Until the 1990s almost all television channels in the Arab countries were government owned and rigidly controlled. These channels still exist but the situation began to change in the 1990s with the spread of satellite television. Privately owned and non-governmental channels introduced livelier programmes aimed at a pan-Arab audience and also adopted a more professional approach to news and current affairs.
The pioneer in this field was the news channel, al-Jazeera, which is financed by the government of Qatar but has a enjoys a large measure of independence. Al-Jazeera, many of whose staff originally came from the BBC, became the first Arabic channel to provide extensive live news coverage, even sending reporters to previously unthinkable places, such as Israel. Al-Jazeera also broke new ground with its discussion programmes which looked at issues from more than one point of view and often raised subjects that had previously been taboo.
In this new atmosphere of increased freedom and competition, Dubai has been making strenuous efforts to become the main media centre for the Middle East through the Dubai Media City project.
In 2008, at a meeting called by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Arab information ministers approved a charter to regulate satellite broadcasting. This was widely viewed as an attempt to assert control over the medium.
The online journal, Arab Media and Society (and its predecessor, Transnational Broadcasting Studies), produced at the American University in Cairo, is probably the best source for articles about Arab television.
Another useful resource is the MEB Journal, published by the Middle East Broadcasters Association. It is described as "the first comprehensive magazine focused on the Arab media and television industry", covering "all aspects of the emerging broadcasting and production sector in the Middle East".
Best-known of the Arabic news channels and probably the most watched, it was established in Qatar in 1996.
See special page
One of the two main Arabic news channels. An offshoot of MBC, it was established in 2003 and is based in Dubai.
General information from Wikipedia
Official website; also in English
Profile: al-Arabiya TV
BBC, November 2003
Al-Hurra ("The Free One") was established by the United States in 2004 to counter perceived biases in the Arab news media, especially the satellite channels such as al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya.
General information from Wikipedia
Official website, in English and Arabic
Al Hurra TV
The Second Invasion, by Mike Whiney. Counterpunch magazine, 22 October, 2004
Comments on Radio Sawa and al-Hurra Television
by William Rugh. Testimony to Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 29 April 2004. (PDF)
Lebanese-based channel owned by Hizbullah. Highly controversial, it has been accused of anti-semitism and support for terrorism. Less widely watched than al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya but nevertheless popular in some parts of the Middle East.
Official website. Also in English
Censoring al-Manar TV
By Niraj Warikoo. Detroit Free Press, 20 March, 2005
France closes down al-Manar TV channel – what comes next?
Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, Israel, 5 December 2004
Al-Manar in the dog house
Ahram Weekly, 23 December, 2004
Al-Manar and 'TV terrorism'
By Lawrence Smallman. Al-Jazeera, 24 December 2004
Dangerous precedent seen in decision to put Al-Manar on list of terror organisations
Reporters sans Frontieres, 20 December 2004
Lebanese satellite TV banned from Eutelsat Reporters sans Frontieres, 14 December 2004