April 24｜Professor Bassam Tayara: Arab and Western media are intertwined as the investment from petrodollar across the Arab regions
By Sue Lin 林詩賢
Professor Bassam Tayara from Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales (INALCO), Paris, visited National Chengchi University (NCCU) on 24 April and gave a talk on how Arabic media influenced the Western media since the two decades. He also spelled out the current situation in the Arab world, including the impact of Islamic and political power.
Historically, Arabian areas were mostly colonized by the Western world. To fight speech with the colonizer and educate Arab people, a first newspaper was published in the Arabic world in 1825. Though Arab nations gained their independence, at that time “there was a contradiction and duality between Occident liberty of the place and Arab oppression of that place… and this duality continues (until) these days,” said Professor Tayara.
Professor Tayara emphasized that the influence of ‘petrodollar’, which is a term invented from 1973, representing money that came with the oil. The oil revenue has not only impacts on Arabic economy, society, politics, history and religion through the influence of oil exporting countries, but also has an impact on the Arabic media. After oil windfall in 1980, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, has confirmed its status not only as oil kingdom but also as a leader in Islamic regions and started to export their ideology of Wahhabist. Around the same time (1980’s), just after Iranian Revolution, Shiite Iran competes with Wahhabism due to the return of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Thus, the best strategy to confirm the ideology of the two competing poles (Saudi & Iraniann) that is spreading among people is the Arabic media.
Professor Tayara provided the facts to explain why Saudi Arabia and Iran are trying to control the media in the Arabic world, he said that Arabic is a prestigious language because the Quran is in Arabic, so nearly more than one billion and half Muslims around the world, such as Indonesia (around 80% Islam), Pakistan, India (14.2% Islam *according to statistics of online data), and Xingian, China are influenced. As for Europe, Arab affaires are important for its geopolitics, for oil, and due to the presence of a population of immigrants, especially in France, Germany, and the U.K.
“While the Western media began to worry about the oil crisis, petrodollars were going after the Arabic media,” said Professor Tayara. As the unlimited financial resources of Saudi Arabia are invested, the direction of intellectual production and culture creation are reversed. “For two decades, the Arabic media have been directly influencing the Western media and have been influencing the politics of democracies in the Western world.”
Even though the centrality of the Western world is ongoing for the foreign affairs, such as the sources from AFP, Reuters, Bloomberg, CNN, BBC, the peripheral regions in the post-colonial era can also exchange the informative knowledge back to the central. Professor Tayara took the example that when none specialized journalists are sent to Arabic countries, they reproduce whatever the Arabic countries offer in their newspapers due to the constraints of expense, time, and language. Then, the correspondents transmit the news back to Europe. What’s worse, there is no specialist of Arabic affairs willing to correct the small report or go to TV shows to express their opinions. The way how the Western media are serving the Arabic countries is dangerous. “We know that the news reported through the reporters sent to the Arabic countries is influenced by the Arabic media ... which is influenced by the salafist ideology, but nothing to do with that” said Professor Tayara. “This is the problem of quality concerning the deformed public information.”
Like that the production of Western opinion is also influenced directly by the Arabic media when media interests are taken into account. Professor Tayara provided an example that once Mohammad bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, was interviewed by CBS in New York, everybody knew him. As for the matters of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, people tend to forget it because the media slowly change its topic.
What is very dangerous for democracy, the same as for Arabic populations, is the Western news which is originated from the influenced Arab media, and then goes back to Arabic media and becomes a “doxa”, what everybody believe as truth.
In terms of social media, Saudi Arabia is trying to control as many users as possible. Because in the Arabic world, people trust social media more than television or media with its own ideology. Currently, because of their interests in oil and gas and the geostrategic position of the Gulf, the United States, allies of the oil producing countries, do their best to block on the social media some information that harms these countries. Professor Tayara insists on the danger represented by these manipulations for democracy.
Professor Sumei Wang, from Department of Journalism, NCCU, raised the question of why the news agency in Western cannot find talent journalists and dispatch them to the Arab states. Professor Tayara concluded that there are fewer and fewer people who have sufficient understanding of the Arab world, and this is related to the financial problems that affect education in Europe and which affect the media.
Initially in Europe, and especially in France, there was what is called the social lift, which formed the social class of the second generations of immigrants through education. However, the economic crisis meant that the education budget was reduced and the new generations could no longer have access to social growth. For the media it is too expensive to hire a good journalist who knows the Arab world, especially the Arab and Muslim civilization. Very often experienced journalists are in high positions (editor) and young journalists do not have the time or experience to report on the issues.
Professor Tayara’s study interests are history, international relations, and literature. He was born in Lebanon, studied in France, and learned Japanese, bringing up the insights from around the world. He was a journalist and served for many media, dispatched to Paris and Tokyo as news correspondent. Currently, he is the editor of an electronic newspaper, Press Net (http://www.presse-net.com).