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How state-controlled media work in Libya and the Arab world

Palestinians follow a televised speech by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in a cafe in the West Bank city of Ramallah on February 22, 2011.

Kai Ryssdal: To the extent that people in Libya even have electricity and the desire to watch the news instead of live it, they're probably getting their information from a couple of different places. Al-Jazeera. CNN. And the state-owned broadcaster, Jamahiriya TV in Libya.

Government-controlled media is the norm across much of the Arab world. We've called Marwan Kraidy to talk about how it works in Libya and elsewhere in the region. He teaches media and politics at the University of Pennsylvania. Welcome back to the program.

Marwan Kraidy: Thank you, Kai. Same here.

Ryssdal: Is Gaddafi using state-run media, his propaganda arm, effectively now, do you think? I mean, is that in his equation?

Kraidy: Well, he redefines what effective means. It really depends on what we think about when we say effective. Gaddafi has a full-throttle propaganda machine going on. And to the extent that it's lies after lies after lies after lies, I guess some of it might stick. But I don't think Libyans are duped.

Ryssdal: Contrast this for me, would you, with what's happened in Egypt. They had state-run media, they had the revolution. Now what do they have and how has it changed and is that possibly, in the long term, what might happen in Libya?

Kraidy: Well, Egypt has a much richer media scene than Libya. It has a very large state bureaucracy and many channels, but also some private channels. And it has a history of production in theater and film and television. So it has a much bigger talent pool to draw on. The Libyan television channel is much more of what we would think of as a totalitarian type of propaganda, as opposed to Egypt kind of authoritarian state-controlled, state-manipulated media.

Ryssdal: And then what about how Westerners are seeing what's going on there. And I'm thinking mostly of Al Jazeera, which is distinctly not state controlled.

Kraidy: Yes. Al Jazeera is not state controlled, but Al Jazeera is undergoing a very interesting shift now in that it's coverage of Libya is definitely on the side of the opposition to Gaddafi. But it's coverage elsewhere in Bahrain, Morocco, Jordan, Oman, Yemen is much more muted. So there's something going on having to do with the Gulf Cooperation Council countries deciding that they were going to stop the uprising from entering into their own countries. Al Jazeera is sponsored and influenced to a large degree by the emir of Qatar, who's a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Ryssdal: So look at Egypt for me once again and help me understand what a model for some kind of state broadcasting enterprise might be. Not necessarily state controlled, but with the authority of the state and how they might be able to make that work.

Kraidy: First of all, the government that runs the state has to be credible. Once you have a credible government, then the media apparatus that the government sets up has a degree of credibility, of legitimacy that will lead people to watch state television because the main problem with state television channels is that at the best of times, they get 2 or 3 percent of the audience -- in Jordan, Syria, and Egypt. But we do already see some very important changes on state television, on state-owned newspapers. The tone has changed, the coverage has changed. And although it's very difficult to know because it's too early to have actual research, I am very confident that the ratings, the number of viewers has gone up.

Ryssdal: Marwan Kraidy is a professor of communications at the Annenberg School at the University of Pennsylvania. Marwan, thanks a lot.

Kraidy: Thank you, Kai.

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