According to the Arab States Broadcasting Union, TV channels can either be governmental, lucrative, or religious. The union does not classify religious TV channels under the category that could make profits or losses.
However, it is well known in the broadcasting sector that non-profitable TV stations shut down. And to be profitable, a channel must achieve high viewing rates and generate high advertising revenues.
Although religious channels do not rely primarily on advertising, they never register any losses. In fact, 35 new religious channels emerged between 2010 and 2011. The ideological and political sector is obviously a profitable market for investors.
Businessmen would never invest in religious TV channels if they weren’t greatly influential on the public opinion.
After the fall of dictatorial regimes in Tunisia and Libya, we witnessed the rise of Islamist governments that not only encourage religiosity, but also turn a blind eye to radical and extremist religious groups, under the pretext that past repressive means failed to contain them.
These new governments believe that dialogue is the most effective way to fight extremism. Consequently, the display of religiosity has become widely prevalent.
Tunisia has witnessed three major experiences in terms of the relationship between politics and society on the one hand, and religious or Islamist channels on the other hand.
The first example is the Qatar-based al- Jazeera channel, which contributed to overthrowing Ben Ali’s regime and supporting the Islamists as they reached power.
The second example is the religious channel Zitouna, which gained popularity in a short period of time, and started competing with private entertainment-oriented channels. Zitouna was owned by Ben Ali’s son-in-law before it became nationalised after the Revolution.
Zitouna’s primary mission was to “spread moderate Islam”, but it aimed in reality to clamp down on all types of extremist religious movements, and eventually contain and control them.
The third example is the London-based al-Mustakilla channel, owned by Hechmi Hamdi, the president of the Popular Petition, an Islamist opposition party. This channel is a prominent example of the impact of visual media on politics. While everybody was unaware, Hamdi promoted his party and trends through his channel and obtained the second highest number of seats in the Constituent Assembly, easily surpassing the oldest party in Tunisia.
Tunisia is currently witnessing a conflict between two societal trends: A “Bourguiba” modernist trend, or a Westernizing trend as its critics call it; and a conservative Arab trend that the Islamic Ennahda Movement is supporting and trying to gradually instil in Tunisian society.
Each party is seeking to impose its ideas and lifestyle through television. While modernists support secular or leftist TV channels, Islamists support religious channels.
Therefore, ideological conflicts and attempts to impose a particular way of life all happen inevitably through TV channels.
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