Sexual content on Arab Satellite Channels

The subject of sex on television or in public in general in the Arab world is still in the realm of the taboo, it has always been dealt with in the mildest of manners so as not to offend the sensibilities of the Arab audience.

The Arab world is by nature and circumstance belongs to the traditional and conservative societies of the East, such as India, China, Japan and other cultures.

Arabs tend to be tradition-bound and conservative. Both Christians and Muslims

With this backdrop came the explosion of satellite channels that has entered every home in the Middle East with avalanche of good and bad programming.

Aljazeera for example comes across as a representative and respectful of popular Arab values, as well as feelings and attitudes toward current events, whether be it war, culture or religion. It is no small wonder that Aljazeera is viewed by 40 million people daily and is the number one satellite news channel in the Middle East and Arab Diaspora in the west.

Its strength seems to be coming from its understanding of its viewers taste and cultural sensibilities

At the other end, Satellite channels such as the Lebanese Broadcast channel, LBC, the Future (Mustakbal), ART, MBC and others MTV-like channels that peddles unprofessional, sleazy programs come across as very offensive to good taste, to Arab families and the Arab value systems in general.

The casual observer of those mostly Lebanon-based, and Dubai-based channels such as the LBC and the Future channel notice their emphasis on flavoring their programming with sexual innuendo, and sexually suggestive “entertainment”

LBC for example features “news readers” and reporters whose clothing for the most part revealing and unprofessional so as to, one might argue, to bring the attention of the audience to the “news readers” and reporters’ body features and not to the news!

Perhaps the vast majority of its shows regardless of its nature are from an Arab and Middle Eastern perspective is sexualized. We see for example women talking about the weather in tights, or semi dressed women doing a cooking show, or women in night club clothing talking about how to raise children and so on!

All that might not raise eyebrows or seems outlandish for the average American or European viewer.

Shouldn’t a news organization reflect the values of the society it operates within?

In this case it is not necessarily. Societal norms and values are of secondary importance to the owners and operators of those channels.

LBC was founded by former warlords of the Lebanese forces, a mix of Para-military-mafia- militia and a feudal bosses and Saudi investor-prince Walid Bin Talal. That alone shows that such satellite channels were created to serve and advance political agendas and not as professional news organizations.

Lebanon serves as the perfect environment for such enterprises, it is a country of feuding medieval clans, who for centuries, and still today fight each other over power and treasure, and is where sexual entertainment and sexual tourism is geared toward rich playboys from the gulf and Europe to fatten up the pockets of warlords and their princely overlords.

Other channels like the Arab Radio and Television, ART, Middle East broadcast channel, MBC , are all virtually owned by Saudi royals, and, strangely all uses semi-dressed Lebanese women to twist and turn, speaking in sexually suggestive tones and moves in an attempt to win an audience through sexualizing the imagination.

Conspicuously absent however, are the commercials, or the multi million dollar advertising deals, and more importantly a rating system to determine market share and price index of air time.

Sex sells

It is universally true that most Television programming around the world uses sex appeal in their programming to garner a wide range of viewership as possible therefore increasing market share and ratings. The ratings and market share in turn will determine price and sales of advertisement.

Emily Barr, president and General Manager of ABC Television in Chicago was astonished when I asked her opinion about sexual content on some of the Arab satellite channels.

Mrs. Barr assumed that Arab Television should be more conservative than American and western ones, simply because the Arab society is generally more traditional and conservative in an Arab context.

Mrs. Barr , whose news organization is number one in ratings in several news segments according to Nielsen ratings, Chicago is the third largest media market in the US, said that it was not uncommon that about fifteen years ago, for news directors to ask their women subordinates to be a bit more revealing in their dress.

That was the norm until Barbara Walters refused to go along with that idea and more and more women became news managers and news directors, and things changed toward more respectful and professional attitude toward women in the business.

In the Arab World the trend is going in the opposite direction, news, media, and entertainment is increasingly going toward subtle and often times explicit sexual direction. At this point there seems to be no Arab Barbara Walters in sight.

Arab Satellite channels have virtually no advertising revenues, and from a business perspective they all are losing hundreds of millions of dollars a year, including Aljazeera, but the question remains why sexualizing the news and entertainment.

As a consequence, Arab and Muslim audience have to endure a barrage of sleaze and an avalanche of third rate music videos done by third rate singers, or “video clip” as it’s called in the Middle East.

Part of the problem lies in negative westernization, which is the assumption that if Arabs imitate everything in the west, they become westernized.

This particular issue is rooted in the power relations between underdeveloped societies and super advanced European and American cultures.

The weak seems to gravitate toward the strong trying to emulate him so he can be like him and so he can reach an imagined sense of accomplishment, pride and superiority.

These segments the in Arab world and particularly in Lebanon, where this problem is more acute feel that if they act in the ways of the west ( in their mind, that basically means living a glamorous Hollywood life style) they themselves become modern and advanced. Some thinkers in the Arab and Muslim world called this phenomenon a “Westoxification”

But those westernized slices of Arab societies are misguided in their westernization. Freedoms of thought, press, opinion, or equal opportunity of citizens, let alone having the right to live as sovereign citizen in one’s own country, are all, in the modern sense, a western inventions and hard won accomplishments, are almost non-existence in the Arab world.

Perhaps encouraging those freedoms to take root in the Arab and Muslim world is much more important than spreading societal ills into traditional Arab homes.

The normalization of sexual promiscuity, largely perceived as a western import, in a society that is largely geared toward channeling sex into the institution of marriage, is likely to breed resentment and discontent against the west.

Another problem is that such covert-sexual programming and sexually-coded music videos reach Arab homes and Arab children unencumbered and unfiltered and without warning.

In the absences of a rating system (as in the US) that warns parent’s about sexual content, and without civic organizations that monitor and lobby against such programming, there are hundreds of such organizations in the US. Moreover, the absence of Arab-wide agency similar to the United States Federal communication commission, FCC, which monitors the airwaves and fines violators of pubic indecency and public morality, the problem, will have overarching consequences.