Consumption of Media Amongst the Arab Society in Israel

On 17 May 2005, some 180 journalists from the Arabic and Hebrew media, as well as representatives of foreign embassies, media students, representatives of NGOs and the general public attended I’lam’s presentation on “Patterns of Media Consumption and Perceptions of Media Reliability in Arab Society in Israel.

This is the first non-commercial and thoroughly comprehensive study to examine the culture of media consumption amongst the Arab society in Israel. The study is based on a comprehensive public opinion survey, covering a representative sample of 594 people, from the entire spectrum of the Arab society in Israel, and from every geographic region in the country. The survey consisted of 255 questions that addressed the consumption habits and perceptions of media reliability of newspapers, radio, television and the internet amongst the Arab society in Israel. The study examines issues surrounding the Arab society�s degree of satisfaction with the means of communication available, the extent to which the various forms of media are believed (perceived reliability), and the degree to which this society�s identity, needs and interests are reflected.

The complexity of the study and the broad array of questions it addressed prevents a complete presentation of all the data at this stage. As this is the first comprehensive academic study in this field, many existing questions in this sphere can now be answered, with sometimes unexpected results. Due to considerations related purely to the requirements of research and the limitations of space, this paper will only present part of the findings, trends, and conclusions, while still referring seriously to the most striking elements of the research data. The findings will be issued in their entirety when the comprehensive study report is published in the near future.

The research data indicates the following:

The rates of media consumption amongst the Arab society is very high in every sphere, with exposure to Arabic newspapers amongst those surveyed reaching as high as 80%. This high percentage is not to be interpreted as an indication of the percentage who read Arabic newspapers daily. In fact, only 9.3% of those surveyed read newspapers daily. Those who read Arabic newspapers at least once weekly is 45.3%. Conversely, television consumption patterns revealed that 81.7% watched TV on a daily basis.

A general characteristic of the Arab society�s media consumption culture is the diversity of consumption habits as evidenced in the maximum use of the various communication spheres available to this population, largely as a result of technological changes that have occurred during recent decades. The Arab society in Israel is multilingual, forms part of different and complex social, political and cultural circles, and is developing a unique culture of media consumption, the principal characteristic of which is a division between the Israeli and the Arabic communication spaces. The media consumption culture of the Arab society in Israel is composed of two main groupings: local and regional.

On the one hand, a considerable demand exists for media content in both Arabic and Hebrew, both in the Israeli context and outside of it. A sizable percentage of the Arab population reads local Arabic newspapers, listens to both Arab and Hebrew radio broadcasts, and watches Hebrew television channels alongside Arabic channels broadcasting from the Arab world. This diverse pattern of consumption reflects the complex location of the Arab society, as regards both the local Israeli context, but also its place within the wider Arab regional context.

On the other hand, an extensive demand for local Arabic media exists on the part of a large percentage of the population, manifested by their reading local Arab newspapers and listening to Arab radio stations, both those that broadcast in accordance with the law, like the al-Shams radio station, as well as to �pirate� radio stations, which broadcast illegally. As no national Arabic television channel exists in Israel, viewing patterns are mapped between Israeli programming and Arabic programming beamed in via satellite.

In addition to the high-level of exposure to Arabic newspapers (80%), the average Arab media consumer reads more than just one local Arabic newspaper. There is a clear trend towards diversity in consumption, not just as regards mediums, but within each respective medium itself. This trend is most evident amongst readers of commercial newspapers, more so than readers of party (politically-affiliated) newspapers.

The consumption of commercial newspapers reflects an existent and emergent �culture of entertainment,� that is evidenced in the short amount of time dedicated to reading each newspaper, and the fact that most of those surveyed indicated that availability was the primary determinant for their reading of commercial papers.

In judging which are the most widely read Arabic newspapers amongst respondents, the most read are Kol al-�Arab (29.5%) and a-Sennara (26.1%), then comes al-Ittihad (15.8%), Panorama (13.5%), and Sawt al-Haqq wal-Hurriya (4.6%).

The popularity of newspapers depended on two main categories of variables. The first category relates to the orientation of the newspaper itself, with the most important criteria determining popularity being perceived objectivity, in the case of party newspapers, and availability, in the case of commercial newspapers.

The second category was related to the readership, and differentiated according to demographic variables such as education, age, economic level, and political attitudes. This enables the delineation in some cases, of a profile of the average reader of each given newspaper. There are newspapers that are more popular amongst the young, educated, and secular population, while others have succeeded in developing popularity amongst old and young, secular and religious alike.

In terms of the commitment of newspapers to fostering a sense of belonging to, and reflecting the interests of the society, the survey group responses split at times sporadically, and at times evenly, between satisfaction and dissatisfaction on the role of Arabic newspapers in this regard.

The research data revealed unexpected trends. One of the unexpected results was that commercial newspapers enjoyed higher rates of consumption than the party newspapers. There was also, however, other unexpected data opposing widespread popular beliefs, and posing outright contradictions. For example, the reason given by respondents for consumption of commercial papers was availability and habit, more than the supposed perceived objectivity or their independence.

Second, party newspapers enjoy slightly higher perceptions of reliability even amongst those who do not regularly read such papers, or subscribe to the respective party views. The difference between the Arab society�s perceptions of reliability regarding all party newspapers versus all commercial ones registers at a mere 2%. Third, the time spent reading by consumers of party newspapers is 150% � 250% more than that of readers of commercial newspapers.

Satisfaction of the audience regarding the coverage of specific issues: Those surveyed did not always express a clear position or attitude regarding satisfaction with the coverage of specific topics. As mentioned earlier for example, regarding the diversity of opinions in newspapers, the fostering of a sense of belonging and the defense of the rights of Arabic society, the level of satisfaction expressed was medial. The audience divided almost equally between those satisfied with the coverage of these issues and those who are not.

The survey group was almost unanimous however, in expressing the clear attitude that Arabic newspapers do not represent Israeli institutions. The data reveals further disagreements though, on the point of whether Arabic newspapers encourage internal social conflicts or sectarian divisions. Regarding the coverage of moral and ethical transgressions (for example, corruption, rape, murder, and theft), and regarding attitudes towards coverage on violence against women, the survey group had no unified position or attitude on the failures or successes of the Arabic newspapers.

As regards the Hebrew media, the data indicates a rather low level of daily Hebrew newspaper consumption (17.4%). At the head of the list of Hebrew newspapers, as expected, is Yediot Ahronot, consumed by 84.7% of the readers surveyed. Despite this high percentage of consumption, it is the newspaper Ha�aretz that enjoys the highest levels of perceived reliability, trusted by the highest number of Arab readers of Hebrew newspapers.

Concerning the consumption of television programming, the study indicates a clear trend in Arab society to take advantage of developments in electronic media, and particularly in the increase of Arab channels broadcasting via satellite.

The Arab viewing public chooses the channels it watches, including those that meet its special needs. Two Arab media spheres exist, categorized by their content. For example, on political issues, like the Palestinian-Israeli conflict or the American conquest of Iraq, a high percentage of the Arab viewing public prefers to watch Arab news channels. Of these channels, the most popular first choice is far and away al-Jazeera (29.6%).

Arab satellite channels are also watched for their cultural, entertainment and musical broadcasts. By contrast, when it comes to subjects that concern day-to-day life, like education, economics, health and environment, a high percentage of the Arab viewing public watches the Israeli channels, with the most popular first choice being Channel 2 (11.0%).

Regarding radio listeners, a general pattern similar to that of television viewers and newspaper readers was noticeable. Arab consumers of radio broadcasts listen to a wide variety of programs. Of the group surveyed, 52% listen to the radio. The three stations most listened to, according to the study, were Voice of Israel (Kol Yisrael) in Arabic (24.7%), al-Shams radio (18.8%) and Reshet Bet (17%). The data also indicates that the Voice of Israel in Arabic is much more widely consumed amongst those with lower levels of education, as compared to the listeners of Radio Shams.

When responding to questions comparing the level of trust in Arab newspapers to that of Hebrew newspapers, the strong trend was to place Arab newspapers far above in this regard. This finding supports other research concerning the level of the Arab society�s satisfaction with the Israeli-Arabic media in general. A relatively high percentage (58.4%) does not see the Hebrew media as representing them. An even higher percentage of the Arab population sees the Hebrew media as representing the position of the Israeli establishment (64%). Moreover, 49% of those surveyed expressed their dissatisfaction with the Hebrew coverage of Arab society. These findings reflect the fact that Arabs are often absent in the Hebrew media landscape, as established in other studies that have been conducted over the last few years. When Arabs are presented in the Hebrew media, it is often in a way that serves policies of the Israeli authorities.

The study found that 27.9% of the Arab population uses the internet. Most of that subset utilizes the internet for work, studies and entertainment. Amongst internet users, the vast majority (more than 80%) use it daily, almost every day or at least twice a week.

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