclusively as a source of news; for them, it is primarily a medium for home entertainment, universally available. It follows that the entertainment aspects are important and must be factored into an analysis of communicative behavior and media policies. Yet perceiving these as important dimensions of a cultural and political habitus, characterized by entertainment preferences, allows access to another source of information regarding the role of dominance in a society's sociocultural structure and of the transmission of dominant characteristics. As demonstrated by research conducted at the Media Studies Unit at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Research, the University of Birmingham, consumption patterns occupy a central place in the creation of sociocultural hegemony primarily due to the ideological encoding inherent in media content.
Communicative behavior and media consumption are important avenues of political behavior, especially when other means are rather limited. They are part of a broader strategy of contentious politics that seeks to overcome the structural limitations set by the dominant matrix of power. This claim is especially true in the case of minorities that are dominated by a control system in which political, legal, economic, and cultural means are utilized in order to ensure the subjugation of the minority.
The media consumption patterns exhibited by Arab society in Israel therefore constitute an important subject for research. Their study enables us to gain insight into how Arabs, as a homeland national minority living in a nationalizing state, have responded to the complex factors that structure their existence. Many questions thereby arise concerning the most popular radio stations and television channels and the implications that such patterns of collective behavior could have on the perceptions and conduct of homeland national minorities.
Communicative behavior and media consumption have economic dimensions, particularly in societies where the media is privately rather than publicly owned. Whenever all or most of the media is a private sector endeavor, economic variables become salient. In the past few decades, the media has become a major industry and source for the accumulation of wealth in addition to being a cultural domain. Production of media content has therefore become a culturally grounded tool for accumulating wealth, as demonstrated by Time Warner, ARTE, CNN, Al-Jazeera, MBC, LBC, and Israel's Channel 2.
Ownership of the media and the economic logic directing its operation have crucial implications for its sociocultural role, on the one hand, and our understanding of its political role, on the other. The way in which the media shapes public opinion varies, in fact, by type of ownership. When publicly owned, the media operates in the name of the public good and common interest, and therefore it is publicly monitored. Although the privately owned media ought to operate under the same banner of public interest, guaranteeing this goal is a more complex and arduous task. The privately owned media is mostly motivated by the search for increasing consumer ratings, which is automatically translated into increased profit. Communicative behavior and media consumption patterns thus accrue economic relevance and, in addition to their political and cultural significance, constitute an integral part of society's mechanisms for amassing wealth.
Moreover, communicative behavior and media consumption patterns could turn cultural factors into central political means to achieve collective goals. This is especially true in the case of national minorities, when entrepreneurs from the minority establish their own private media institutions for economic profit. As experience has taught us, economic ventures can become a central factor in the cultural and political fields by which the mobilization of minority members is ensured. In other words, minority groups could establish their own media space in order to protect their cultural and political interests and express their national identity.
A thorough treatment of Arab communicative behavior can benefit from recent developments in scholarship. As a result of new perceptions regarding the role of the media in social reality and the controversies regarding its impact on shaping attitudes and identities, a new trend began emerging concerning media and minorities that drew attention to ownership as a major factor in determining the nature of the contents produced in the media. Other scholarship reiterated the centrality of ownership and its impact on the chances that minorities would win attention in the media. The financial control of media institutions frees the minority from external control of cultural and political content and provides maneuvering spaces that would not otherwise exist.
New research demonstrated that minority media provides minorities with opportunities that did not exist before. These opportunities strengthen their citizenship and provide them with networks of communication that enhance their internal solidarity and, as a result, their ability to face policies of discrimination in the mainstream media as well as in state policies.
The growing attention paid to minority media was reinforced by major developments in Europe concerning the language rights of minorities and the role the media plays in maintaining these languages. In this regard, many scholars pointed out the importance not only of ownership but also of the language in which the media is produced as a factor that impacts the chances that minorities are fairly represented and their voices are brought into the public sphere.
The chances that a minority language media develops depend on various factors that have been partially debated in the literature. Ned Thomas points out cultural and linguistic survival as a major factor in obtaining of minority language media outlets. Mike Cormack adds several factors, including the size of the minority, the existence of popular campaigns supporting the minority media, the role of leadership and organization in the minority group, the political culture of the state, the strength/weakness of the central government, the symbolic status of the minority language, and international trends. In Cormack's view, all these factors are political and have to be taken in accumulation rather than individually.
Cormack's presentation of the factors that explain the chances of the rise of minority language media does not address economic factors and the existence of alternative media outlets that influence considerations of costs and gains among minority entrepreneurs. Although Cormack mentions briefly the existence of alternative media institutions in the minority language, he does not give enough weight to the communicative behavior of minorities. The following study demonstrates that economic opportunities of minority entrepreneurs and the availability of alternative media outlets from neighboring kin states are major factors in developing an Arab public sphere in Israel and in explaining the broader communicative behavior of its Arab minority. Studies of national minorities have demonstrated that they are major consumers of media outlets from their kin states in their own mother tongue. This communicative behavior may impact both the socialization of such minorities, especially their perception of their identity, and their political behavior, an impact that an in-depth examination of audience attitudes in the minority community could verify. The balance that minorities establish between their consumption of mainstream media within their own state and of media that is rooted in their kin states becomes crucial. Hence examining the communicative behavior of the Arab minority in Israel may shed light on new dimensions of audience behavior that have yet to win sufficient attention in scholarly literature.
Another important aspect of the communicative behavior of the Arab minority in Israel is the growth in the number of newspapers in Arabic in the Israeli public sphere since the mid-1980s. The role and impact of these newspapers on the communicative behavior of the Arab community opens an avenue of research that has still not been seriously broached. It is puzzling to see the effervescent and vibrant newspaper scene in the Arab society, where the number of newspapers is constantly on the rise, in contrast to the absence of local Arabic television broadcasts. The indifference of the Arab leadership to a strategy of establishing a public television channel in Arabic requires explanation. Resolving this puzzle may enrich the literature on the communicative behavior of minorities and on the factors that influence the establishing of minority language media. The fact that the cost of audiovisual media is relatively high and that there is no governmental financial support for such an initiative, especially in a case in which the size of the minority is marginal with respect to the chances of the economic success of such media, may be part of the explanation for the position taken by Arab leadership in Israel.
Excerpted from The Arab Public Sphere in Israel by Amal Jamal. Copyright © 2009 Amal Jamal. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
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Meet the Author
Amal Jamal is Senior Lecturer and Chair of the Department of Political Science at Tel Aviv University. He is author of The Palestinian National Movement: Politics of Contention, 1967–2005 (IUP, 2005) and Media Politics and Democracy in Palestine: Political Culture, Pluralism, and the Palestinian Authority.
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