Volume 9, Issue 1
Qatar University send faculty envoy to UL Lafayette
By Derek Albert
Despite efforts to improve the public image of the United States in the Middle East through the media, U.S. policy and contrasting mentalities still prohibit these two different cultures from achieving harmony.
This was the opinion of Mahmoud Galander, Ph.D., associate professor of mass communication at Qatar University. He was the guest speaker at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s SPJ Spring Symposium.
“The idea of using the media for the purpose of improving the image of the United States needs more than just the establishment of the media,” Galander said. “Some people tell you, we have nothing against the people of the United States. It’s rather the policy of the United States in the area that is problematic.”
“As of the years 2004, 2006 and 2007, there has been a lot of research on the image of the United States in the Middle East,” Galander said. “From 2004 to 2007, things have deteriorated.
“The United States made efforts in order to improve their image. They have resorted to what is now being called public diplomacy. Public diplomacy is based on the use of media.”
The U.S. State Department instituted a magazine, a radio station and a television station in Qatar.
The issues covered by the magazine, Hi, ranged from pop culture and social interaction to Internet usage. Galander said these topics showed ignorance of the culture and had “very little relevance to the issues of the area.” Publication of Hi was halted in 2005.
The radio station, Sawa, meaning “together,” was set up on a regional basis. Though programming is primarily based on music, both Arabic and Western, he said “flashes” of news are broadcast. It was first deemed a success, but was later found that the station’s goals were not accomplished.
“The basic aim of Sawa was to win the hearts and minds of the Middle East audience,” Galander said. “But when it came to trying to assess their (the student listeners) attitudes to political issues, it was very clear that there was no impact at all.”
Sawa’s format is based on attracting the highest possible listenership, Galander added. That was accomplished, but as far as the purposes of public diplomacy, Galander contended the signs of success.
The television station, Al-Hurra, Arabic for “the free”, was inaugurated with its first guest being President George W. Bush.
“He (Bush) said he wanted Al-Hurra to be an outlet that would fight hatred and anti-American feelings,” Galander said. “They commissioned one research group to do research on Al-Hurra. They found that Al-Hurra is almost inexistent in the minds of people.”
Galander related one of the major cultural differences between the United States and the Middle East is the strong parental bond in the typical Arab household. By trying to direct the media to the youth of the culture, the desired effect on society may not be acheived.
“I can’t imagine that Congress is paying money for Sawa in order to entertain the youth of the Middle East,” Galander said. “They are paying money because they want to impact the youth over there, to impact the public opinion over there. The problem is that the public opinion is not shaped by the youth.”
Galander said he believes U.S. policy changes would need to be instituted to improve public diplomacy. He also said responsiveness to those changes may be required as well.
The television network, Al-Jazeera, which is based in Qatar, has been criticized for an anti-American sentiment. Galander said despite criticism, Al-Jazeera reports factual news; it is the angle in which the news is reported that may stir anti-American inferences.
“If you stand from here you would see the reports over there as being biased,” Galander related. “But Al-Jazeera’s reports takes into consideration the public opinion over there.”
To make his point, Galander used the following example:
“Describing what is happening in Palestine and Israel, they would report that 16 Palestinians ‘died.’ Now, they say ‘martyred,’” Galander said. “Which means, basically, that Al-Jazeera is taking a standpoint. It is no longer journalistic objectivity. This is what makes Al-Jazeera look biased.”
Galander, a native of Sudan, earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Southern California and his doctorate in human communication from Howard University in Washington. He currently teaches courses in public relations and international communication at Qatar University.