Politics and the Media   /   Summer 2008   /    Reviews

Mamoun Fandy’s (Un)Civil War of Words

Jonathan Readey

In the opening lines of (Un)Civil War of Words, political scholar Mamoun Fandy notes that, since 9/11, a global audience has turned to Al-Jazeera as the source for information on Osama bin Laden and his next target. In today’s jittery era of terrorism, the Iraq War, and misinter- pretations and misinformation between Arab and Western countries, Fandy seeks to explain the politics of such influential Arab media—the television, newspaper, and radio outlets that tangibly affect how people worldwide view and respond to political events. He provides in-depth analysis of the journalists themselves, Arab news coverage, and the effects of interstate and intra-state conflicts. At the same time, he also attempts to illustrate how anti-Americanism and America’s own media failures in the Middle East interact with authoritarian governments to create inherently political Arab journalism, with significant obstacles to, and implications for, free speech and political change.

Several overarching arguments animate Fandy’s erudite and transnational study. First, he dispels the notion that Al-Jazeera represents all Arab media or Arab society. There are over 700 satellite television stations alone in the Arab world, and most, he suggests, reflect the diverse political rivalries of their national leaders, as well as complex political environments that can combine secular and religious laws, webs of ruling families, and other factors. Fandy argues that theories of Western media studies—such as those Mancini in Comparing Media Systems: Three Models of Media and Politics—are inadequate for explaining Arab journalism. Such theories either assume a commercial model for news outlets based on advertising revenues—while Arab media often operate at a financial loss to serve political agendas—or a simpler relationship between media and the state that fails to recognize the particular circumstances of different Western and Arab nations. Similar to James Curran and Myung-Jin Park’s De-Westernizing Media Studies, Fandy also seeks to liberate media studies from a mere East-West focus, or even from Western ideas of public versus private or an independent and objective media. He emphasizes the ways in which regional political concerns significantly determine not just news coverage, but even the slant of anti-Americanism.

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