One-Third of Middle East Audiences Find Hollywood Content Morally Harmful

Abdulaziz Al-Khater

A survey conducted by Northwestern University in Qatar in partnership with Doha Film Institute, the first of its kind in the region, indicates that 68 percent would support banning offensive materials.

LONDON – While just less than half of audiences across the Middle East claim to watch U.S. films, 34 percent find Hollywood content "harmful to morality," and the same percentage of those asked think Hollywood films do not accurately portray life in the Arab world.

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A survey conducted in Qatar by Northwestern University in partnership with the Doha Film Institute also indicates that 65 percent of residents in six Arab countries -- Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates -- want more content portraying their own culture and history.

A whopping 70 percent of audiences across the Middle East want greater regulation of romantic and violent content in the media, according to the groundbreaking survey published April 16. 68 percent of those polled believe films or other entertainment programs should be banned altogether if they are found offensive.

But the survey also contained some contrary results, as 66 percent of those asked think residents benefit from watching content from different parts of the world.

The Entertainment Media Use in the Middle East survey comprises 6,035 face-to-face interviews in nationally representative samples from the six territories, the first of its kind in the region.

Findings from the survey of both media use and cultural attitudes call into question a common perception that modernity and cultural preservation are at odds in the Arab world.

While 79 percent of respondents feel that more should be done to preserve cultural traditions, a similar percentage (70 percent) agree with the statement that "more should be done to integrate their respective cultures with modern society."

Northwestern University CEO and dean Everette E. Dennis said: "These apparently contradictory findings really are not, but reflect how the Arab world is coping with globalization and still grappling to preserve local culture."

Added Dennis: "Understanding cultural attitudes around entertainment is as important to industry leaders and policymakers as viewership and other audience figures."

A vast majority of adults believe entertainment should be more regulated for romantic content (69 percent) and violence (74 percent).

The survey also showed that nearly half of women in the Arab world "binge-watch" TV series (49 percent), whether online or on television.

"Binge-watching" is classified as viewing two or more episodes of a series in the same sitting. Only 31 percent of men surveyed do the same.

"This study is the first of its kind in our region and we believe that the findings will be of great benefit to all sectors of the entertainment industry, from both a commercial and cultural standpoint," said Abdulaziz Al-Khater, CEO of Doha Film Institute. 

"What we see from these numbers is a growing demand for locally generated entertainment. The findings reinforce the idea that nurturing a thriving creative industry in our region is vital to enabling the creation of content that accurately reflects Arab culture," said Al-Khater.