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Broadcasting and national identity construction in Qatar
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Broadcasting and national identity construction in Qatar

Qatari Media and the Construction of National Identity: Case Study Al Rayyan TV and its Audiences

Doha: Since the development of satellite broadcasting, the role of TV has increased as a significant definer of national identity and people’s perception of themselves and the world around them. Across the world, TV broadcasting has formed a significant tool since its appearance in carrying content loaded with cultural, historical and national heritage. A typical way of looking at TV content that leads to the construction of a national identity and how TV content unifies nations is studying the way broadcasters report national celebrations for instance. 

In this research project funded by the Qatar National Research Fund, the research team sought to study the contents of Al Rayyan TV programmes and their relationship to the construction of national identity in Qatar, a task this channel has taken as an editorial line since its inception in 2012. In this article, the authors attempt to analyse the extent to which Al Rayyan TV as a national broadcaster in Qatar and specialised in cultural and heritage programmes can be considered a vehicle of nation building. Compared to other TV channels in Qatar, Al Rayyan is perceived as a conduit that helps Qataris define who they are, vis-à-vis their heritage, history and social environment. 

Here we present few findings of an audience-based exploration of Al Rayyan TV’s viewership. Fieldwork data was gathered via a base of 720 survey questionnaires from a sample of Qatari society as well as fifteen interviews conducted with experts and social media activists. The aim was to find out respondents’ views about the role of the channel in promoting Qatari identity and culture. Research questionnaires were managed at intervals between August and November 2020. Fieldwork results showed that the surveyed viewers believe that the channel plays significant role in preserving Qatari national culture and heritage. However when it comes to rating Qatari TV channels in order of importance, respondents’ favourite TV broadcaster in terms of news and current affairs programmes was Al Jazeera, followed by beIN Sports, Qatar TV, Al Rayyan TV, and finally Al Kass channel. Research findings also reveal an evident trend among young Qataris and professionals who find in social media networks the most convenient platforms to view and share content from Al Rayyan TV. People watch video clips from most popular programmes such as “Al-Sabah Rabah”, “Umm Rashid”, “Taraheeb” and “In the Shadows of Doha” among others, which they receive via Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. However, concerns via-a-vis Al Rayyan TV’s repetitive content and a programme schedule that does not include much entertainment content cannot be missed from viewers’ responses. 

Media and national identity in Qatar
Over the course of only two decades, the small Gulf country geographically, has grown into an economic and potentially a regional political and economic player. Qatar has undergone major transformations in its economy and general infrastructure. In this research we focused on Al Rayyan TV as a specialised public service medium in Qatar. The channel is a diversified satellite service, affiliated with Al Rayan Media and Marketing, and targets primarily Qatari viewers and taking into account the privacy of its national identity and aspirations. In its mission statement, Al Rayyan TV states that key to its function as public service broadcaster is ‘…attempting to contribute to the renaissance of Qatar by realising Qatar National Vision 2030. This entails forming attitudes and trends that support positive relationships in society and directing them in a way that works on developing national identity, heritage, human skills, and social entrepreneurships’. It does this through firstly, ‘…enhancing partnership with society and its institutions in achieving sustainable development for the state’. Secondly, ‘…provide ample airtime for direct coverage of special celebrations and festivals’. Thirdly, ‘…attracting a large segment of the Qatari and Gulf audiences, who are particularly interested in traditional sports festivals, heritage and special celebrations in the country’ (Al Rayyan TV 2020). 

Qatar’s long-term investment in broadcasting media paid off especially during crisis times. One of the historical moments where the media can be seen as a decisive defender of the national identity and official institutions was during the political and economic blockade enforced on Qatar by neighbouring countries (Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain) from May 2017 to May 2021. Since the beginning of the blockade, Al Rayyan TV, Qatar TV, Al Jazeera and other outlets became tools for uniting Qataris around their leadership and the just cause of their nation. Al Rayyan TV role for instance became day by day an influential and effective one in various contexts. Through its discussion programs the channel succeeded in maintaining its high standards of professionalism without falling into the trap of media war.  The channel also pursued a strategy of smart engagement with the fabrications, allegations, and abuse practiced by the media of the blockading countries. Therefore, it has gained the confidence of the Qatari audience who watched and interacted with the various programs, which represented a major turning point in the history of television, and demonstrated that Qatar is rich in its expertise and talented analysts. 
It is evident based on the above analysis of the Al Rayyan TV and its audiences that the channel maintains credibility among both Qatari and non-Qatari viewers. From among the sample interviewed in this study, as well as the survey sample from Qatari and non-Qatari viewers, a sizeable number of respondents consider the channel a significant asset for the State of Qatar. Namely among Qatari respondents, being loyal to the channel stems from this feeling of patriotism. 

- A research project led by Dr. Moez ben Messaoud, Mass Communication Department - QU; Prof. Noureddine Miladi, Mass Communication Department - QU; and Prof Jamel Zran, Manouba University, Tunisia
- This article is the outcome of a research project funded by the Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF). Project title: ‘Qatari Media and the Construction of National Identity: Case Study Al Rayyan TV and its Audiences’.

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