Opinion

Where is the media in Egypt?

Where is the media in Egypt?
A man reads Egypt's state-owned Al-Ahram during the January 25 revolution.
A man reads Egypt’s state-owned Al-Ahram during the January 25 revolution.

Egypt was the first Arab nation to introduce the printing press and is today the region’s largest publishing centre. The country was also the first African and Arab nation to launch its own satellite in 1998. The majority of those working at Arab media networks are Egyptians, and content tends to be produced in Egypt’s Media Production City.

Yet, today, instead of leading a regional media revolution, it appears that private media outlets have surrendered their role as the fourth estate: their role as checks and balances on the division of powers in Egypt is diminishing.

Why is it important for private media to not shy away from holding the government accountable or questioning government policies? The answer goes back to the January 25 revolution in which the youth of Egypt chanted for bread, liberty and freedom: the media’s role as the fourth estate is an essential part of democracy that allows equal participation and a constant flow of information to the people on the various branches of the state.

For the past 30 years, Egypt’s media had moved from a historically state-controlled sphere to a privatized one. Despite the fact that almost all publishing houses of all printed media in Egypt are owned by the government, giving the government great control and influence over distribution, the media had been allowed to flourish in a decentralized and deregulated media system.

Nevertheless, newspapers which are today banning all material which “may incite” or “undermine state institutions directly or indirectly”*  (without defining exactly what material is banned) were the ones that were once hailed for their advances.

While the diversity of information sources radically increased, there rapidly – particularly since the 2011 revolution – came the rise of opinion-based, partisan media: the media, particularly talk show hosts, have become a platform that simply echoes the opinions of those hosting it, as opposed to challenging the status quo.

Despite government interference declining greatly from the days when Gamal Abdel Nasser used the media as his own personal mouth piece, corporate interference has risen to new levels, feeding this poisonous atmosphere of partisan media in Egypt. From the suspension of Wael al-Ibrashy’s episode on Dream TV last week for criticizing the Ministries of Education and Housing to the abrupt cancellation of political satirist Bassem Youssef’s show, corporate interests appear to have eclipsed the traditional role of the media as the fourth estate.

A famous example of corporate interference occurred during the 2011 revolution. Dream TV (owned by business tycoon Ahmed Bahgat) ) interviewed a member of April 6 (the youth-group that instigated the anti-regime protests) that claimed to have been trained in Serbia by foreign intelligence on how to overthrow the regime. However, it was soon revealed that the interviewee was a journalist hired to make false accusations because powerful businessmen felt threatened by the protests.

In another example, Faraeen TV anchorwoman Rana al-Duwaik was interrupted by station owner Tawfik Okasha who told her to “go learn!” and cut her program short after she interviewed a critic of the government’s decision to ban April 6.

Most recently, Al-Nahar TV allegedly suspended popular talk show host Mahmoud Saad after he was accused of “demotivating the army” by interviewing a psychologist who recalled the “1967 defeat” of Egypt’s military.

However, these examples, and the latest statement by the country’s top media representatives, are argued to be a “nationalistic duty.”

Yet, is it not their ‘nationalistic duty’ to inform the people of the truth and to take a critical approach?

There is no real media in Egypt

Graffiti on a wall in Luxor.
Graffiti on a wall in Luxor.

The truth is, the media in Egypt has deteriorated to the extent that it can no longer be considered journalism. In all states where the media is truly flourishing, there are codes that govern the framework of the media. This, while it may exist on paper by the Supreme Press Council, is non-existent in Egypt.

The lack of a code of ethics and a proper media framework in Egypt means that many of Egypt’s top “journalists” are in fact nothing but speaker-phones for their corporate heads, which themselves are often reiterating government rhetoric..

Talk show hosts like Mahmoud Saad are taken off air because their main role, in the eyes of their networks, is not to inform the people, but to advance that network’s corporate presence. In fact, many of Egypt’s top talk show hosts never studied journalism and have likely never been exposed to basic principles of media ethics we see in text books across universities.

The impact of a weak media framework is apparent: many newspapers and television networks are able to transmit and report exaggerations, fabricate news and reports, and commit other infringements as a daily practice without being held accountable. More importantly, they unabashedly celebrate the government’s achievements while often ignoring its failures.

Instead of a code of ethics that applies consistently and equally across the country, advertising agencies and businessmen have implemented their own policies, ensuring content is tailored specifically in a way that does not harm any of their interests.

Still, even if a new, modern media framework is established and supervised by an independent body, that is not enough. Journalists in Egypt must realize that their sacred role is to serve the people: not the government, corporate entities or their own self-interests.

The reality is, if Egyptian media continues to disengage from the real concerns of Egyptian society, then it has betrayed the nation’s 80 million people who expect the media to be advocates in change, not censorship.

The ‘fourth estate,’ if it even exists in the current media environment, will collapse, leaving the people to rely on their own action. And what is more powerful than the collective voices of the people?

*On Sunday, the chief editors of at least 17 private and state-owned newspapers announced that they would be censoring certain criticism of the government. Among the newspapers represented were Al-Ahram, Al-Masry Al-Youm, Al-Shorouk, Al-Watan, Al-Wafd, Youm7, Al-Ahaly and more.

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  • Ikhwanii Extincticus

    Lola Van Der Camp is right. It’s up to the citizens to sift through the outlets and find the truth. One of the most terrifying things is how brainwashed the average American is. Not sure if it is down to just pure ignorance of the world outside their back yard or laziness. The most powerful country it seems has a very uneducated, ignorant population that actually believes what comes out of that box in the corner and that for the rest of the world it utterly terrifying.

    • Lola Van der Kamp

      You’re point is overstated about the American people. The American people have the fourth estate that institutes the checks and balances on the government institutions to keep it a free and fair society and protect the rights of the individual. It’s unfortunate that Egypt could not sustain that similar path and had to submit. Fortunately for both countries there is Google News which allows for news content from around the world where people are free to read at their leisure a vast assortment of news pieces and sift through the rubbish. It’s a brave new world.

  • G egypt

    don’t compare please…. the fact is no journalist are jailed for there opinions. activists for human rights get jailed here in Egypt. example.. shout here i do not agree with this government and see what happens.. sure do not say i have different personal feelings.. i mean same sex… look what will happen.. while human international rights are signed by Egypt. i never see on critical subject here, about human rights, this article is the only one i have seen in a long time… i hope to read more.

  • George Michael

    why are you signaling out the Egyptian media?
    How about Al Jazeera ( the best media money can buy) Qatari money that is.
    or the CNN or Fox news
    they all full of SH**t

  • Ikhwanii Extincticus

    If you think Egyptian media is bad you should watch and read US and UK media!

    Totally biased bullshit too. Egypt is no different.

    • Lola Van der Kamp

      In the words of Edward R. Murrow, “It’s ok to have bias as long as you admit it.”

      The problem isn’t the media. It’s people’s ability to discern what constitutes legitimate news and what is preaching to the choir. Television is not a leader. It’s a follower.

    • G egypt

      sure there are similar news stations, but also critical newspapers. and what about in Egypt. none of this kind… add critic in Egypt and you end in jail

  • Minymina

    You talk about state owned media in this article yet you fail to acknowledge the fact that most countries own media outlets of their own. For example the BBC (owned by the British government), RT (owned by Russian government), Al Jazeera (owned by the Qatari government) France 24 (owned by the French government).

    Also, you have to be blind if you think that private media outlets in the US (and elsewhere) are independent and are not controlled by the US government (or the government of where it operates). Rupert Murdoch owns them all.

    • Lola Van der Kamp

      Rupert Murdoch owns News Corp. Which is a larger media conglomerate but it’s not all the news outlets. There are many other competing businesses in the market and still many independently owned media outfits.

      • Minymina
        • Lola Van der Kamp

          You missed the point and that doesn’t tell me anything I don’t already know.

        • Lola Van der Kamp

          To further elaborate. Do you know who owns the New York Times? Not Rupert Murdoch’s company and it’s one of the largest circulated newspapers in the United States. Do you know how many television broadcasting companies there are in the United States and the privately owned ones? Sinclair broadcasting, Fisher Communications, Journal Broadcast Group, Bell Media, Newport, Chambers, and the list goes on. While they may subscribe to the Associated Press news wire and larger networks such as ABC, NBC, CBS, CW, Fox, and so forth for commercial content on a local level they produce and choose their own content so not all of them are the same. This is not including the public broadcasting networks who rely on public donations and funding and are not based on commercial advertising to support their content. The point is while Rupert Murdoch owns a lot he’s does not own it all and the news is not all controlled by one person in the region. He is not the largest media conglomerate even. The graphic you submitted supports those points.

  • Ahmed Bata

    conditions to grant all kinds of freedoms, aren’t ripe. governments the world over restrict freedom in war time. Egypt is, unfortunately, in a state of undeclared war. Keep trying though, and good luck.

Opinion
@khairatmk

Mohamed Khairat is the Founder and Chief Editor of Egyptian Streets.

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