Orientations in the Development of Pan-Arab Television for Children - A three-year Arab Media Centre research project funded by a grant from the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), 2013-16
This project researches the creation, commercialisation and reception of screen-based content for Arabic-speaking children. As part of the research team’s commitment to sharing the project results as widely as possible, it has produced a report, in Arabic and English, summarising key findings as they relate to policy and regulation, production, programmes and children’s media use.
Under-18s comprise nearly twice as big a proportion of the population in key Arab countries (39-40% in Egypt and Saudi Arabia) as they do in European countries (22% in Britain and France). At the same time, satellite television is watched more than terrestrial television in most Arab households. In the pre-satellite era, Arab governments relied on broadcast monopolies to disregard television viewers' real information and entertainment needs. Competition among privately-owned channels spurred innovative content in the 1990s and 2000s, but initiatives in children’s programming were slow to arrive and heavy dependence on imported cartoons remained the norm.
Taking a three-pronged approach that encompasses institutions, texts and audiences, this research studies how pan-Arab broadcasters today seek to provide for children and how they interact with local production houses, dubbing and animation services and state regulatory bodies, as well as non-Arab suppliers, trainers and co-producers. The project’s audience component involves ethnographic work with families and schoolchildren, to understand how children perceive and use screen-based content, both in Arab countries and Arabic-speaking households in Europe. This ethnographic work is guided by consultation and collaboration with scholars and practitioners specialising in children and media in the countries concerned.
The five-member research team benefits from relationships established with media practitioners and academics in Arab countries over many years. For example, senior TV executives and independent producers working on children’s content shared their experience at an Arab Media Centre conference on ‘Children’s TV in the Arab World’ in London in June 2010. The project is led by Professor Naomi Sakr, author and editor of several books on Arab television. Dr Tarik Sabry, known for his publications on Arab cultural studies, heads the project’s audience research, assisted by Dr Nisrine Mansour, an expert in family relations and family law. Professor Jeanette Steemers, specialist in preschool television and international flows of children’s audiovisual content, leads the project’s research into cross-border co-productions and supervises the work of its doctoral student, Feryal Awan.
The research aims to build up a holistic picture that reflects the diverse voices of those who have an interest in screen-based media for Arabic-speaking children. This includes the children themselves, their families, and people in the commercial, non-profit and educational sectors. It will inform creative industry professionals while enriching our understanding of childhood and testing the accuracy of some dominant assumptions about children’s media and children’s media use.