Reality Television’s Influence on Arab Audiences

Title of the investigation

The title of this investigation is ‘Reality television influence on Arab Audiences’. This title captures the entire gist of the research which is to study the relationship between television and audience within the Arab setting using reality television as a case study.

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Aim of the investigation

Through the research, it will be possible to establish the nature and influence of Arab television. There is a new perspective to Arab television that has been created by reality TV. This perspective shall be analyzed under three lenses: The first lens is that of performance and television audience activity, the second lens is that of audience theories and the third is the cultural context of the Arab population.


The overall or guiding objective within this investigation is ‘to determine the influence of reality television on Arab audiences.’

The specific objectives of this study will be to determine:

  • What are the classifications, nature, and media environments of Arabic audiences?
  • To what extent do western media influence Arab audiences?
  • What is the social and political environment that Arabs are living in and how do these influence their reading of television messages?
  • How does culture contribute towards determining the audience’s reaction to the performance of the participants?

The overall objective of the study is guided by the notion that reality television has changed the way Arab audiences relate to television messages. As such, the paper seeks to conduct a review of what these ‘influences’ could be i.e. western media, the social and political environment, media environments in the Arabic world, and lastly, the culture of its people.

The first specific objective is to determine the nature, classifications, and media environments of Arabic audiences. The theory of cultivation as put forward by Chandler (5) is based on the premise that heavy television viewers tend to believe what they view and regard it as a true depiction of what actually goes on in real life. Conversely, light television viewers have a more realistic image of everyday life.

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The research shall examine whether this theory is actually a depiction of the nature of Arabic audiences. The active audience theory puts forward the notion that for an audience to be labeled as active, then members must interpret the messages that they are viewing in a manner that is distinctly different from the obvious. In other words, an audience must utilize its own views and beliefs to interpret the messages being put forward. This theory shall be used to classify and reveal the true nature of Arabic audiences. (Philo & Miller, 7)

In the encoding/decoding theory, audiences are allowed to create their own meanings freely, however, this is only done in the context of one’s sociological ideologies. (Kalliny, 12) The paper shall look at how this is depicted in Arabic audiences.

The second specific objective is to determine how much influence western media has on Arabic audiences. According to Khalil Joe, “most reality shows must strike a balance between Lebanonization and Islamization.” (15) He described the former term as the incorporation of a modern Arabic feel to reality shows while the latter refers to the incorporation of certain religious values; this concept of modernity is borrowed from western audiences.

The research will therefore focus on determining the extent of influence of these reality shows in the Arab world. Harmon (1) asserts that most Arabic television shows normally borrow their concepts from the western world and even cites examples such as ‘Super Star’ which is an Arabic version of ‘pop idol’ and ‘Star Academy’ which borrows its concept from the western version of Big Brother.

The research will dwell on two case studies: Al Raees and Star Academy and how these particular pieces have been influenced by western media. In close association to the latter is the assertion made by Thomas (7) who adds that American television has contributed towards globalization because most of their shows, news, soap operas, music, etc are heard and watched worldwide. This has led to the hatred and dislike of the Americans. The paper shall reveal whether this is in fact true. (Wise, 1)

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The third specific objective concerns determining the social and political environment that Arabs are living in and how these influence their reading of television messages. Al-Mossawi & Michell (2) assert that religion plays a vital role in determining how Arabic audiences perceive messages from various media. These authors claim that Muslims tend to forget or have a low recall of offensive messages that contradict their religion. Examples of such messages include gambling, drinking, offensive language, and many others. Since Islam is an essential part of both the social and political environment in the Arab world, this research will provide great insight on the latter issue by showing how the latter factors are reflected in reality television shows and how these are received by Arabic audiences.

Kraidy (10) suggests that reality television is a political platform in the Arab world owing to the fact that it propagates certain contradicting views. Here, he cites the case of demonstrations made at Bahrain’s capital when people were opposed to the controversial ideas being portrayed in Al Raees. The paper intends on shedding new light on such political ideas that could be influencing the perception of the audience’s messages.

The fourth specific objective concerns determining how culture contributes towards determining Arabic audience reactions for the performance of media participants. This objective is informed by some earlier work carried out by Lunt (330). In his article, the latter author asserts that live performances such as those in reality television shows contribute towards the popularity of those particular shows because they are spontaneous and informal. It would therefore be very informative to determine whether the Arabic culture values such similar qualities in its shows.

Proposed plan of work

Background to the research

Khalil (34) carried out work on the most controversial programs within the world and how these reflect on the political and social arena of the Arab world; this research missed out on how these interactions can be analyzed through various cultural theories.

Al Jenaibi (12) has used several theories on cultural studies to explain how the Arab society and its media interact. However, since the paper dwelt on news media, the author did not mention anything concerning reality television. Kraidy (24) claims that reality TV reveals the state of politics within the Arab world because it reflects democracy. However, this study did not make an explicit connection between the kind of messages being received by Arabic audiences and the manner of reception. The same can also be said of Lynch (5) and Ayish (3). Given some of the missing elements in current work, this research will go a long way towards sealing this gap.


Data will be collected from three countries representing different spheres of the Arab world i.e. Lebanon, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Since the paper will dwell on two case studies i.e. Al Raees and Star Academy, then the subjects chosen for analysis must be individuals who have watched the two shows as their insights on the shows will be required. Data collection will be done through personal interviews, case study observation, and a comprehensive literature review. In the first part of the research, information concerning Arabic audiences will be collected and analyzed to get a general idea of the classifications, nature, and media environments of the Arab audiences.

The second part of the research will be done in order to determine: the contribution of culture to performance, the role that political and social environments play in affecting people’s perception of the two reality shows, and western influences on the shows. Participants will be asked several questions and analysis done on their responses. Since it may be difficult to quantify some of the study parameters, then the best option would be to summarize common assertions revealed in the interviews.

This part of the research will utilize non-probability sampling. Here, a local list of people with satellite television will be selected in these three countries, and numbers assigned to each of their names. Thereafter, a computer will randomly generate some numbers that will then be used to determine who can participate in the interview. This will ensure impartiality since the use of other forms of sampling such as snowballing is likely to yield research that is biased towards a group of people with similar values.

The third aspect of the research will be a case study analysis of the reality television show Al Raees through a forty-five-minute documentary. This film’s major aim will be to reveal the insights of the actual participants of this reality television show. Aside from that, the film will also get the opinions and insights of persons who had watched the show. These participants will be useful in revealing the nature of the Arabic audience.

Also, they will shed some light on how religion and culture influence audience perceptions of television messages. Not only will the film get the opinions of some of the show’s participants and ordinary citizens who had watched the show, but it will also draw on the opinions and knowledge of Arabic media academics, political personalities, and professionals within the Arab world. The documentary will provide a detailed recording of all this information and it will therefore be very applicable in the process of carrying out the data analysis.

Data analysis will be carried out through various statistical methods. One example is through correlational diagrams such as line graphs. In this regard, the regressional analysis will be carried out and those parameters that will yield close to zero correlations will be deemed to be unrelated. On the other hand, positive co-relational coefficients will prove that hypotheses made prior to the research were actually true.

All participants will be informed about the confidentiality of their information. Besides that, due consent will be obtained from them and no one will be expected to complete an interview if they are not willing to do so. The research will be done ethically in that all research findings will be duly recorded and no falsifications or manipulations will be done.

The major limitation of this research is that it covers a wide arena of media and cultural studies issues that may not necessarily be quantifiable. However, because there must be some scientific methodology that must be followed, then summaries of participants’ work will be done. Nonetheless, a comprehensive literature review carried out at the beginning of the research will ensure that the latter summaries are well informed.

Expected timetable of work

The research will last for a period of two and a half years from the month of July 2009. It is likely that the dates and structures of these tasks will change with more progress into the research. Consequently, a thorough outline of the work will be given two months after the beginning of the review.


Marwan M. Kraidy. “Preliminary Observations: Reality Television and Politics in the Arab World.” Transnational Broadcasting Studies 15 (2006): 1-38.

Al-Jenaibi, B. “News Media in Arab Societies.” Proceedings of world technology, engineering and science 36 (2008): 1-7.

Mark, Harmon. “Arab Youth, TV Viewing & “Affluenza” “Arab Media & Society (2008).

Chandler, Daniel. Cultivation Theory. 2008. Web.

Miller David and Philo, Greg. The active audience and wrong turns in media studies. London: Longman, 2001.

Khalil, Joe. News Television in the Arabian Gulf … Period of Transitions. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2009.

Khalil, Joe. Inside Arab Reality Television: Development, Definitions and Demystification. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2008.

Al-Mossawi, L. & Michell, P. “Religious commitment related to message contentiousness.” International Journal of Advertising 18. 4 (1999): 1-17.

Marwan, Kraidy. Reality Television and Politics in the Arab World: Preliminary Observations. Web.

Thomas, Bella. “World TV Global formats, local content.” Market Leader 20 (2003): 1-8.

Morris Kalliny. “Television Advertising in the Arab World: A Status Report.” Journal of Advertising Research 48.2 (2008): 12- 15.

Wise, Lindsay. Whose reality is real? Ethical reality TV trends offers ‘culturally authentic alternative to western formats. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2006.

Lunt, Peter. “Liveness in reality Television and factual broadcasting.” The Communication review 7(2004): 329-335.

Lynch, Marc. Reality is not enough – the politics of Arab reality TV. Columbia: Columbia University Press, 2005.

Ayish, Mohamed. Reality TV still good for Arab democracy. Web.

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