Amid the change movements sweeping the Arab World since 2011 and the radical transformations in the political, social and cultural narratives, the role of mass media has been undeniably significant. The media have clearly influenced the courses of political change and their relation to the new ruling regimes. Similar significance is also attached to the manner the media are addressing political tensions. The media, their types, organs and institutions are to be taken into account.
All these aspects formed the focus of a joint research project between Al Jazeera Centre for Studies (AJCS) and the University of Cambridge’s Centre for the Study of the International Relations of the Middle East and North Africa (CIRMENA) entitled, “Media in Political Transition”.
The first phase of the project took place in 2013-2014 under the title, “Media in Political Transition: The Case of Tunisia”, while the second phase, which ran from 2014 to 2016, was entitled, “Media in Political Transition: The Cases of Turkey, Morocco and Tunisia”.
In the course of the project, researchers closely monitored the developments that unfolded in the political and media landscapes in the said three countries, examining their respective media from three perspectives: structure, function and agency.
- Structure is defined as the laws and regulatory environment that constitute the relationship between the government and the media.
- Function is defined as the nature of the sector itself, its public and private enterprises, the characteristics of its market, the funding sources, its political agendas, its elite networks, and its professionalism.
- Agency is the role and conduct of the media as narrator of political culture, and instrument of public discourse and identity building.
The researchers also examined other aspects, including internet freedom and surveillance, political narrative, social media use, the rise of Islamic media, gender issues on television and within the larger public sphere, the professionalism and partisanship of the sector, and the internal competition of political elites to have the media serve their own agendas.
Indeed, the strength of this project lies in its investigation of change in three very different forms of state organisation: Turkey’s fast transitioning semi-democracy, Morocco’s monarchy, and Tunisia’s pluralistic post-revolutionary experiment after severe dictatorship. The research provides an original comparative analysis of the under-researched relations between the state and the media in these countries. It also provides an interpretation of media as an instrument of state power (as used by the government, the army, intelligence service, private sector or even religious groups), and a means of social expression. It also sheds light, from a unique perspective, on the structure of power in the three countries, and the driving forces behind their respective policies and strategies.
The project’s three years of extensive research and examination in three cases were culminated in its first phase by the publication of Media in Political Transition: The Case of Tunisia. The book address the biggest challenge that faced the political and media elites in Tunisia, namely the disengagement of media from political power in post-revolution Tunisia, the role to be played by the media in the transitional period, and its functions within society in addition to the regulatory and legal frameworks governing the media. The book was published in English in the Journal of North Africa Studies by the University of Cambridge, and can be accessed here: http://studies.aljazeera.net/ar/production/books/2015/10/201510674354353874.html.
The second phase of the project saw the publication of “Media in Political Transition: The Cases of Turkey Morocco and Tunisia.”
In January 2017, AJCS organised an academic conference with the University of Cambridge to discuss the outcomes of the studies conducted by the researchers, which include the examination of the relationship between power and the media in the three countries, and the nature of the media industry itself in terms of public and private institutions, characteristics of the market in which they operate, sources of funding, the political agenda of the media and the professional standards that characterise media performance.The presentations also reviewed the role and behaviour of media as narrator of political culture and a tool for public discourse and identity building. All the research will be published in an Arabic/English bilingual book.
Furthermore, in cooperation with Al Jazeera English Online, AJCS launched an interactive platform to present the results of the research carried out under the joint project. Presented in English, the platform contains a brief introduction to the development of the medial and political landscape in Tunisia, Morocco and Turkey. It also introduces the three main themes: government-media relations, media economics, and media audiences.
The interactive platform was overseen by Principle Investigator and Director of the University of Cambridge-Al Jazeera Media Project Dr. Roxane Farmanfarmaian, Director of Al Jazeera Centre for Studies Dr. Salah Eddin Elzein, and the Al Jazeera postdoctoral research associate with the University of Cambridge–Al Jazeera Centre for Studies Media Project, Dr. Ali Sonay.
To access the interactive presentation, please click the following link: http://studies.aljazeera.net/Infographic/media-political-transition/index.html.
For more information about the project, please refer to the following links:
- To access the Arabic interactive site containing the research presentation and its outcomes, please click the following link: http://studies.aljazeera.net/ar/centernews/2017/06/170615110536719.html.
- To learn more about the concluding conference, “Media in Political Transition: The Cases of Turkey Morocco and Tunisia”, please click the following link: http://studies.aljazeera.net/ar/events/2017/01/170124095239183.html (Arabic).
- To learn more about the book, Media in Political Transition: The Case of Tunisia, please click the following link: (http://studies.aljazeera.net/ar/production/books/2015/10/201510674354353874.html).
- For information on the joint research project between AJCS and CIRMENA, please click the following link: http://studies.aljazeera.net/ar/centernews/2013829101521392185.html.