Carla Power has a fun, excellent piece in Newsweek International on Arab reality TV and talk shows.
"In some of the most repressive regimes of the Arab world, liberation is arriving in the form of homegrown reality and talk TV. This spring's street protests in Lebanon—as well as the elections in Iraq, Iran and the Palestinian territories—may be one sign of growing people power in the region; the explosion of more than 200 Arab satellite channels is quite another. In countries where the media have traditionally been controlled by information ministries, fierce new competition among stations has empowered ordinary citizens with remote controls. And the spate of shows filling those channels is rapidly broadening the range of voices heard in the Arab world. "[Arab] women have had enough," says Ranya Barghout, a presenter on "Kalam Nawaem." "They want to talk. They want to be heard. Now they can."
"Most important, Arab satellite TV is nurturing public dissent in a culture that has long prized consensus. The biggest draw for "Kalam Nawaem" is the fact that its hosts—the Palestinian Bseiso, the Lebanese Barghout, a London-based Egyptian and a veiled Saudi Arabian doctoral candidate—represent four varied viewpoints. Al-Jazeera's groundbreaking "The Opposite Direction," modeled on CNN's "Crossfire," shocked Arabs by pitting political dissidents against establishment officials, and Islamists against secular modernists. The new shows have "ingrained the legitimacy of disagreement" in Arab society, notes Marc Lynch, a political scientist at Williams College. "Even 10 years ago, there was a real notion that it was wrong to disagree, and if you did, you were being untrue to your Arab identity. Now, because of these shows, you can be a good Arab and disagree."
Power pays special attention to women's shows, and their impact in raising socially and culturally sensitive topics, but covers a wider terrain than that. Power adds this appropriately cautious note (similar to something I wrote in my piece for the TBS Journal earlier this year) from the always insightful Khaled al-Hroub: "People are allowed to express their anger and criticize regimes. But it creates the false perception that we're now practicing democracy. By clinging to TV screens, people think they're engaging in the process of political action. But this is imaginary—not actual—politics."
Excellent piece, most recommended.