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Queens Professor Publishes First Study of Al-Jazeera English

Al-Jazeera English study shows network’s success at negotiation and reconciliation

12/15/08 -  

Study by Queens University of Charlotte and USC Annenberg scholars sheds light on Arabic TV network

Researchers at Queens University of Charlotte and the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication have released a study finding the Arabic television network Al-Jazeera English (AJE) is more likely to cover contentious issues in a way that creates an environment conducive to cooperation, negotiation and reconciliation.

Queens communication professor Mohammed el-Nawawy and USC Annenberg Ph.D. candidate Shawn Powers collaborated on the report with the USC Center on Public Diplomacy at the Annenberg School serving as a partner institution.

The study, "Mediating Conflict: Al-Jazeera English and the Possibility of a Conciliatory Media" (Figueroa Press), compiled findings from 597 AJE viewers in six countries over the past year. Viewers rated the network favorably in covering stories of injustice in the world, and providing public space for politically underrepresented groups.

"We were really intrigued by the mission of Al-Jazeera English because its mission is unique in this day and age," el-Nawawy said. "They're not concerned about the ratings, but rather about giving a voice to the voiceless and covering parts of the world that are marginalized. We wanted to see if this mission could be realistic in today's media climate."

Among the findings:

• Al-Jazeera English viewers found it to function as a "conciliatory media," which is a news broadcaster that is likely to cover contentious issues in a way that contributes to creating an environment that is more conducive to cooperation, negotiation and reconciliation. Overall, viewers found that AJE was a conciliatory media, and the longer they had been watching AJE, the better they thought it was at fulfilling its conciliatory role.

• The more months a viewer had been watching AJE, the less dogmatic they were in their thinking. Here, dogmatism is a measure of how open or closed one is to other people's ideas, arguments and values and able to change his/her opinion based on the introduction of new information.  Importantly, previous research has demonstrated a positive correlation between levels of dogmatism and confrontational behavior in conflict situations; thus, AJE may have the potential to decrease people's proclivity to think and behave in such confrontational ways.

• Viewers tune into international news for affirmation rather than information. For example, viewers that were dependent on CNN were more likely to be supportive of U.S. foreign policy in Iraq and in Israeli-Palestinian issues, whereas viewers dependent on AJE were less likely to be supportive of U.S. policy in these areas. The research provided strong evidence to argue that viewers seek out broadcasters that they think will provide news and stories that will reaffirm their pre-existing opinions rather than inform and educate them of other people's perspectives.

El-Nawawy and Powers presented their findings at the Arab-U.S. Association for Communication Educators conference in Richmond, Va. from Nov. 14-17 and have been invited to present their report at the Al-Jazeera Forum in Doha, Qatar in March 2009.

"We hope that people are more willing to listen to other people's ideas and be more open to alternative sources of information," Powers said. "Our study argues that, if people simply continue to tune into media that reinforce their pre-existing opinions, global conversations on difficult international problems become more and more intractable. Today's international environment demands global cooperation on issues ranging from global warming to solving tensions in the Middle East, and that cooperation requires a softening of stereotypes of cultural 'others'. This can only be achieved if people are willing to be more open to conflicting opinions and arguments, something that Al-Jazeera English was found to provide in a productive and professional manner."

The network is globally broadcast via satellite and reaches 120 million households worldwide. Only two markets in the U.S. - Toledo, O.H. and Burlington, V.T. - offer it. For a full description of the research project and its final report, visit the project's website, www.ajerp.com.

El-Nawawy is the Knight-Crane chair in the School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte. He has published three books, two of which are about Al-Jazeera's Arabic network. He is the senior editor for the Journal of Middle East Media and serves on the editorial board of the Media, War & Conflict journal. He is also an ex-officio board member on the Arab-U.S. Association for Communication Educators. He has professional journalistic experience in the United States and the Middle East. He was born and raised in Egypt, where he earned bachelor's and master's degrees in mass communication at the American University in Cairo. He also earned a Ph.D in journalism from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.

Powers is a Ph.D candidate at USC Annenberg and a Research Associate at the USC Center on Public Diplomacy. His research interests are focused on the use of media in times of war and conflict and the potential roles that media technologies can have on resolving cross-cultural disagreements and international tensions. He previously worked at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., and has conducted field and media research in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia. Beginning in August 2008, Powers will be a visiting Assistant Professor at the USC Annenberg School of Communication program in London."

The research was funded by The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which invests in journalism excellence worldwide and in the vitality of 26 U.S. communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers.

Queens University of Charlotte is a private, co-ed, Presbyterian-affiliated comprehensive university with a commitment to both liberal arts and professional studies. Located in the heart of historic Charlotte, Queens serves approximately 2,300 undergraduate and graduate students through its College of Arts and Sciences, the McColl School of Business, the Presbyterian School of Nursing, the Wayland H. Cato, Jr. School of Education, the School of Communication and Hayworth College for adult and evening programs.

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