Middle East Al Jazeera viewers identify themselves more as Muslims than of country: Study

Saturday, November 20, 2010

DUBAI - The Middle East residents who are the main target audience of Arab television news networks like Al Jazeera are more likely to primarily identify themselves as Muslims rather than being recognised as citizens of their own country, according to a new study.

Networks like Al Jazeera are transactional and therefore they are likely to encourage viewers to see themselves in broader terms than simply residents of a particular nation, the researchers said.

Erik Nisbet, lead author of the study and assistant professor of communication at Ohio State University, said that the goal of these relatively new networks are not to represent specific national interests, but to appeal to audiences across the region.

“They tap into the idea is that all viewers are connected through a Muslim or Arab identity,” he added.

At a time when the US is focussing on the development its foreign policy related to the Middle East, Nisbet states that the findings would have important implications for the country because Arabs who identify themselves primarily as Muslim have a more unfavourable view of the United States than are those who see themselves chiefly as citizens of their country.

According to the study published on journal Political Communication, the researchers used data collected between 2004 and 2008 by Zogby International and Shibley Telhami, a professor at the University of Maryland. Telhami and his colleagues conducted surveys of 14,949 residents across six Arab countries, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates.

On being asked as to which are the transactional channels that they chose as their favourites, the respondents’ emphasis was on Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, the two dominant networks in the region that presented an Arab perspective on the news.

However, people with higher levels of education had identified themselves primarily as Arabs rather than as Muslims.

“When you go to government-run schools, you learn loyalty to the state.” One of the respondents said.

On completion of the study, Nisbet has stressed that these results suggest that the popularity of Al Jazeera may pose challenges for the United States, if the network continues to influence viewers’ political identity. (ANI)

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