Points of View

'Radio and Television' from Oxford Islamic Studies Online

About This Resource

This article on the culture of radio and television production in modern Muslim countries provides background for Kamila Shamsie's Broken Verses, Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, and Hisham Matar's In the Country of Men. The article by Hamid Mowlana is reprinted from The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World in the Oxford Islamic Studies Online.


Communication patterns in the Islamic world have undergone considerable change since the advent of broadcasting in the twentieth century. When broadcasting systems were introduced to many parts of the world between 1910 and 1930, only a few Islamic countries were independent and thus able to launch their own national communication infrastructures. However, the growth of radio and television in the Islamic world has steadily accelerated since World War II and the close of the colonial era. The development of broadcasting systems in Islamic countries has been propelled by several factors, including the rise of the modern nation‐state system and nationalism, Islamic revivalism and cultural identity, and the expansion of communication technologies as instruments for social and political mobilization.

In the 1930s Egypt, Iran, and Turkey were among the first Islamic countries to develop their own radio broadcasting and to utilize it mainly as a tool of national integration, government news and information, and state propaganda and ideology. Kemal Atatürk in Turkey and Reza Shah Pahlavi in Iran used the mass media, particularly radio, to promote nationalism. As more Islamic lands in Asia and Africa gained their independence, broadcasting systems were established as distinctive symbols of national and political power to promote Muslim cultural values and at the same time to maintain national identity in the face of economic, political, and social change. In the 1950s leaders such as Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt and Sukarno of Indonesia combined their strong personal leadership with radio as an instrument of national policy. Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran and his one‐time political partner, the major religious leader Ayatollah Abol‐Qāsem Kāshāni, combined radio broadcasting with traditional communication channels such as the mosques and the bazaar to wage successful campaigns for the nationalization of the Iranian oil industry. Since the demise of Western‐style development in Iran and the Islamic revolution of 1978–1979, broadcasting systems with a great degree of Islamic identity have developed in many Islamic countries.

Television, which was introduced into a number of Islamic countries in the late 1950s and the early 1960s, has also become a potent medium of information, education, and entertainment. The introduction of television has added a new dimension to the traditional means of communication in the Islamic world. Mosques have used both radio and television to broadcast sermons and other religious events in order to reach greater audiences with their messages. In addition, coffeehouses and marketplaces have remained social centers where information is newly disseminated through group observance of radio and television events. The amplification of the human voice in Qur'ānic recitals by microphones, radio, and television, as well as the production of such recitals on cassettes distributed along with other religious materials, have brought new dimensions of communication to the Islamic world. In addition, through a combination of traditional channels and electronic media, religious leaders and Islamic groups have maintained their ability to voice their opinions to the public.

In the Islamic world, radio and television in general served to diffuse Islamic culture in pursuit of state legitimacy but refrained from the diffusion or propagation of anti‐Islamic practices. One important feature of broadcasting media in the Islamic world is that they are being integrated into the vast and complex system of traditional and oral channels of communication. The substance and strategy of contemporary Islamic movements around the world are new, and so is the realizations that in Islamic societies such as Iran, Algeria, Indonesia, and Pakistan, control of modern communications media does not guarantee political control. Radio and television achieve the power and penetration of traditional channels of communication when they are used as social, political, and economic tools. Conventional analyses of radio and television in the Islamic world are too limited if they focus only on the conventional Western definition and ignore traditional organizational and group channels peculiar to Muslim culture, through which the modern mass‐media messages are filtered. For example, the Friday prayer ceremony, a forum for both religious and political topics, attended by thousands, is broadcast and covered extensively in the press of many Islamic countries.

Although there are diversities within the Islamic world and their systems of broadcasting, Islamic moral and ethical criteria have considerable influence on the content, production, and distribution of modern communications media, especially radio and television; these values are the bases for common communication patterns among Muslims throughout the world. This value system applied to communication laws and regulations makes broadcasting in the Muslim world highly distinctive.

A number of technical as well as economic and political factors have inhibited broadcasting from realizing its full potential in the Islamic world. The most significant of these factors is an overall lack of economic resources and investment in communications infrastructure. A second factor has been the limited number of educational and training institutions that can provide expertise and technical personnel for radio and television programming and operation. Linguistic diversity combined with centralized broadcasting is a third factor in the slow expansion of radio and television, preventing program exchanges among Islamic countries. However, in the countries of the Middle East and North Africa where Arabic is the common language, radio and television have become powerful channels of communication in the hands of governments and commercial organizations both domestic and foreign. The Islamic countries have also encountered some technical difficulties in the implementation of their television systems. After television was introduced to various Islamic regions during the 1950s and 1960s, each country devised its own plans without consideration for the development of the region as a whole. Since different countries often chose incompatible systems such as PAL or SECAM, exchange of programs became difficult and expensive and inhibited the development of an Islamic regional network. Technological advances with satellites now largely overcome such barriers to information flow across borders.

The Islamic world has received a significant amount of international broadcasting owing to its vast and diverse geographical area. The Voice of America and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) have been among the many international sources that for years have beamed programs in Arabic, Persian, and other languages to Islamic countries. Many Islamic countries' broadcasting systems have not only served immigrants and diverse linguistic groups from abroad, but have also attempted to reach their own nationals who live and work in foreign countries. As a result, many of these broadcasting systems have programs in such languages as Persian, Turkish, Urdu, Malay, or Swahili as well as in European languages.

The most substantial period of growth in broadcasting in the Islamic world occurred between the 1970s and the 1990s, when the number of radio and television transmitters doubled in most countries. The distribution of receivers also increased, especially in the Persian Gulf states and in Southeast Asia. Because of the Muslim tradition of group listening, broadcasting audiences in the Islamic world are much larger than the actual number of receivers.

Political developments, including the resurgence of Islam as a revolutionary force, have had considerable influence on the international broadcasting of several Islamic countries. Iran and Egypt are among the world's foremost international broadcasters. Iran's external Arabic‐language programming exceeds any other initiated in the Islamic world. In terms of weekly program hours broadcast to the Islamic world, Egypt and Iran rank respectively third and fourth among major international broadcasters, following the United Kingdom and Russia.

Both radio and television systems in Islamic countries have generally been state‐owned and controlled. Advertising has been one source of revenue for broadcasting; however, many governments have tried to avoid raising revenue through commercial methods that they believe might encourage further development of commercialism in their societies. In a number of cases, such as Bahrain, Lebanon, and Malaysia, privately owned commercial broadcasting systems have been allowed to coexist with government‐operated networks. Control of broadcasting systems by the state has been justified on the grounds of national unity and the prevention of unwanted messages and foreign influence. Most countries in the Islamic world import 40 to 60 percent of their television programs, the majority of which consist of entertainment from Europe and the United States—a source of controversy and debate over foreign cultural domination. Some countries have felt the encroachment of Western‐dominated programming and have sought to maintain their autonomy through a comprehensive communication policy of investment in the expansion of locally produced cultural programs.

Since the process of secularization and the separation of church and state have not taken firm roots in the Islamic countries, there has been no need or attempt to establish independent religious broadcasting networks like those in Europe and the United States. The Islamic world has developed a broadcasting policy that combines civic and religious programs. In the case of radio, however, special religious stations have occasionally been developed and devoted solely to the Qur'ān, for instance in Egypt in the 1960s.

Satellite technology has further widened dissemination of news and religious ceremonies, such as the ḥajj. In addition to the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization's (INTELSAT) worldwide satellite network, which has been available to all Islamic countries, two major satellite systems—the PALAPA of Indonesia and the ARABSAT of the Arab countries— have been particularly designed to serve the needs of Southeast Asia, the Persian Gulf region, and North Africa. Other countries such as Iran and Algeria have been considering launching their own national satellite systems. Program exchanges and technical cooperation in communication in the Islamic world have been carried out through a number of regional organizations, including the Islamic States' Broadcasting Organization (ISBO), the Arab States Broadcasting Union, and Gulf Vision serving Arab countries of the Persian Gulf. ISBO was established in 1975 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in accordance with a resolution adopted by the Sixth Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers. Its goals are to disseminate Islamic principles, to acquaint people with the objectives of Islam, to explain Islamic social, political, and economic solidarity, and to develop cooperation among Islamic technical organizations and institutions of member states in the field of broadcasting.

In the Islamic countries of Southeast Asia, where different ethnic and language groups spread over vast areas, as in Indonesia and Malaysia, privately owned radio stations have been allowed, but television has remained a government monopoly. The low literacy rate coupled with traditionally high dependence on oral communication has made radio the ideal medium of modern mass communication in Muslim Africa. In Africa, where many countries cover vast areas and where physical obstructions abound, reception areas of radio and television are geographically limited. The cost of equipment and the great number of languages are among the problems facing the expansion of broadcasting in these countries.

A growing phenomenon in the Muslim world is the development of transnational communications media, especially in the fields of radio and broadcasting. The increasing population of Muslims in Europe and America with their well‐developed communication infrastructures, combined with the acceleration of movement across national boundaries, have resulted in the establishment of many international communication centers in London, Paris, New York, and Washington, D.C. Because of rapid innovations in information services and technologies, the Islamic world has found it increasingly difficult to control or enforce laws regulating the transnational use of satellite communications and broadcasting. Since the Persian Gulf War in 1991, the demand for satellite receiving dishes has skyrocketed in the Persian Gulf states and North Africa. Videocassette recording using television technology has had a similar impact on the Muslim world. The lack of government control over VCRs and videocassettes has created further problems for national communications policy. Within the changing international climate, the greatest communication challenge to the Islamic world is the rapid development of modern broadcasting technologies and the trend toward globalization of the media.


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Mowlana, Hamid. "Radio and Television." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World edited by John L. Esposito. Oxford Islamic Studies Online, http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/article/opr/t236MIW/e0665

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"Muslim Journeys | Item #233: 'Radio and Television' from Oxford Islamic Studies Online", June 20, 2024 http://bridgingcultures-muslimjourneys.org/items/show/233.


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