Here is a report prepared by Camille Hennion, a media research intern at the NCF based on her preliminary research in Cairo, 2011
1. The Egyptian Media
Newspapers - Government-owned
Ahram /al Ahram weekly
Al Masry al Youm
Al Youm al sab'aa (Cairo; online)
Sout al Umah
ERTU (The Egyptian Radio and Television Union) controls state owned terrestrial television of which there are eight channels (two national and six local). ERTU operates the Nile TV network.
Satellite (Arabsat / NileSat) are major Egypt based satellite providers providing the satellite “bouquets” that give the Middle East 452 channels at the latest count. In an Egyptian context however, their channels include:
The Egyptian National Channel
The Nile Programmes (Nile sports, Nile variety, Nile News and so forth)
Dream TV (private): Dream I and Dream II
OTV (OTV is actually a Lebanese generalist TV channel but is much viewed in Egypt)
Al Hayat (3 channels)
The Egyptian audience is accustomed to official propaganda. It is characterized by a strong critical awareness regarding the quality of media coverage and by a great ability to read between the lines of the official and media discourses.
Before the Revolution, the newspapers with the largest audiences were the following:
1. Al Masry al Youm
2. Al Youm al sab'aa
3. al Ahram
The Revolution had a large impact on the media landscape as it entailed huge loss or gain of credibility to media sources according to their coverage of the movement (cf. section 2 below). The licensing process which had been highly painful and bureaucratic was also apparently significantly eased following the Revolution. This led to the creation of new media in Egypt. The most significant are the newspapers al-Tahrir and Tahrir TV created by Ibrahim Eissa. Some former weekly newspapers transformed into daily newspapers, the main example being Al Masry al youm.
2. Coverage of the Revolution
The Egyptian Media had a crucial role to play in the revolutionary movement that broke out in Egypt in January 2011. Yet the veracity of the coverage varied widely.
Al Masry al Youm was praised by all as the most reliable Egyptian newspaper during the Revolution. The editorial board of al Masry al Youm apparently took the decision very early on to tell the truth about the movement. It must be noted that al Masry al Youm has long been considered one of the most reliable newspapers in Egypt, even before the Revolution. Al Shoruk also provided an accurate source of information during the movement. Among the TV channels, OTV offered the most reliable information on the Revolution.
Finally it must be noted that the Qatari channel al Jazeera gained a wide audience in Egypt because of its highly insightful and critical coverage of the regime's behavior during the Revolution. It was considered more reliable than most of Egyptian sources. Yet, even if they praised al Jazeera's position during their Revolution, Egyptians were aware of the channel's own agenda and strong anti-Mubarak stance. They do not consider al Jazeera as entirely neutral and impartial in its coverage.
As a result of their poor coverage of the Revolution, many national media sources lost credibility.
Most notably al Ahram did not report on the Revolution until 8 February, when it finally published an editorial recognizing and supporting the Revolution on the front page. Prior to that al Ahram had been publishing inaccurate information on the movement and taking part in the regime propaganda campaign against foreigners and foreign media in Egypt. For example, al Ahram published numerous reports warning about the presence of spies and foreign infiltrators, suggesting that they aimed at dividing Egypt. Al Akhbar produced the same kind of regime propaganda during the Revolution and hardly changed its position after the fall of Mubarak. For example, as late as 13 June, when the US-Israeli student Ilan Grapel was arrested on the contested accusation of spying, al Akhbar's provoking headline was: 'a big blow for the Mossad'.
The coverage of the national TV channels was even more problematic. State owned Channel 1 and Channel 2 (part of the ERTU network) as well as Nile TV broadcast false reports on the movement. These media were at the forefront of the propaganda campaign against foreigners and foreign media. For example, on 7 February, Nile News reported on an unnamed source in the security services accusing foreign diplomats of bringing weapons to Egypt in their luggage.
2. Media in transition
As a consequence of their biased coverage of the Revolution, the national media lost a large part of their credibility and, more importantly, of their audience. As such the national media were forced to launch significant reform efforts in order to survive economically and re-gain viewers.
Al Ahram is a striking example of this dynamic. On 8 February it suddenly changed its position, adopting an anti-regime approach and reporting accurately on the Revolution. New people were brought in and the editorial content was changed significantly. For example the pro-Mubarak editor-in-chief Osama Saraya was replaced by Abdel-Azim Hamad.
Along the same line, the national TV channels had to adapt quickly. The ERTU and Nile TV channels had been widely criticized for their coverage before and during the Revolution. Consequently they undertook a difficult process of transition. Nadia Halim was replaced by Nihal Kamal as head of the TV department, Abdel-Latif El-Manawi by Ibrahim Kamel El-Sayed as head of the news department and Entesar Shalabi by Ismail El-Sheshtawi as head of the radio department. Finally Tariq al Mahdi replaced Sami al Sherif as the head of the ERTU. Yet the transition of Egyptian national media is a difficult process. Some have already highlighted the resilience of old practices despite the appointment of new people. For example the ERTU chief, Tariq al Mahdi, is himself a general and very close to the military council. It is still too early to assess the impact of the on-going reform on the national channels. The coverage of the coming elections might be a good test to measure the scope of these changes.
3. The figure of Ibrahim Eissa
Ibrahim Eissa deserves special attention in this report as he appears as a major figure of the Egyptian media landscape. He has been a dissident voice since long before the Revolution. He was one of the rare journalists openly criticizing Mubarak before his fall. He was the embodiment of Egyptian independent media, particularly through the publication of al Dostour from 1995 onwards. Most of his writings and talk shows leveled direct criticisms at the former president and regime. In retaliation, in 2008 Eissa was sentenced to two months in prison on charges of publishing false rumors about Mubarak’s health. Later, Mubarak pardoned him in an attempt to tame Eissa. But the journalist maintained the same tone and continued to face harassment. In October 2010, Eissa was fired from his position as editor-in-chief of al Dostour after the paper was sold to Wafd Party chairman Al-Sayyed al-Badawi. Rumors circulated that Badawi kicked Eissa out in a good-will gesture to Mubarak. Eissa told the press he was dismissed a few hours after he was told not to run an article by the then leading opposition figure Mohamed el Baradei. Eissa made a stunning comeback on the media stage with a new publication - al Tahrir - launched at the beginning of July 2011. Al Tahrir newspaper is co-owned by the publisher of al Shoruk independent newspaper, Ibrahim al Moalem. The executive editor of al Tahrir Ibrahim Mansour also comes from the team of al Dostour as well.
4. A net improvement in the press freedom
The current state of the press in Egypt is quite messy given the context of political transition. There is real improvement in terms of press freedom and the availability of independent and free information sources. Yet the relationship between the media and the military council is complex and might deteriorate as the military remains extremely sensitive to criticisms. The following are a few examples of breaches of the press freedom that occurred after the Revolution:
- On 30 May the activist Hossam el Hamalawy and the ON-TV presenter Reem Maged were summoned for questioning by the military council after an interview broadcast on ON-TV where they accused the military leadership of abuses against civilians.
- On 19 June Adel Hammuda, the editor of the newspaper Al-Fajr, and Rasha Azab, one of his reporters, were questioned by a military prosecutor in connection with an article about torture that quoted an army officer. They are to be tried before a military court on a date that has not yet been set. Azab is facing a possible jail sentence on a charge of publishing “false information liable to disturb public security” in the article she wrote for Al-Fajr’s 12 June issue. Hammuda is facing a possible fine for alleged negligence in his role as editor.
- Dream TV presenter, Dina Abdel Rahman, appears to have been sacked after an on-air sharp discussion about the military leadership on 24 July.
5. Problematic absence of regulatory framework for media in Egypt
An important issue in this transitional phase for Egyptian media is the absence of any reliable regulatory framework to both protect the press freedom and regulate its practices. It will be a crucial issue in the coming months as, at the moment, there is nothing ensuring a fair treatment of the electoral campaign.