Sunday, February 12, 2006

A makeover for the Arab image?

The website,, is reporting that a decision to look at the external image projected by Arab nations was taken at a meeting of information ministers this week in Cairo. The media action plan adopted will be developed on the international stage and spread over five years. The aim is to "correct the distorted image given to Arabs abroad". Around $22.5m has been set aside to finance this plan, payable over the next five years, according to the contribution of each state to the Arab League budget.

Projects will be financed through an independent mechanism that will be created at the Arab League level. Contributions for the five countries who cannot contribute their share -- namely Palestine, Somalia, Comoros, Djibouti, and Mauritania -- will be borne jointly by the other members. The action plan has eight projects and is set to start soon.

Among the projects, priority has been given to a proposal to hire a Western public relations and information institution to work on a study of public opinion trends in decision-making circles. The initiative will also involve setting out media programmes and activities linked to general communications and relations for the quick portrayal and exploitation of positive guidance, in addition to the development and publication of media products in the form of publicity presentations in newspapers and on television channels.

The programme also includes the establishment of contracts with an electronic site company or the creation of an independent company with Arab backing which will be responsible for monitoring Internet publications, identifying anti-Arab sites and responding by the same means of communication (Internet).

Arab governments have also decided to set up an Arab information forum that will move around the capitals and major cities of the world with the aim of setting out and clarifying views regarding Arab and international issues and to introduce Arab culture and identity to foreign countries by direct contact and holding conferences and meetings with influential figures.

In addition, the creation of Arab centres in American and European capitals and major cities will be encouraged, where Arab communities can come together to present Arab culture and civilisation by organising cultural evenings and information weeks. A need also exists to translate written works in Arabic -- especially those dealing with the real lives of Arab people, their civilisation, their thought and an explanation of the Arab position on international issues.

In related news, The first Maghreb bibliographic index on CD-Rom has been launched. The project of the King Abdul Al Saoud Foundation of Casablanca, contains descriptions of more than 100,000 books, articles, university theses, official publications, manuscripts, and others. The documents are in several languages by around 41,600 authors, of whom 19,500 are from the Maghreb.

According to Mohamed Sghir Janjar, vice president of the foundation, "The index is the fruit of more than ten years of labour. It aims to make available keys to understanding the countries of the Maghreb and their environment". He added that this index fills a real void in the Maghreb and provides a more realistic picture of movements in thought and publishing within the region.

"The figures published by international institutions, particularly in the UN Report on Human Development on publishing in the region, are very low and far from reality. This is because there was an absence of data on the real volume of production in the region, a large part of which occurred unofficially. Several authors publish their books by their own means and distribute them themselves," he said.

Janjar said the foundation managed to acquire works to create a network for seeking and purchasing that is adapted to the sociological peculiarities of regional publishing. Publication of the bibliographic index is the result of this effort. The foundation will update the index regularly and develop it to meet the needs of researchers and those interested in regional affairs.

The King Abdul Aziz Al Saoud Foundation was created in 1984 as a gift to the people of Casablanca by King Abdallah Ibn Abdul Aziz, who was prince at the time. The foundation includes a library, a documentation centre and a debating and cultural activities area.

The importance of programmes to come together with Arab civil society organisations so that they can explore relationships with similar western organisations and to launch common activities to present Arab thinking and culture was also underlined. The plan recommends setting up, in co-ordination with the private sector, a programme of documentary film production in English with subtitles.


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