Building A Cultural Bridge

Wally Jadan believes communication builds bridges. Twelve years ago he saw a demand for several bridges to be built on behalf of the Arab American community in Southeastern Michigan — bridges from the local Middle Eastern community to others in the county, bridges between his community and the corporate world, and bridges between Arab Americans and the rest of the Arab world.

That kind of bridge building would take a pretty powerful tool. Jadan purchased MEA-TV & Radio with a plan to start chipping away at that demand. At the time MEA-TV (Middle Eastern American Television) produced about two hours of content a day. Jadan saw room for serious growth.

“A lot of journalism comes from the Arab world to here,” Jadan says, referencing Al Jazeera and other channels that reach Arab Americans via satellite. “They don’t cater whatsoever to audiences in the U.S.”

MEA-TV is the media outlet that fills the gap. In fact, it’s the only one. Its viewers now include Arab Americans throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

“We’re the one and only local Middle Eastern TV for local Middle Eastern Americans,” says Jadan. “We are on 24 hours a day and have 9 million Middle Eastern viewers in our community. We believe there are still 10 million more coming soon.”
That goal is set to be achieved in March with the launch of MEA International, which will bring the Southfield-based media outlet to viewers in Europe and the Arab world. According to Jadan, this development isn’t just a big deal for MEA-TV; it could be a big deal for Arab-US relations around the globe. Of all the bridges he’s already managed to build, creating a communications link directly between Arab Americans and Arabs worldwide could very well be the biggest.

But it won’t be the first. When Jadan, 56, of West Bloomfield, began thinking about connecting the Western and Arabic worlds, he was working in real estate and insurance in the Metro Detroit area. Though he’s lived in the U.S. since moving here from Iraq with his parents as a teenager, he’s maintained strong ties to the Arab world.  

“I am the right person for this job,” laughs the former Oakland University political science major. “I like politics and sports.”

These interests are obvious in the new MEA-TV programming under Jadan’s administration. Rather than simply regurgitating the news from the Arab world, Jadan broadcasts television relevant to the everyday lives of Arab Americans, including such shows as The Modern Women, Celebrity Scoop, and Politics Today, as well as game shows and Arabic movies.
Special attention is paid toward programming for Arab American youths, from cartoons for children to a show called !LOL, which is described as a program with “numerous skits and hilarious stunts” compiled by Middle Eastern American youth. 

“We cater to local Arab American communities all over the nation,” says Jadan. “Any events that happen anywhere, we send the camera and a crew.” 

It takes a lot of diligent news coverage to create such a broad range of relevant programming to a community that previously had no such outlet. MEA-TV operates with between 40 and 50 full- and part-time staff producing more than a dozen in-house programs.
“We tackle all topics,” Jadan says. “We have talk shows, culture, entertainment, education and sports. Beside that we cover every event in the community. Whether it’s political or social, we are the window to the community.”
Jadan’s programming is meant to both reflect and speak to the real Middle Eastern American community here — and “here” is Southeastern Michigan. “If you look at the Chaldean and Arab American community, Southfield is the center,” says Jadan. “Last year, for example we had our first annual festival in Warren and we had 85,000 people.”  

Jadan’s pride in the local Middle Eastern American community is clear from the MEA-TV website, which boasts the same statistics the broadcast network hopes to share with the world. According to the page, Middle Eastern Americans own more than 10,000 businesses in the tri-county area and contribute $3.7 billion in wage and salary earnings in the state. It also clarifies that Middle Eastern American families have higher average incomes than other Americans and are notably well educated.  

It may sound like bragging, but according to Jadan, promoting the success of Middle Eastern Americans in Michigan and throughout the US is an important message for the world to hear. And in the last several years, the corporate and political realms in the United States have been sitting up and listening. Once realizing that MEA-TV had the ear of millions of Middle Eastern Americans, advertisers, politicians — even entertainers — have come knocking for coverage.
“Politicians and corporate America use us as a vehicle to reach the community,” Jadan says. “Last year, from August to November we did at least 200 interviews with different politicians from local to state to the federal elections. We were bombarded with requests.”  
Those requests aren’t coming from no-namers either. MEA has featured interviews with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, United Nations officials, diplomats, oil ministers and more.

“Whoever comes to Michigan or to D.C. from the Arab world,” Jadan says, “they come to us.”

Now that the positive image of a successful, influential Middle Eastern American community is beginning to have an effect in the U.S., the next stop is the rest of the world. While giving a voice to his community in his home country was important, Jadan has an entirely different set of motives for wanting to direct the MEA message toward a global audience.  

“The Arab world doesn’t have a clear picture of the Arab American community here,” he says. “They show our community is under siege, having no presence in American society and it’s not true.”  
Jadan expects the image of a populous, thriving Arab American community to be a dramatic change to the outside world.

“We are going to show how we really are,” he says. “That will make a difference in the Arab world, when they see how Arabs are so successful in the US. That will change the minds of a lot of people who believe the U.S. is against Arabs.”  

And that’s not just a guess. Jadan, who normally travels to Washington D.C. on a weekly or monthly basis, just returned from a seven-country tour of the Middle East, preparing for the launch of MEA International. He met with diplomats and leaders in each nation — all of whom, according to Jadan, are excited to for the new communications link.

“We are going to build bridges of economy, religion and community,” Jadan says.
Whatever the potential effect could be, MEA’s images of positive, successful Arab Americans are direct reflections of the community in Jadan’s own Southeastern Michigan. One way or another, the cultural, political and economical bridges MEA has been successfully building in Metro Detroit are about to become the example for that same kind of bridge building worldwide.

Natalie Burg is a writer who loves to say good things about downtowns, communities, and the people who believe in making them amazing. This is her first article for Metromode.

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All Photos by David Lewinski Photography