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Many young Arabs express their opinions over the Americanization of Arab television on Twitter. © Your Middle East / Twitter snapshots
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Last updated: April 29, 2013

On the Westernization of Arab television

The UK and the US are known for their creativity and innovation; they create programs that the rest of the world replicate – and Arabs have joined the bandwagon.

What happened to creativity in the Arab world? When did we decide to throw away our cultural heritage by granting Westernization access to Arab television? We have the capacity and opportunity to produce unique programs, but ultimately choose to imitate. Some telling examples are: Arab's Got Talent, Star Academy, Arab Idol, Who Will Win the Million, The Voice, The Moment of Truth, X-Factor, The Biggest Loser and Nogoom Al 3oloum.

Let's take Star Academy, a show that is not suited to imitate in our region. It goes against our customs and traditions, and luckily, was not broadcast this year. Another example is The Moment of Truth, which is provocative and included embarrassing questions that caused many problems for the people who participated in the show.

We asked people active in the media industries to find out what they thought about the prevalence of Westernized television in Arab lands.

Ayman Salah, a digital entrepreneur and an experienced media-business developer who launched the Middle East News Agency’s SMS news service:

“In the eighties, we used to have our own programs like Adwa2 al Medina to discover talent. But nowadays, in the era of imitation, we have to ask the big question; 'Does this program produce real artists?' For instance, in Star Academy we don't even remember who was there, and we can see that no one has become a popular singer, not even the winners of that show.”

“The most important thing here is to maintain our culture; Star Academy for instance is totally against our culture, customs and traditions. As for Arabs Got Talent, I think it is a very good example of blind imitation for everything. There wasn't any proficient talent compared to the American version. Moreover, I totally think that the talent must be an art not a business.”

Salma Tantawi, Editor-in-Chief of DigiBuzz Magazine:

“First of all it's not "imitation" if they have a license which they do most of the time. I still hate them though. Although they might seem equal in production, the American one provide better content most of the time. I do not reject Arabs to regionalize the idea of an American show. However, I didn't watch any of them because I didn't like them (Arab Idol, Arabs Got Talent and the X-Factor).”

Karim El-Shamy, video editor at Al-Jazeera:

''Egyptian productions are less than the American ones. Arab's Got Talent for example was successfully produced as an Arabian production, but program like le3bet el 7ayah was a disaster and badly imitated. The best program was the awesome Egyptian production Coke Studio, its guests, editing, shooting, directing and everything was done perfectly. But in general, I am against imitation, there must be a kind of creation, we can imitate things but not anything against our culture and traditions.”

Hend Tarek, journalist with the Daily News:

“I feel that imitation indicates that we no longer have an identity. We simply take what the West throws at us, and the fact that these shows are part of a brand means that some businessman who wants to make some extra money is willing to invest in them to profiteer without thinking of the impact this has on the people. Starting from Arab Idol to America's Got Talent's Arabic version, Arab's got talent. Of course American productions are more sophisticated and refined. But, that doesn't justify imitating.”

Ghada Ahmed, a graduate of mass communication:

“First, I think that even if the Arabic productions are good, still the thought that they are just imitating makes them loose many points, because these productions are originally representing another culture, so you can see that they don't match us and it's all a trial to be a copy from another country that we are following blindly. Examples are The biggest loser and Arab Idol - for me they were both fake. We need to be more creative and start producing movies and programs from our own cultures and countries; anything that's copied is not worth watching.”

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The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Your Middle East.

Raghda Arafa
Raghda is a Cairo-based regular contributor to Your Middle East.
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