Monday, August 13, 2012

Not Just A River in Egypt

An acquaintance of mine is vacationing on Cyprus, and recently posted this to her Facebook page:
The people of Cyprus are pretty religious and very Orthodox Christian. They keep icons on their desk in business offices, including the bank. Wednesday, the 15th, is dedicated to the Mother of God and it's a national holiday. Everything is closed.

But the cheapest satellite network here is the Nile Network [NTN], which the British here subscribe to for their holiday rental apartments and houses so that people on holiday have something to watch and they don't have to pay much. The Nile Network includes both Al Jazeera and CNN, and breaks 5 times a day for Muslim prayer. In the middle of an old American action movie (in English, with Arabic subtitles), an imam will come on and preach Islam - with English, Russian or Greek subtitles, depending on which holiday makers he is in the mood to hit today - for 15 minutes. The Nile Network tells you when a movie will be on, not as "Tuesday the 14th at 6 PM", but rather as "The Second Day (or 3rd) day of Ramadan at 6PM", so you have no idea when this movie is going to be on unless you check the Islamic calendar.

This place is pretty amazing. Most Greek Cypriots just basically ignore it all, never would subscribe to the Nile Network even for their holiday rentals, and kind of think that the British are a bit nuts.
A beach in Cyprus
The Cypriots might be onto something here. What else should one think of a tourist who pays good money to visit Cyprus, and instead of enjoying the local charms - food, landscapes, people, culture, etc. - they sit at their rental  and watch American action movies, with breaks for Islam?

Nile's Wikipedia page lists the network's goals thus (emphasis added):
  • Address foreign viewers in Egypt and all over the world with regard to culture, economy, tourism, and art, and to initiate a constructive dialogue between different cultures in foreign languages. 
  • Present the views of the Egyptian government and people on various issues concerning the Arab World and the Middle East, as well as global issues. 
  • Reflect the image of modern Egypt, and all its concrete achievements in the form of national projects in the fields of education, women's rights, health care, and the establishment of a democratic atmosphere
  • Broadcast news events from Egypt and the Arab World, and analyzing and discussing them with officials, politicians, analysts and cultured Egyptians, Arabs and foreigners in foreign languages. 
  • Present objective news on international events, analyzing and discussing those events to help foreign viewers understand the truth about the Egyptian and Arab stances on the current international events in order to protect foreign viewers from falling prey to biased media. 
  • Present images of Egypt and reflect its religions and values, humanitarian and tolerance. 
All the standard buzzwords and catchphrases are there. When you distill the verbiage, you're left with an understanding that Nile is an Egyptian propaganda channel. There's nothing wrong with that, mind you. But it's very interesting that they wrap that propaganda in American action movies - hardly a reflection of Egyptian "religion and values." 

I've observed a similar phenomenon in Serbia, where a network called B92 injects its propaganda (also called "news") into a stream of American entertainment programming. Not surprisingly, B92 was directly funded by the Empire for years - and may still be; though the station's ownership has supposedly changed, its slant hasn't changed in the slightest. The difference here is that NTN is spreading Egyptian propaganda abroad, while B92 is spreading Imperial propaganda at home (sometimes with hilarious results). Yet they have the same modus operandi: come for the fun, stay for the indoctrination.

Needless to say, this kind of propaganda works best on a thoroughly disoriented audience: people whose own culture, heritage, identity and values have been systematically stripped away. That way, when someone else's ideas and values are presented to them, they are embraced as a breath of fresh air. Earlier this year, indie Finnish satire Iron Sky played this for laughs in a subplot where a PR wizard earnestly brands an electoral campaign with ideas from actual Nazis (from the Moon!). 

Have the British been so tenderized? Brendan O'Neill seems to think so, illustrating the claim with examples of reactions against the people who dared dislike the opening ceremony of the Olympics. He also argued that the arrest of a boy who sent a nasty tweet to a British diver showed a "culture of intolerance" that has developed in the UK - paradoxically, in the name of imposing "tolerance" and "diversity." British tourists are already showing an alarming lack of judgment by choosing to watch TV while vacationing in what is by all accounts an exceptionally beautiful country. So, who knows?

Nile TV is merely exploiting an opening provided to it by culture warriors in the West. Serbs at least have a cause to be angry at B92, as it both creates and exploits the confusion in their society. If the British tourists fall for any of Nile's propaganda, it will be nobody's fault but their own. 


... said...

Interesting post.

I am currently living in Cyprus, all my ex-pat Brit friends have satellite now, so they can watch all their favourite programs, they've even tried to persuade me to do the same, but I've so far resisted.

They watch a myriad of channels, so I'm sure Nile TV comes into it somewhere. I can't relate to the BBC anymore, I've been on the island too long.

Recently friends visted for their holidays here too, they spent some time in their hotel room watching satellite TV.

For me, this seems like the brainwashing is complete. When I visit the UK I am astounded at how the TV is everything - all lives revolve around the soaps and reality tv shows

Life in Cyprus is lived very much in the 'out doors', especially in the summer with the 40 degree heat. TV is sort of a winter luxury that people indulge in.

The older housewives have started to watch the South American soaps, and if they don't make it to Church they can watch it on the TV.

The same goes for the Tavernas and the Greek dancing, if you can't make it out, you can tune in and watch other people dancing and singing and enjoying themselves.

Politics and news are always showing on a screen somewhere. You see, people like talking here, they talk a lot, and often, and very loudly! It just doesn't blend to a TV culture.

BTW - that's a lovely picture, and it's not just any old beach in Cyprus. That's Aphrodites Rock, and the place she was supposedly birthed out of the foam onto the land according to Greek myth.


Gray Falcon said...

Thank you very much for the comments, Marie. The fact that so many people watch life instead of living it baffles me. Why? Just... why?

Asteri said...

The type of Brits who holiday in Cyprus are not the sort who would be affected by that kind brainwashing - the alcohol and exposure to the sun has most probably dimmed that prospect by the time they come in to slouch in front of the TV. Most are not in Cyprus to enjoy its culture and scenery.

I have first hand experience of Arab TV, so I'm familiar with that kind of Islamic preaching, but! much to my shock and amusement I found that these Koran readings were interspersed with sex chat adverts and endless raunchy soap operas and pornography. The best thing I've ever seen was an advert featuring a naked women with Saudi Arabian and Afghan flags protecting her modesty and with the phone numbers to call up underneath them.

Whenever I'm in Serbia I get asked about British TV shows, none of which I watch and this is always met with genuine surprise. The UK once had a reputation for having the best TV in the world, this was true at one time, but not any more - its as bad as Germany.

One more point. Since you mentioned twitter, have you considered using it? its useful as well as being a lot of fun, I highly recommend it.

Gray Falcon said...

Ha! I guess whatever works to get the message across, right?

What little TV I do watch is mostly British. Still beats most American programming.

I do have a twitter account, I just haven't got around to using it much. But you are right, it is very useful for short comments that don't necessarily make good blog posts.

Asteri said...

Actually, I tell lie. Some teenagers from Novi Pazar were asking me about Dr Who - which I do like - though I prefer the old version, they only knew the new one.

People are also really keen on "Only Fool's and Horses" or "Mucke" which I really don't get, but can understand the appeal in Serbia.

The best British TV shows made in the last 20 years have been short lived ones that have gained a kind cult following, though the humour is very British.

Asteri said...

Now, here's something.

US network NBC has a new reality series called "Stars Earn Stripes" where Z list slebs compete in war zone themed games (minus the enemy fire). Its the first TV show to be condemned by eight Nobel Peace Prize Laureates as a glorification of armed violence. This intellectual and tasteful piece of programming is hosted by none other than Wes Clark.

Gray Falcon said...

I couldn't have dreamed of a more fitting role for Clark than a reality show host.

Unknown said...

I'm interested in a Serbian streaming media network that offers an alternate point of view to that provided by B92. Does anyone have suggestions?

Thanks! Tom B.

Gray Falcon said...

In English? I don't believe there is one. There's a lot of Serbian-language stuff out there (Vaseljenska TV comes to mind), but English-language efforts are scarce. Priorities and all that.