Archive for December 8th, 2011


International Reporting: A commodity, not a moral obligation

The Hafez article, “International Reporting: No Further than Columbus”, was spot on in discussing the media’s impact on international conflict and foreign policy. Although this author delegates journalists the important role of “intermediaries in the process of globalization” and “the central pillar of the global public sphere”, the reality of who the media serves and how it influences audience members towards the opposite of a multicultural world, is quite distressing. According to Hafez, when all is said and done, “the mass media are not in the least oriented towards a world system, but in fact concentrate upon national markets, whose interests and stereotypes they largely reproduce”(25).

BINGO. This may not seem that novel to Americans who have traveled or lived abroad for an extended period of time and had the chance to consume news from foreign media sources. But for the majority of Americans who have not traveled outside of the U.S and have a limited lens to understand the complex cultures, societies and histories that weave that fabric of these nations, mass media in the U.S. does nothing but reaffirm all of the stereotypes and nationalistic notions that perpetuate our ethnocentric system. For example, I’ll always remember an American friend of mine who did little traveling outside the U.S and was very patriotic. She was convinced that she knew well the issues of the Middle East, particularly with regard to the treatment of Muslim women. Her sources? Fox News (international reporting, of course) and a personal experience with a conservative Muslim couple living in the U.S.

We watched a scene from the Sex and the City movie that was produced in very poor taste. It was shot in Morocco and then de-contextualized when producers sold the scenes off as Abu Dhabi, portraying this Hollywood creation of a nation as an ultra conservative country, where women are repressed and forced to where traditional garments under the rule of men. Despite this decontextualization, regional homogenization and obvious lack of cultural understanding of the movie producers, my friend was eating the movie up. When Samantha dropped a condom in front of a group of veiled Muslim women and pridefully displayed her inhibition-less sexuality, my friend laughed and cheered for the liberal, “American woman”. I myself, am a liberal woman, to say the least. But even so, I cringed at the cultural insensitivity of the movie.

The difference between my friend and I? I have lived and worked abroad for four years, both in Islamic and non-Islamic dominated nations. I have many friends who are Muslim and explain to me the factors that play into their choice to be of the Islamic faith. Moreover, having had spent time in the Middle East (3 months), I’ve been exposed to regional Arab cultures and have an idea of what is acceptable as a foreigner and behaviors that are just plain rude and disrespectful when traveling abroad. I’m not writing all of this to be arrogant and say I know everything about Islam, because I don’t–I’m just as ignorant as the rest. But I do have a cultural and social lens from which I can view these other nations, understanding the intricacies of their diverse cultures without buying into the stereotypes that are exhibited by the media.

I saw that the Sex and the City movie did relatively well, considering it’s poor taste. So I decided to research why on earth the movie was shot in Morocco and not Abu Dhabi itself? The bottom line? Shooting the movie in Morocco and selling it off for Abu Dhabi was less expensive (ie more lucrative) for movie producers. In the end, this serves Hafez’s point well that contextualizing international broadcasting is “insufficiently profitable”. It takes a whole lot of time, money and effort to truly contextualize and get to know the culture, language and society of a nation without incorporating ones’ own interpretations and biases into the framework broadcasted to viewers. Accordingly, it doesn’t seem morally right that Hollywood movie producers can make a profit by spreading their own skewed ethnocentric views and stereotypes of other nations. Who should regulate such behavior?