Riyadh-With the huge growth in the number of satellite television channels available in Saudi Arabia over in the last fifteen years, the country’s youths are increasingly turning away from local television such as Channel 1. The result is a gap between the younger population who is attracted to specialist children’s programs, available on satellite, and the older generation, which still remains loyal to Saudi TV. Channel 1 currently shows talk shows, political features such as “Waghan Lewagh – Face to Face”, women’s programs such as
“Ahlamha- Her Dreams” in addition to cartoons, local programs, Arabic language series and religious programs.
Fahd El Ryan is one of the many young Saudis who have traded their national television for satellite channels because Saudi programs, in his opinion, do not cater to his tastes. Fahd adds, “My favorite programs like entertainment and movies are absent from the Channel 1 schedule.” He blames local television’s shrinking audience on its “disregard for viewers, especially young people”. For her part, Nada A., a student in the faculty of Arts, says that Channel programming lack originality, songs are old and chosen from local talent, and series are endlessly repeated.
However, the head of Channel 1, Suleiman El Eidy, disputes the claim that viewers are turning away from local channels, indicating that some programs remain more popular than others. He cites the example of last April when the “Hayakom program asked viewers to vote on an issue discussed. Phones kept ringing, according to El Eidy, and in two hours, a total of 16000 calls were received. This was enough evidence to conclude, he adds, that the re- structuring of the program was successful and appealed to many viewer’s tastes.
Others are more critical of Saudi national television. Dr Abdel Aziz El Maqoushy, Assistant Secretary General of Media Affairs argues that the real reason viewers are no longer watching Channel 1 stems from the Channel’s lack of vision and not the nature of it programs. He argues that while it presents useful programs, the channel suffers from bad program editing.
Another specialist, Hanady El Zeid, puts the blame directly on the feet of Kingdom’s TV staff, given that they are not interested in modernizing national television’s content. This is because, El Zeid adds, some of the staff lacks the proper training and knowledge to create programs that would appeal to a modern audience. Others are old and only used to traditional models of presentation. She calls for more constructive criticism of national television and an increase in the participation of young people and women in program making and presenting. El Zeid also appeals for more expertise in the making
of sets, music, graphics and the use of technology.
The current crisis of Saudi national television can’t be fully understood without distinguishing, according to Dr. El Maqoushy, between the two types of mass media at play: the first type consisting of specialized channels that cater for the specific demands of their viewers, and the second type, such as Sadi TV, which provides an educational message to its viewers. He notes that national television is an educational tool of the state that needs to appeal to all its viewers and reflect the changes that Saudi society is witnessing.
One viewer, Sara S. is full of praise for Channel 1 and is attracted by the diversity of its programs and the divergence from satellite channels. Sara adds that the channel has seen a few changes lately and has become bolder in tackling Saudi social issues. In her view, “Mostasharak- Your counselor” is one of the best current programs that deal with contemporary issues. Part of the appeal of Channel 1, Sara concurred was that it does not succumb to commercialization and refrains from showing amongst others, sexy music video. She also expressed her admiration for the style of presenters on Channel 1.
In order for Saudi TV to improve, suggests one of its coordinators who preferred to remain anonymous, is for a massive increase in budget to be implemented. Noting that national television did not attract significant advertising revenue, he suggests that national television in the Kingdom needs financial support to be able to compete with more successful commercial channels.
As for Channel 2, which was originally established to serve foreign and non- Arab residents in the Kingdom and introduce them to the country’s cultures and customs, it is also being criticized for losing its identity.
The channel currently showcases English and Arabic language programs, news bulletins in English and French, movies, women’s programs and programs on the economy, Saudi culture and religion such as “Haqiqat Al Islam” (The Truth about Islam). It transmits an average of eight hours a day.
One Belgian resident in Saudi Arabia complains that he tuned to Channel 2 in the hope to find out more about the Kingdom’s culture and society, but was disappointed. He says the channel does not show programs advising foreign residents on the location of hotels and places of interest across the country.
He adds, “I wanted to know more about the customs of Saudi society and the position of women. I also wanted to discover the opinion of young people on education and work in the Kingdom”.
For his part, Simon a South African living in Saudi Arabia, praises the program “Rap Session” which he says, has allowed him to “know more of Islam despite the fact that it doesn’t provide enough detail on the rise of Islam” but complains about the Channel 2’s limited transmission period.
In Dr. El Maqoushy’s opinion, Channel 2 should serve an important function is Saudi society by linking the Kingdom and its non- Arab residents and introducing them to the country’s customs and laws as well as addressing the problems foreigners can face whilst living in Saudi Arabia. He suggest that a study of Saudi Arabian society and the changes it faces should be conducted and programs created to deal with the needs and hopes of the Kingdom’s population.