Al-Jazeera, Phoenix Satellite Television and the Return of the State:Case studies in market liberalization, public sphere and media imperialism

Joseph Oliver Boyd-Barrett, Shuang Xie


The authors analyze two non-U.S. television systems, Al-Jazeera (based in Qatar) and Phoenix Satellite Television (based in Hong Kong, China), with reference to issues of market liberalization, public sphere, and media imperialism. Analysis of its origin and development, ownership, business models and programs suggests that Phoenix TV is a highly successful, China-oriented commercial venture. Inspired in part by the world’s most notorious media mogul, yet mostly compliant with a restrictive political environment, the station has transitioned from commercial, corporate ownership to an entity in which state-controlled entities have a significant but not controlling ownership presence. Al-Jazeera started as a hybrid private-state entity, primarily oriented to the Arab and Islamic worlds and secondarily to a larger international audience interested in Arab and Islamic affairs. Its relatively aggressive editorial independence has occasionally alarmed — in diverse ways — domestic, regional and international elites. Its increasing commercial clout has been accompanied by notable adoption of British-style (BBC) formatting amid indications of greater state influence or control, at local and international levels, which may undermine its otherwise promising claim to a genuine public sphere function. By 2007, these two stations were both trending toward a model of Western-style formatting and greater commercial orientation, albeit within distinctive cultural frames. Additional content analysis will help assess whether the process of convergence with Western style entails enhanced “mainstreaming” in terms of content.

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