Podcasting as a Catalyst for Social Sustainability in the Middle East

Podcasting as a Catalyst for Social Sustainability in the Middle East

Written by Megan DaviesInternational Managing Director at Acast2024.06.14

As the world grapples with environmental challenges and economic uncertainties, the imperative of embracing sustainable business practices becomes increasingly evident. Nowhere is this more pertinent than in the Middle East, a region synonymous with the extraction and export of fossil fuels.

While the transition toward sustainability is often framed in terms of environmental responsibility, it is equally essential to consider its social impact and economic viability. In this context, podcasting emerges as a socially sustainable medium with profound implications, particularly for the Middle East.

Having worked in the podcasting industry for over five years, I've witnessed firsthand the transformative power of this medium. At its core, podcasting thrives on the art of storytelling, connecting individuals across borders and cultures. This inherent quality bears immense potential for positive societal impact.

Anyone who has listened to a podcast understands the benefits of the medium. Beyond pure entertainment, podcasts offer relaxation, insights, and learning as well as escapism. These are elements that are to be considered in the fast-paced world we are all navigating which is more often than not seeking our attention through screens, clicks, and short-form information.

In the Middle East, the podcast industry is experiencing significant growth, serving as a platform for diverse voices to be heard. It was cited in early 2023 that there were more than 13 million people who listened to a podcast for up to seven hours per week in the Middle East*. And so, with a growing, large listenership, how is it accompanied by a commitment to social sustainability?

Central to this is the promotion of podcasting remaining open, where listeners have the freedom to choose where they listen and creators enjoy creative autonomy, and the ability to publish podcasts on all platforms. 

Efforts to foster diversity and support underrepresented groups within podcasting are crucial. When entering the Middle Eastern market, I initially held the preconceived notion that traditional media platforms often fail to adequately represent marginalised communities. How would women be represented in podcasting, for example? What I found, however, were outdated assumptions. A vibrant community of female podcasters eager to share their stories with the world is present. Podcasts like What I Did Next, explore life’s pivotal points, featuring guests from the Middle East or with connections to it, ,and Bar Bahr, hosted by Sumaya Jamal Balqis,  a Yemeni woman,  gives her a platform to share her travel diaries and challenge preconceived notions she had about traveling alone in Arab countries. Plus many more examples. 

With that said, I was still right to consider the past, as the podcast market is young and carries the weight of cultural history, making it a journey that requires careful navigation. By amplifying voices that have long been silenced, we can contribute to the creation of a more just and inclusive society. But there is still work to be done. Our partners, Sowt, actively dispel the underrepresentation of women by approaching expert women across all fields and granting them the authority to pitch, plan, produce, write, lead, and make decisions. Their Senior Podcast Producer, Tala Halawa, told me, “We encourage women with the tools and experience necessary to track, document, and share the narratives of less fortunate women—those who face limitations on their freedom of speech and movement. Amplifying these voices contributes to a more inclusive and equitable media landscape.”

It’s not just the voices we hear in podcasting too, social sustainability extends beyond representation to encompass economic fairness. Podcasters must receive a fair share of revenue, a responsibility upheld by companies like ours. Responsible advertising practices play a pivotal role in this regard, with strict guidelines in place to ensure alignment with ethical standards. Applying ad policies to all ads delivered by the platform, including the non-acceptance of advertisements for guns, tobacco or porn is essential. The podcast creator may choose to allow advertising for certain categories of ads. Such opt-in categories include, for example, betting (in markets where it is legal) and non-tobacco-based smoking devices.  We also help guide the design and customisation of brand safety throughout the industry, to promote a safe and risk-free experience for our brands. Something our partners in Dubai, Next Broadcast Media, place front and center also. 

Despite the undeniable benefits of podcasting, we must also consider its environmental impact. While inherently eco-friendly, the reliance on technology and physical infrastructure does contribute to carbon emissions. Efforts are underway to mitigate this impact – last year we rerouted our servers and managed to cut CO2 emissions with continued initiatives aimed at reducing our environmental footprint – a focus that remain as the podcast industry develops. 

Of course, no endeavor is without its challenges. Achieving social, economic, or environmental sustainability requires visionary leadership, innovative thinking, and a fundamental shift in mindset. In the Middle East and beyond, podcasting has the power to foster inclusivity, empower marginalised communities, and promote dialogue. As we navigate the challenges of the 21st century, the time for listening and creating audio is now.

*“Conference predicts bright future for podcast and radio in Middle East”, PodNews