Bashar Kiwan – Media and Communication in the Middle East

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Middle East: traditional media are adapting to the Internet

The Middle East is developing and growing. This part of the world is experiencing an accelerated digital transition that the European continent experienced a few years ago. Since the 2000s, the Middle East has been plunged into a situation where technology and digital was made more and more accessible to the population. Mobile phones or smartphones are now fully established and almost all citizens have one. In addition, the Internet has spread rapidly in people’s home and allows people to inform themselves, express themselves and form their own opinions on the political, economic and social situations in their country in a way that is totally different from traditional media. That is the whole problem. New technologies and digital technology have totally disrupted the relationship that people have with traditional media such as television, radio and written press. Are the new media killing the old ones? Are they replacing them? Or can a peaceful and complementary coexistence take place?

These are all questions that media professionals like Bashar Kiwan are asking themselves. This Franco-Syrian businessman is the founder and president of al-Waseet International. It belongs to the Al-Wataniya group, which has many publications such as al-Balad and Layalina. This important publishing house also specialises in the media in general. It owns al-Waseet, which is a classified newspaper, Layalina, which is a people’s monthly newspaper, al-Balad, which is a daily newspaper, and internationally renowned titles such as Marie Claire, Gala and Fortune. As a professional in the media sector, Bashar Kiwan is therefore very interested in the evolution of traditional media, which are largely affected by new digital technologies.

Assessment of media use in the Middle East

A study by the Northwastern University in Qatar, dating back from 2017, shows that Middle Eastern countries are increasingly connected and that the digital divide between generations and social classes is narrowing. This survey covers six countries (Egypt, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates) and provides a detailed picture of media use in this region of the world.

Social networks

With the explosion of the Internet and smartphones, social networks have also become an important part of the Middle East population’s habits. As a result, there are about 80% of Internet users who use Facebook and WhatsApp, the two most popular social platforms in these countries. In addition, the Internet is now widely made accessible in this region of the world. Indeed, almost the entire population of the Gulf countries uses the Internet. A significant increase is also noticed between 2013 and 2016.

Television

The impact of new technologies and the Internet is beginning to be felt on television. Indeed, even if it remains the most commonly used means of information and entertainment, it is beginning to lose ground to the Internet. Almost all viewers watch programmes in Arabic (99%).

News

In all Middle Eastern countries, except Qatar, respondents are numerous to follow the news on their television than online. In addition, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have the highest number of newspaper readers.

Focus on traditional media in the Middle East by Bashar Kiwan

Traditional media such as television, radio or written press have been around for many years now and have become widespread in people’s home. The Middle East is no exception, but with the arrival of the Internet and smartphones, they have suffered a significant decline in their audience, for the most part.

Television

Television is one of the few media that is not too affected by the digital revolution in the Middle Eastern and African countries. Indeed, by 2021, growth is expected to increase by 30%, from €10.3 billion to €13.3 billion. This optimistic future can be explained by the fact that the population in this region of the world is young and growing. In addition, the rather favourable economic outlook allows TV equipment to be better sold. In addition, new technologies are greatly contributing to this growth with the development of mobile telecom networks that add an additional screen.

Radio

Radio does not do as well as television. The audiences are clearly declining: they have gone from 59% in 2013 to 49% in 2017. Radio is therefore the first victim of the digital revolution. However, the decline in audiences is not as catastrophic as for the written press.

Written press

Press media is currently experiencing a real crisis because the newspaper reading rate decreased dramatically between 2013 and 2017. It went from 47% to 25% during this period. Magazines are also affected, with the reading rate declining from 26% in 2013 to 19% in 2017. It is clear that the digital revolution taking place in the countries of the Middle East is having a negative impact on written press and radio, but to a lesser extent. A look back at the new media that are flourishing in the Middle East is needed to understand how publishing professionals, such as Bashar Kiwan, can benefit from this digital revolution.

The case of written press

The case of the written press is quite delicate since it is the one that has suffered the most from the consequences of the arrival of the Internet and new technologies. The apparent free nature of the Internet has persuaded Internet users to stop paying to access quality information. Yet, because of this situation, the paper press is collapsing on itself. In an attempt to get through this revolution without too much trouble, the paper press specialists, including Bashar Kiwan, have decided to take the appropriate measures. Indeed, even if the arrival of the Internet in the Middle East has drastically reduced their audiences, it is through the Web that print newspapers can consider their rebirth. As a result, many newspapers have supplemented their paper editions with an online edition. The advantage of developing a news website is to be able to offer its readers free and quality information. However, it should not be assumed that no benefits are generated. Indeed, there are different business models for online newspapers. In order to supplement the revenues of the paper version, the website can develop online advertising spaces that are much more efficient than on paper: ads are more attractive and can be adapted to the consumption habits of Internet users. Then, the news site can offer part of its content for free and another part for a fee that can only be seen by subscribers. Then, social networks, which are now used by a majority of Middle Eastern residents, can add value by facilitating communication with readers and bringing a wider audience. These examples are not the only ones, but they clearly demonstrate that if the media trades are transformed, digital revolution can also become strength for traditional media.

The case of radio

Radio is much less affected by digital revolution than written press. However, its audiences are still declining. To remedy this situation, professionals in this media sector must adapt and live with their times. For example, it is quite possible to develop web radio, which is only online, to broadcast podcasts via the Internet or to use social networks to communicate, to develop a community and bring a new audience.

Traditional media, although strongly impacted by the digital revolution, can use the Internet to their advantage. However, as professionals in the sector such as Bashar Kiwan point out, the most important thing is to move with the times and modernise the way one works and what one presents to the audience.

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