The U.S. has poured millions of dollars into local television and radio programming in the Muslim World in an effort to win the hearts and minds of that region’s citizens. But according to communications scholar Matt Sienkiewicz ’03, the Middle Eastern media producers who rely on these funds are hardly puppets on an American string.
In The Other Air Force: U.S. Efforts to Reshape Middle Eastern Media Since 9/11 (Rutgers University Press, 2016), Sienkiewicz explores America’s efforts to employ “soft-psy” media—a combination of “soft” methods, such as encouraging programs modeled on U.S. entertainment and reality programs, with more militaristic approaches to information control—to generate pro-American sentiment in the Middle East. Drawing on years of field research and interviews, Sienkiewicz gives readers an inside look at radio and television production in Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories to show how Middle Eastern media producers are working to forge viable broadcasting businesses without straying outside the American-set boundaries for acceptable content.
“Although much of the U.S. power apparatus desires Middle Eastern media that will parrot American perspectives, this is no longer the sole, or even dominant, strategy in the region,” says Sienkiewicz in his introduction. “Instead, the encouragement of certain media forms serves as the organizing principle for a wide range of American projects. More so than asking local agents to transfer specific, American-vetted messages to viewers, U.S.-funded projects have instead tended to demand that Afghans, Palestinians and others create programming the embraces the industrial and aesthetic conventions of for-profit, American-style commercial television and radio, while being constrained mainly by a basic set of ‘red lines’—words and ideas that are off-limits.”
Sienkiewicz is an assistant professor of communication and international studies at Boston College. In addition to authoring The Other Air Force, he is the coeditor of Saturday Night Live and American TV (Indiana University Press, 2013) and has produced several documentaries, including Live from Bethlehem (2009), which chronicled the shaping of the Ma’an News Network, the only major independent news source in the Palestinian Territories.