NU-Q study finds Arab residents wary of American entertainment

Olivia Exstrum, Reporter

A new survey commissioned by Northwestern University in Qatar and the Doha Film Institute found that although many Arab residents in the Middle East and North Africa watch Hollywood films, some believe the films include content “harmful to morality.”

The researchers interviewed more than 6,000 people in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates.

“In the Middle East, there’s a huge advent of Western media content, and at the same time, people will say they like local content that is respectful of the culture and accurate to the country,” said NU-Q Dean Everette Dennis.

The study, “Entertainment Media Use in the Middle East,” found more than 80 percent of respondents preferred Arab films, while only about half said they enjoy American and European movies. According to the study, residents of Saudi Arabia and Egypt are most in favor of media censorship, with support from more than three-fourths of citizens, while residents of Tunisia are the most tolerant. Still, more than half of Tunisian respondents supported censorship.

Dennis said NU-Q was inspired to carry out the study after the University published a report, “Media Use in the Middle East,” which tracked usage of informational media, such as newspapers, magazines, the Internet and social media, in eight countries in the Middle East.

When the University decided to do a second study, this time with only six countries, it asked the Doha Film Institute if the institute would be interested in collaborating and helping with preliminary research. The team then hired Harris Interactive, a market research firm known for its Harris Poll, to help do fieldwork. Dennis added the study not only provides information about entertainment usage in the countries examined, but also the industry as a whole.

“It gives us more intelligence on what’s going on in the entertainment industry,” he said. “It also tells us a lot about how audiences respond to social media and also a lot of things about what people think about media, media regulation and freedom of expression.”

The results of the study show that although people in the Middle East are in favor of freedom of expression, they are also in favor of some form of government regulation when it comes to media. D. Charles Whitney, associate dean for academic affairs in the School of Communication, attended the first presentation of the study this weekend.

He said he agreed with the study’s main findings, pointing to the “two-mindedness” of what media consumers want.

“They want it all,” Whitney said. “They want it to reflect the values of their culture, but also represent the views of the outside world. On one hand, they are uneasy of censorship, but on the other hand, they think it helps society.”

Dennis said he is confident that as countries in the Middle East and North Africa modernize and globalize, there will be more opportunities for filmmaking, production companies and entertainment as a whole.

“I think the prospects for entertainment industries here are great,” he said. “There are enormous opportunities. That’s very exciting.”

The study’s findings will be presented May 22 at the International Communication Association Conference in Seattle and at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Conference on Aug. 6 in Montreal.

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