Iman Ben Chaibah, founder of Sail Publishing, a digital publishing house for online magazines and ebooks, and editor in chief of the Emirati Sail Magazine, an online magazine about community and culture written in English by Emirati columnists. Iman is a multi award winner in digital publishing, entrepreneurship, and literature. Iman has also completed the Leadership Strategies in Magazine Media Course in Yale University. Besides her work in publishing, she also lectures in Canadian University in Dubai.
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By Iman Ben Chaibah,
There are certain things in life we tend to take for granted; we consume them without thinking of other possible subsequences that may stem from them on the long term. The same applies to media consumption.
Media content can be any sort of created content; written, heard, or visual content. However, in the context of this article, I will be focusing on the visual media.
Back in the 80’s and 90’s, media had a limited influence on the generations growing at that time. At first we had minimal number of channels, with an actual starting and closing time for them! We started with domestic channels then moved on to have international channels. It may be safe to say the content available back then was limited to couple of hours cartoon, 2 or 3 TV series, news, camel races, and a few other shows.
TV shows were very modest back then, they demonstrated genuine values, depicted our true essence of right and wrong, and represented our culture through our words, thoughts and people. Due to minimal TV content back then, people actually had time to interact with friends and family, and they were able to live the real world outside what is just streamed through the media.
Naturally we tend to choose role models from the people around us and from the media. Back then we had good role models whether from the elderly family members or from the media like Hayat Al Fahad, Souad Al Abdallah, Mansoor and Mohammed Al Mansoor, Fatin Hamama, Rushdi Abatha, and the list can go on. Those were looked up to for what they represented from respect, honor, dignity, and humbleness.
However, this started to change in the late 90s and onwards. Satellite channels started expanding, new channels were introduced, and the paradigms were changed. We moved from channels that had limited operational hours, short intervals of different shows’ categories to a network of channels that is 24/7 operational, with more specialized channels for each category, i.e., series, movies, cartoons, etc.
The availability of those channels meant creating more content, this led to higher consumption by the viewers, longer hours spent watching, less time communicating, more values absorbed from the media, and eventually this starts to form an illusion of what reality is.
Sail magazine published a survey during the last week on the impact of media, 30 people at the average age of 19 have responded. Although this cannot be generated as a stereotype, nonetheless, it may represent a segment of the society.
The research revealed that the majority of the respondents watch an average of 4 hours between live-streamed TV channels and online downloaded content. The most watched types of shows are either movies or series according to the respondents. And, here is the painful one, 96% of them prefer their shows to be originally western.
Evidently, the surveyed age-group has higher consumption of media content that is not originated from within the region, leading to absorption of values that may not necessarily reflect our identity. If we need to strengthen the national identity, we might need to target the channels that appeals to the targeted audience.
Media projects have to be studied from all angles before running them into production and distribution. The study must focus on projects’ content, appearances represented, values instilled directly or sublimely, and so on.
In order to produce media projects that are successful to the region, we need to find the overall pattern or mold of successful shows, and seek for the common factors. From there we should try to leverage on the learnt concepts and develop our own projects that reflect our reality or the reality that we aspire to. This is a common business approach, so why not cascade it on media projects.
Last, if we realize that the audience prefers English shows, we might need to look into producing shows that are in English. However, the shows should still be a representation of our values and reality. When they prove to be successful, we may start the Arabic version of them. But at least we would have provided the audience with varieties to look at within their preferences.
In conclusion, I would leave you with this quote by William Bernbach: “All of us who professionally use the mass media are the shapers of society. We can vulgarize that society. We can brutalize it. Or we can help lift it onto a higher level.”
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