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Censorship (4:06) Excerpt from film "Dishing Democracy", August 2007
The people behind Kalam Nawaem or "Sweet Talk" discuss how they must carefully choose their topics and tone to keep their program on their air and to increase audience interest.

Country: Egypt

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Guiding Questions
  1. Define censorship. What do the producers of Kalam Nawaem mean by "self-censorship"?

  2. What kinds of topics and points of view do the producers mention as being sensitive? What strategies do they use to make sure the show meets the approval of MBC's content committee?

  3. Satellite television is a relative newcomer to the media scene. What kinds of impact might this new technology have on traditional relationships between governments, media companies, viewers, and audiences?
Background Essay
By the early 21st century, satellite television had entered into the mix of programming available to viewers in the Arab world, and globally. Programs offered on satellite television are often independently produced and, like Kalam Nawaem, or "Sweet Talk," may strive to show perspectives that cross country borders and appeal to a transnational audience.

Prior to 1990, television viewers in the Arab world had to rely upon the state for their programming options. There were not many channels available, and what was available was subject to government oversight. Since 1990, however, satellite TV has emerged as a popular alternative to standard broadcast stations. Currently, there are more than 200 satellite channels available, many of which confront formerly taboo topics such as sex education, homosexuality, domestic abuse, and gender inequality. The dramatic growth in independent journalism has led to live reporting, news analysis, political debates, and talk shows.

MBC was the first independent Arabic satellite television station, and it serves more than 130 million people around the world. One of its most popular shows is Kalam Nawaem, an all-female talk show. (Kalam Nawaem translates to English as Soft Talk, or Sweet Talk.) There are four hostesses who come from different backgrounds, and their goal is to discuss both new and frequent issues in the Arab world.

There are two parts to Kalam Nawaem. First, there is the celebrity feature, a portion of the show where there is an appearance by a celebrity guest. An informal conversation with the guest is followed by questions from the audience. Second, and perhaps more importantly, there is the lively discussion of controversial issues. The hostesses - Lebanese Rania Barghoot, Palestinian Farah Bseiso, Egyptian Dr. Fawziah Salamah, and Saudi Muna Abu Suleiman - hope that bringing these issues to light will create a dialogue about finding solutions that all people will accept and support.

In the episode entitled DISHING DEMOCRACY, WIDE ANGLE goes behind the scenes at Kalam Nawaem to discover how these four hostesses are boldly and effectively encouraging social reform within the Arab world.

Before the satellite television revolution, most Arab viewers depended on terrestrial state television, which meant few channels and some form of government oversight of everything that went to air. Now with the advent of satellite dishes, independent transnational media is encouraging public discourse in the Arab world.

Governments can less interfere now. We are a social program. Our job is to challenge, to question, to debate. We're not here to pass judgment. So when you have that attitude, I think it becomes difficult for any government or sheikh or whatever, to come point his finger at you.

But even a commercial enterprise like MBC still monitors what it broadcasts.

There's obviously what's called a censorship, a review. If they have questions this content committee they may call me up. We'll discuss it. And then once it passes that committee then it goes out for air.

Obscene words are, for sure, not to be on TV. We are not supposed to criticize Islam, that's very true. But we have criticized America so many times. The management doesn't tell us that there is a red line. They were able to educate us in such a way to understand by our own selves where is the red lines. It is like a self-sponsorship, self-censorship.

By design, the show does not deliver one message. The four hosts vary in age, nationality, and background so they bring different points of view to provoke thought and debate. And when discussing a controversial issue, they bring in experts and a religious authority.

No segment or episode of Kalam Nawaem has ever been rejected by MBC since the program premiered.

I don't think we'll get very far if we are negative and we are confrontational. I think most likely we will get shut down or condemned a lot faster. You take baby steps. You address issues and you tackle them intelligently, maturely, family-oriented. So I think we get a lot further that way.

While Kalam Nawaem may be pushing social boundaries carefully, some MBC executives see the show's controversy as key to its appeal. Marketing Manager Ashraf Younis strategizes how to extend the brand to new platforms.

When you have a hot topic this is where you would have a fluctuation in ratings, you would have more viewers flocking into the shows. So the controversialness of Kalam Nawaem, this is where, I think, the success of the show is. Pushing the boundaries.

We've noticed recently that forums in this part of the world have become more of an arena where they talk and chat and what have you about whatever the topic is. The presenters could do their own blogs...

Oh, they'd love that.

...where women talk about it and chat. An advice line, call this line, this advice line, and we will help you, Kalam Nawaem will help you out, on whatever the topic is. SMS tips on women and family-related issues. Why not introduce ladies lounges? A bathroom that is like a five-star lounge with in a nice seating area, coffee, TV, whatever, where women can actually go sit and chat. Extend the brand! It will be called the KM ladies lounge or something you know.

Who knows how long television is going to last, you will see Kalam Nawaem on the Internet, you will see it on mobile phones, and you will see it on what's after that, I don't know what's after that but you will see it there, it has to be.

Related Links
Dishing Democracy on PBS.org

CIA World Factbook: Eqypt

The Middle East Media Research Institute TV Monitor Project

Mosaic-Link TV: World News from the Middle East

Women's Rights and Democracy in the Arab World

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