“The King is Dead, Long Live the King” has been the motto of Egyptian state media for the past century. The ability to shift from one ideology and rhetoric to another by Egyptian media is uncanny. For over a century, Egyptian media played a huge role in defining the nation’s public opinion, trends and ideology. The media managed to be a good tool of awareness for long decades yet that role changed by the change of the ruler of the country from positive to negative and certainly changed dramatically after the 1952 coup d’etat.
Egyptian Media Pre January 25th revolution Overview:
Egypt enjoyed a great period of enlightenment and a good extent of freedom of press during the period from 1923-1952 when dozens of daily newspapers and periodicals shone in the Egyptian press spectrum. The constitutional monarchy of that period instilled by the 1923 constitution granted a great extend for the freedom of expression unmatched in most of the world back in this period. Magazines like El Mosawar, Rose Alyoussef as well as other dailies and periodicals helped to formulate the richest liberal period witnessed in Egyptian Modern history.
Unfortunately this period was short-lived and the flourishing democratic and liberal period of Egypt witnessed its sunset with the last Egyptian King abdicating due to a coup d’etat in 1952. The period also was not 100% immaculate in terms of freedom of expressions. Certain restrictions were imposed on the direct criticism of the King. However, comparing this period to all later period certainly tilts in favour of the pre-1952 monarchy era without a shred of doubt.
The Radio played a huge role in the Egyptians lives in that period as well as it was far more reaching to the rural areas and particularly to those who are illiterate and managed to get all their information through the wooden box. The Radio was a devastating weapon during the Second World War and the Nazi Berlin Free Broadcast in Arabic managed to sway a lot of Egyptians in favour of the Germans against their the allies and particularly British.
The nationalization of all media post the 1952 coup d’etat was the last nail in the coffin of freedom of expression and marked an era of unilateralism and dictatorship worship by the media which can still be traced in the attitude in most media outlets nowadays even after the revolution. The Egyptian press has been the pioneer in the Middle East and for long decades Egypt was the beacon of free press in the Arab world with the one of the world top 10 best selling daily newspapers Al Ahram as its flagship.
Al Ahram even during the darker times of censorship and total government control was the daily newspaper that enlightened the Arab reader from the Persian Gulf all the way to the Atlantic ocean. Al Ahram was established in the 1875 by Lebanese brothers and Egyptian press pioneers Selim and Bishara Tekla who fought a hard battle for freedom that even led to the imprisonment of Bishara Tekla by order of Khedive Ismail but later released.
Al Ahram (The Pyramids) newspaper and Print house contributed a huge a portion to the modern Egyptian and Arabic press with thousands of books, periodicals as well as the famous daily newspaper. However, during Nasser’s era the newspaper was operated in the same manner as the defunct USSR national newspaper Pravda which was the voice of the communist party and the only party in USSR. In a similar manner, Al Ahram during the Nasser era Led by prominent writer Hassanein Haikal acted as the voice of the defunct the Socialist Association which was the equivalent of the single communist party. The same pattern continued during Sadat, Mubarak and Tantawi’s eras (SCAF)
As the doors of freedom opened during the Sadat’s era and post the 1973 war period, Al Ahram as well as other Egyptian dailies Al Akhbar (The News) and El Gomhouria (The Republic) followed the same pattern that they were used to in the Nasser’s era and that is the complete unequivocal support to the President and even the change of guard by removing Hassanein Haikal as the Editor in Chief of Al Ahram didn’t bring the hoped change as most of the journalists pledged allegiance to the president and the regime. However, the change that actually occurred was the more openness and tolerance in handling the domestic problem and escalation and the opposition voices became more heard only against the ministers all the way to the prime minister occasionally. However, as President Sadat allowed the opposition parties to be formed again after more than two decades of single party system. Some of these parties including the Muslim Brotherhood group had their own publications that voices opposition against the government.
During Mubarak’s era the opposition press received more freedoms and gained more ground. Yet criticizing the president was still a taboo subject all the way till the early millennium and the appearance and the wide spread of the private Satellite TV channels as well as the private newspapers and periodicals. These newly established media outlets created a sense of new found freedom among Egyptians that was missed for long decades. These media outlets helped pave the wave for about a decade for what happened in January 25th 2011 revolution.
However, during that period that preceded the revolution there were no code of ethics among all media players to follow and despite many of them playing a patriotic role in enlightening the populace, most of them failed miserably in exercising any amount of integrity, professionalism and objectivity. That was very evident in the performance of these Media outlets in the months that followed the revolution.
Post Revolution Media
The amount of subjectivity and lack of any responsibility of the Egyptian media post the revolution can only fit the Guinness world records of unprofessionalism, sensationalism and bias. The entire Media outlet changed their face the very next day of Mubarak’s abdication. The truth is that most if not all the Media gurus were so overwhelmed with the revolution that professional practices took a back seat. One would think that Oprah Winfrey had more self control over her emotions than most of the Egyptian TV anchors did post the revolution. The objective reporting and presentation was almost nowhere to be found on Egyptian media be that Television, Radio and Internet.. What seemed more disappointing to the Egyptian media outlets utilized the same tactics their predecessors of the previous regime as elaborated in the next paragraphs.
TV &Satellite Channels
Since the inception of Nile Sat in 1996 as the first and only Egyptian TV and Radio satellite, the way Egyptians perceived their Media changed forever with over 400 channels most of which are free to air. According to statistics, the Egyptian Nile Sat satellite holds the biggest number of Free channels broadcasted on any satellite in the world. The reach of the Satellite didn’t just cover Egypt and Middle East but extended to most of Europe thus giving Egyptian expatriates a chance to follow up the latest news and channels from their homeland. Qatari Al Jazeerah news channel broadcasted on the satellite represented a revolutionary step in the free media but with a political agenda of its own usually not visible by the regular viewer.
Al Jazeerah raised the bar for the freedom of expression beyond the normal levels set before most State TV in the region. The channel gained huge popularity and credibility initially for breaking the taboos instilled by State TV and media all over the Region. However, eventually Al Jazeerah abused that credibility and trust and turned from a pillar of free expression into a propaganda channel serving Qatari overzealous ambition for a bigger political role in the region. Accordingly the channel initiated a policy to demonize those opposing its agenda among rebels, politicians and writers in favour of exaggerated appraise of Muslim brother, Islamists and pan Arabists ones.
Glorifying acts of violence done by either rebels or saboteurs was a sin committed by most of the anchors of the post revolution satellite channels. Be that 14 times the Egyptian gas pipeline was bombed by saboteurs , the storming of the Israeli, Saudi or Syrian embassies, the blockading of major highways and railway tracks, all of which received applause from various TV anchors who portrayed these acts as acts of emotion and patriotism. They did that while not realizing that supporting and applauding these acts have had severe consequences on the status of security in Egypt.
The applauding of acts of vandalism and sabotage was the abyss that swallowed the professionalism out of the Egyptian anchors and on top of them some of the most prominent ones including Reem Maged , Mona El Shazly , Yousry Fouda , Amr El Leesy who were known to have some good standards of professionalism before the revolution. Unfortunately the same cannot be said after the revolution, their revolutionary than thou attitude and overwhelming emotions led them to fall into the simplest mistakes that most amateur talk show hosts won’t commit. Among those mistakes endorsing one party over the others during conversations and news coverage as well siding with what they believe revolutionary rhetoric against any common sense. They
The Curious Case of ONTV
How a liberal channel becomes a curse on Egyptian liberals and the liberal movement is a dilemma, but that is exactly the case with prominent Egyptian channel ONTV owned by renowned Egyptian billionaire and founder of Free Egyptians Party Naguib Sawiris. The Channel didn’t act as the voice of the party and on the contrary in many cases willingly and unwillingly it advocated even advertized rival parties like Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. More members of the FJP party appeared on the channel than any of the liberal parties and particularly Free Egyptians party. Thanks to the poor managed led by Albert Shafic who successfully made the channel more popular at the expense of the original liberal message and objectivity. The channel may have more viewers now but it certainly alienated the core viewers and painted a bad name for the liberal movement in Egypt. They have provided Islamists and Socialists with a 24/7 panel and the Islamist channel don’t greet liberals with the same courtesy.
Both channel anchors Reem Maged and Yousry Fouda made TV history in the famous episode post revolution when they hosted former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, Prominent Novelist Alaa El Aswany and Egyptian Businessman Naguib Sawiris (Network Owner) in a 4 hourepisode. The famous episode resulted in the resignation of Shafiq after a bashing from El Aswany who criticized him of orchestrating the infamous Battle of the camel massacre on February 3rd 2011 on ONTV. Shafiq defended himself but under the huge pressure from public he resigned. Despite it can be considered as an unprecedented victory for a growing democracy and freedom of expression witnessed for first time live on TV, the episode backfired and Shafiq gained a big popularity boost among the neutrals that led him to be a Presidential candidate. Reem Maged and Fouda became household names after that day but the success might have gotten the best of them.
Unfortunately, Yousry Fouda can never hide his Nasserite attitude intermixed with Islamist sympathy, a product that can only be obtained from an Anchor who worked at BBC Arabic and Al Jazeerah networks respectively. Fouda somehow loses himself when speaking about Late President Nasser and indulges in side conversations about him that mostly is unrelated to the topic discussed in the talk show.
Moreover, he spares no chance in bashing Late President Anwar El Sadat even when he’s not the subject of the topic discussed and chooses personally guests who are known to be extremists Nasserites who will do the job of bashing Sadat. Once that starts the viewer couldn’t help but to notice a sadistic or orgasmic smile on his face as if he achieved a personal glory for that. All of these episodes hardly contain any side defending Sadat or the other point of view as any objective TV anchor should have normally done especially when dealing with historical figures.
The prominent TV anchor who tries desperately to mimic the famous CNN show AC360 hosted by Anderson Cooper fails to deliver a message that is bias free and objective. Mr. Fouda has hosted more Islamists in his show than any other TV talk show in a TV network that is supposed to propagate liberal views. Fouda throughout an entire year acted to a certain degree as the devil’s advocate and have tried desperately to defend some of their very controversial positions repeatedly throughout the months following the revolution. The very opportunistic behavior of Muslim brotherhood group and their political arm freedom and justice party were deeply displayed to public night after night thus giving the group and party a ready excuse for whatever they do. All the Freedom and Justice party leaders as well as other Islamists found more air time on ONTV channel more than they could have ever dreamed of.
Thus, they were given legitimacy and a place to propagate their ultra conservative rhetoric without hosting any other guest to battle that divisive and destructive rhetoric efficiently.
Fouda’s classical socialist anti-American rhetoric isn’t befitting a channel that is supposed to spread the liberal views and not antiquated anti-American /Israeli rhetoric and blaming these two countries for every problem that Egypt faces. Unfortunately Mr. Fouda who possess a lot of tools of the trade will go to the extreme to boost the ratings of his show be that by hosting a terrorist or an ultra extremist. Despite, this he appears in many cases as incompetent in front of his guests or not well prepared to perform tricky interviews and relies mainly on his instinct than professional skills. There are no boundaries he is not willing to go through as he apparently believes in the old English proverb “All Publicity is good publicity”.
The message of enlightenment by ONTV is deeply distorted and alienates the neutrals who wanted to find out about liberalism only to be met with extreme socialists, communists and Islamists propagating mostly their own twisted views at a very critical time of the nation’s history. Having a few emotional moments work great in certain critical times especially in times of crisis and catastrophes but an entire channel fuelled by emotions cannot function as a professional news channel. Also, the over replays of national songs and others, might have been acceptable at certain times post revolution but 20 minutes or more of songs between programs or worse with lengthy commercials intermissions deviate the audience and viewers.
Moreover, the above described programs’ presentation strips away the professional edge of the channel that was more evident during the management of Dr. Emad Gad (currently a parliament member) to the channel than it is now under Albert Shafiq. ONTV was a breath of fresh air in the Egyptian media in its very beginning however that image is deeply shattered at the moment and no longer is the revolutionary rhetoric enough to attract the Egyptian viewer.
Possibly the only Anchor on ONTV who tries hard to be as objective as he can is Gaber El Karmooty who managed to show all possible views for any issue or topic discussed. Despite he occasionally gets carried away with emotions, he still shows deep respect to all views without prejudices and makes sure that all counter views are presented and everyone given the right time frame to present their views freely.
ONTV might wish to reconsider its message and those who deliver it should the channel wish to restore the faith of many Egyptians who found it deviating from its real message. ONTV in its current state is not very different from Egyptian state TV in 1960’s that propagates night and day for the 1952 coup d’etat “commonly known as the 1952 revolution” but the difference it’s a private channel. ONTV anchors and producers hearts maybe in the right place but certainly the euphoria of the revolution mostly blinds them from seeing the big picture in the country and working addressing issues.
Islamists TV Channels:
Islamists had their share of newly established and reopened channels formerly banned under the previous regime for a short period due to their divisive and sectarian rhetoric but under Supreme Council for Armed Forces (SCAF) they were allowed to broadcast their message once again and at even worse pace. The entire group channels of “Al Hikma” (Wisdom), “Al Rahma” (Mercy) and “El Nas” (The People) may have been established to propagate the Salafi (Wahhabi) doctrine in Egypt funded through overseas funds from mainly Gulf States. However, not only a spread of the Salafi message was initiated but a hate speech that is unprecedented in the Egyptian media, the channels are mainly focused to defame and smear liberals, socialists or whoever is not Salafist.
It’s not uncommon to listen to accusations of heresy to other political powers and surprisingly enough no authority did lift a finger or sent a warning to these channels to cease this divisive and sectarian message. Christians in Egypt received their own doses of defamation from these channels. While the liberal channels naively hosted hundreds of Islamists in talk show in their channels like ONTV, Dream, El Hayat , Mehwar they were not given the same courtesy by Islamists for reasons well known.
Most of these channels deviated from its main message as religious channels handling matters of religion and spreading the faith, to political extremists’ forums powered by Islamists to propagate their rhetoric. The latest chapter when a Salafi Sheikh Abou Al Ashbal who bluntly called for Jihad against the army officers of SCAF and called for their public execution after storming the ministry of defense. The next day on May 4th another clash took place in the Abbassiya region nearby the ministry of defense which was surrounded by Islamists protesting the banning of their Presidential candidate Hazem Abou Ismail from Candidacy. The result was the death of one Special Forces soldier and around 300 injured in clashes. It’s still not understandable how the channel still operates after publicly instigating and calling for the storming of the Ministry of Defense and executing the army generals in public squares.
The Islamists Satellite TV channels represent a clear and present danger to Egypt’s national and internal security as the integration of the society by its sectarian and divisive messages. This is an issue that has to be addressed by those in charge.
Egyptian State TV
Egyptian state TV resembles in quality and value, the VHS videos that people would own hundreds of them for many years and they are reluctant to throw them away despite the fact that they are not likely to watch them again. It’s like an outdated technology and not as nearly useful as it was 20 years ago. The same applies to the Egyptian TV established in 1960 which is second to Iraqi state TV established in 1956 but far more influential. Egyptian TV was the pioneer TV of the Middle East till it was eclipsed in the 1990s by the satellite channels particularly those owned by Saudi Arabia like, UAE and Qatar investors till Egyptian private investors jumped in to narrow the gap and effectively competing.
Despite some changes in the content and presentation, unfortunately the Egyptian state TV is severely lagging behind in technology, coverage, entertainment value and appeal to average Egyptian viewer than their private and even other Arabian counterparts. And it was not until in the first decade of the millennium that Egyptian TV restored some of its entertainment value which was equivalent to a night at the morgue for its audience back in the 1990s.
The Egyptian state TV news bulletin still retains an age old formula that hardly changes. Starting by the news of the President and in this case it’s the Supreme Armed Forces (SCAF) then moving to ministers’ news then to international news. A huge earthquake in a foreign country will find itself second in priority to the president shaking hands with a foreign diplomat.
Apparently, it’s very easy for state TV producers to switch and pledge allegiance to any new sheriff in town and as soon as a new leader immerges, the propaganda machine starts to work in full force and efficiency to create a national hero and a demi-God out of him. Be that a new president, Prime minister, minister or SCAF. After years of handicap and falling behind in ratings, the state TV had undergone a massive reconstruction process lately with the new studios in 6th of October as well as a new assortment of programs.
All these efforts resulted in a limited improvement and just a facelift for an old bureaucratic institution that failed fulfill its tasked mission and that is education, enlightenment, awareness and reliable news. Unfortunately none of the above was fulfilled and the Egyptian state TV can’t get out of the propaganda machine job that it willingly accepted decades ago. In the first days of the revolution Egyptian state TV started to spread innuendos and lies about those who were on the ground something that led to the total loss of credibility by the public in the days that followed the revolution and thereafter.
Their handling of many crises after the revolution especially what is known as the “Maspero Massacre” that took place just outside the State TV headquarters in downtown Cairo was abysmal. The TV anchors went frantic and called upon what they referred to as “honourable” citizens to quell the protestors surrounding the building. The Protest was comprised mainly of Copts and Muslims who were protesting the burning of a church in Giza by some extremists. However, the panicking behavior of the state TV anchors led to further troubles which ended up in a massacre and an army unit got involved which led to further casualties and loss of lives due to the incompetence of the army units stationed nearby the TV headquarters.
It’s worth mentioning that the Nile News Network owned by the Arab Television and Radio networks (Egyptian state TV) represents a step forward to the ancient formula instilled by the ground channels. Nile News may still hold maintain a more professional edge compared to other news networks in Egypt and particularly state owned ones. While their male anchors who try desperately to mimic the tone and style of Al Jazeerah network anchors, lag far behind in charisma and presentation skills, than their female counterparts who are among the best in the business in Egypt. Female Anchors on Nile News Network possess more charisma, wit, ability to conduct a proper interview and more professionalism than their male counterparts.
It may be a step forward to have such higher caliber of TV anchors in a state owned network, yet the TV media business is a collaborative effort that also includes anchors, producers, directors, etc.. Accordingly one element can’t function professionally if the other elements are not pulling their weight.
However, Egyptian state TV and particularly Nile News Network may have benefitted from the chaos in other Egyptian TV networks post the revolution and the innuendos occasionally spread by private satellite channels. As the final say on any issue or piece of news is determined once it’s broadcasted on Egyptian state TV thus, giving state TV a sort of life support as other private channels sometimes fail to provide a reliable source of news.
Other Private Satellite Channels
Most the new channels, Periodicals and newspapers were owned by businessmen and limited companies and usually they display the point of views of their owners. In very few cases like ONTV and Dream TV the administration and ownership of the channels are separated to the extent that some channels actually display programs presented by the owners of that channel like El Faraeen for the controversial and eccentric Tawfik Okasha who usually profess some of the weirdest views about all political issues.
Dream TV, Al Hayat TV , El Mehwar, among many TV networks that were founded before the revolution and played a huge part in the awareness process in the years the preceded it . During the revolution first 18 days , it was an amazing scene to witness El Hayat and El Mehwar shifting allegiance from being anti-revolution to pro-revolution as the days progressed in the first 18 days. The Same anchors who accused protestors of being traitors and saboteurs changed their tone as they witnessed the revolution’s momentum is sweeping most of Egyptians cities and they found themselves are the sole-defenders of an ailing regime that is on the verge of total collapse.
They managed to change sides to win the hearts and audience supporting the revolution ideals but most failed to do that and the credibility of many anchors were lost in the process to the audience regardless of their support to the revolution or not .
While Dream TV maintained a moderate stance and to a great extent was pro-revolution, prominent TV Anchor Mona El Shazly fell in the same old trap of sensationalism when bringing President Sadat assassin Aboud El Zomor to the TV screen in an exclusive interview upon his release from prison post the revolution. The man whose group terrorized the Egyptians and killed their late president almost received a hero’s welcome in a interview that was disrespectful to the minds of most Egyptians for hailing a terrorist and an assassin as a hero. Despite her attempts to try to be objective Mona El Shazly, lost a lot of her credit because of that interview and may have gained some 15 minutes of fame that she could have done without.
There are some other newer satellite channels finding their way to TV screens post the revolution like the Tahrir TV, 25th January TV (Muslim Brotherhood funded) , Rotana Masreya , El Nahar and CBC networks among many others. These networks are enjoying a new found sense of freedom post the revolution but still deviate to a great extent from any code of ethics, professionalism or objectivity in their message.
That sense of freedom is still under careful supervision and sometimes intervention from SCAF on occasional events but it’s still a step forward in a long road.
CBC are currently doing a great job on covering the presidential elections with quite a good panel interviewing all the presidential candidates who answers and analyzing their responses in a later show. One would hope that that quality of coverage would continue after the elections as it can pave the path for further development of the Egyptian media handling such political issues.
It will certainly take many years of trials and errors for Egyptian TV networks to meet the some of the standards set by their western counterparts but the 1000 miles road always start by one single step. However, that will not be ever achieved without a strict code of ethics that doesn’t deviate from international standards of media for freedom of expression while maintaining the fine line between objectivity and bias.