Satellite broadcasting and young people in Saudi Arabia

  • Hussain Said Al-Gahtani

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Satellite channels were introduced in Saudi Arabia in the 1980s by limited elite wealthy Saudis. The new communication technologies during the 1990s made it possible for a large number of Saudis to switch to different kinds of direct broadcasting satellite channels using low cost equipment to receive hundreds of uncensored television programmes. Before the spread of satellite dishes throughout the country, Saudis were only able to view two government controlled TV channels offering limited types of programmes compared to what is offered on satellite.

    Satellite channels and programmes contain cultural messages and images from the originating countries that, it may be argued, are incompatible with Saudi Arabia's Islamic cultural values. No qualitative study, to-date, has investigated the satellite channel viewing habits of the Saudi community in general, in spite
    of the existence of strong concerns about the influence of such habits on Saudi culture. The present research then, is a study of the relationship between audiences and satellite in Saudi Arabia and an analysis of the implications of this relationship for local culture.

    The research is placed within the context of current scholarship on satellite audiences and of debates about global media and culture, and media and cultural imperialism. It uses quantitative and qualitative data to answer questions about young Saudi adults' use of satellite TV and their beliefs about its influences, and the effect of viewing satellite television on the usage of other media, particularly the two Saudi local TV channels. The researcher draws upon aspects of the uses and gratifications approach which focuses on the audience as the primary element in understanding the mass communication process. This approach also focuses on how people utilise media content. Whilst there have been a number of studies of TV and satellite audiences, these have neither systematically examined the qualitative dimensions of satellite usage in relation to quantitative data, nor have they discussed their findings in relation to wider debates about the cultural impact of satellite communications in Saudi Arabia. The present study is therefore useful for providing the basis for further cross-cultural comparisons between the media in Western and Arab worlds.

    Two key primary data collecting techniques, a quantitative survey of 438 male and female university students, and a series of eight in-depth focus group sessions involving 51 individuals, were used to obtain information about young adults' uses of the media in general, and satellite TV in particular, in Saudi Arabia . This combination of these quantitative and qualitative methods was
    relatively new in the field context. Survey and focus group questions were piloted between mid December 2000 and mid February 2001 at King Abdul-Aziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. After slight amendments and modifications, the main fieldwork was undertaken from March 2001 to July 2001.

    The study found young Saudi adults watched satellite channels quite extensively, and the most preferred channels they chose to view were Arab channels, whose programmes depend on entertainment that is presented in a Western manner.
    Research findings indicated that the image of the Saudi media working within the country's borders was low. The extent of the study sample's exposure to satellite channels was greater than their exposure to local Saudi television. Most of the findings support the 'glocalisation' thesis where the global is heavily
    mediated through Arab versions of the global or Western culture. The study also highlighted possible influences of conflicting cultural messages from external media on the local culture.
    Date of AwardMay 2004
    Original languageEnglish


    • Broadcasting Mass media
    • Satellite broadcasting
    • Saudi Arabia
    • Cultural Messages
    • Impact on local culture

    Cite this