Emory Report
March 19, 2007
Volume 59, Number 23

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March 19, 2007
New Arabic Media Center provides keys to Middle East views

By carol Clark

In the current political climate, it stands to reason that Arabic television portrays the U.S. government far less favorably than networks of the country’s traditional Western allies.

A common assumption — but it’s wrong, said Roland Schatz, CEO of the global media research firm Media Tenor, at the March 8 launch of Emory’s Arabic Media Center.

“The BBC takes a much stronger stance against the U.S. government than Arab TV,” Schatz said. He flashed a bar graph of an analysis by Media Tenor showing that about 60 percent of British and Italian TV references to the U.S. government and military rated negative, while only about 40 percent of these same references made by Al-Jazeera International and Arab satellite TV were negative.

The Arabic Media Center — established in Emory’s Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies, in conjunction with the Journalism Program — gives journalists, scholars, diplomats and leaders of non-governmental organizations the tools to explore perspectives and attitudes of the Arab world that are not always readily apparent. Media Tenor, based in Bonn, Germany, is donating the core material for the Center — an analyzable, regularly updated database of Arabic electronic and print media to use for research and training.

“It’s extremely helpful for us to see the Arab way of looking at events. It helps us understand how they tick,” Schatz said, who founded Media Tenor in 1993 as the first research institute to focus on continuous media analysis. “It’s so important that journalists and scholars dive into this type of data on a regular basis.”
President Jim Wagner thanked Schatz for his generous gift of the database, and for “having the imagination” to see its potential for the academic world.

“The goals of the Center fit perfectly with Emory’s overall mission to become an international destination,” Wagner said. “Emory is already the go-to place for Arabic studies in the Southeast, but with initiatives like this, we will soon become recognized in national and international studies in this area.”

The launch event featured speakers involved in the development of the Arabic Media Center, including Gordon Newby, MESAS chair and the Center’s director; Sheila Tefft, chair of the journalism program; Bobby Paul, dean of Emory College; and Holli Semetko, vice provost of international affairs. They hosted representatives of major media, the World Economic Forum, The Coca-Cola Company and other members of the Emory community who were treated to an expansive Moroccan buffet presented by Chef Rafih Benjelloun, owner of Atlanta’s Imperial Fez restaurant.

The concept of the Arabic Media Center “is exciting,” said Robert Wheeler, a lecturer in Arabic language at MESAS, as he tucked into a plate of roast lamb, Cornish hen cooked with plums and artichoke hearts sautéed with fava beans. Wheeler said that interest in Arabic studies had exploded since 9/11.

MESAS and the journalism program are not the only areas of Emory that will benefit from the Center, said Paul, noting that it will bring together scholars from political science, sociology, history, religion, business, law — any discipline with an interest in the Arabic-speaking world.

Through an outreach program, the Center will also promote mutual understanding between the greater Emory community and the Arabic-speaking world. Longer-range plans call for hosting symposia and developing in-residence opportunities for journalists and scholars from around the world.

The quality of the data generated by staff at Media Tenor provides a solid foundation for the Center, said Newby, who has visited the company’s Bonn headquarters. “They are coding the data using very careful procedures that make sure that bias gets filtered out of the analysis,” he said.

Media Tenor is the leading media institute in the field of applied agenda-setting research. The company’s detailed analysis of news reports provides strategic media intelligence to major corporations and government agencies, such as the U.S. State Department. The research focuses on thousands of topics, including categories like election campaigns, public diplomacy, reputation and risk, war reporting and democracy.

The company uses only native speakers as media researchers for the many languages its work encompasses, and puts them through a rigorous, six-month training program, said Schatz.

The timing is ripe for the advent of the Arabic Media Center, said Schatz, who is a sought-after media consultant.

Arab media is becoming increasingly influential, largely due to the advent of the Qatar-based television network Al-Jazeera, which recently started an English-language version, Al-Jazeera International, based in Washington.

Schatz showed a bar graph of a recent Media Tenor analysis of German media, revealing that Al-Jazeera is now one of the most quoted international media outlets in Germany — far ahead of CNN and neck-and-neck with the Washington Post.

“Do you think that Al-Jazeera International will eventually become a major force in the TV news industry?” a journalist in the audience asked Schatz.

“Knowing about their ambitions and their cash resources, and knowing that they took a lot of BBC journalists, I would say, yes,” he responded.

“Do you think it will take a couple of years?” the journalist asked.

“I would say less,” Schatz said.