Egypt’s Media Dilemma

Watching entertainment programs and following news broadcasts aired on Egyptian TV a few decades ago was not only a good option for millions of Arab citizens; it was also the only available one. The Egyptian dialect that many Arabs like and understand well and the good quality of Egyptian movies, soap operas and other programs of the time created a strong emotional attachment among Arab audiences to the media content that we used to produce and broadcast. However, as in many other fields, our true challenge often lies in our ability to sustain our competitive edge.

As the only relevant media player in the Arab region, we felt no need to advance our media production, maintaining the same methods of operation for decades. Thus, Arab audiences began to disaffiliate themselves from the Egyptian media, favoring other regional channels, launched in more appealing styles and offering content that is more engaging. Additionally, many of the most prominent internationally renowned news channels, such as BBC and France24, launched Arabic language channels, obviously broadening their reach and drawing Arab viewers. The low cost of satellite, now affordable for most Arab households, backed up this development.

The Egyptian state is very much concerned with using the media to shape its citizens’ thinking and to mobilize them whenever needed; it has therefore been tempted to control the Egyptian media at the expense of producing quality programs and broadcasting credible news; two essential components of the media industry. All media channels, and the content they broadcast, are now completely controlled by the state –the fact that poor substance and the absence of creditability lead audiences to switch to other channels seems to have escaped the state’s attention.

The Egyptian media industry was taken in by the delusion that talented TV presenters could make up for poor substance and lack of credibility. The emergence of popular TV presenters claiming to have their own audiences was reflected in several daily TV talk shows with higher viewership. However, these talk shows lack substance and credibility; their audiences watch them for entertainment purposes, then tune into other channels to listen to alternative, more corroborated, arguments.

Nowadays, technology provides audiences with a wide array of choices for learning the latest news or watching entertainment programs at their convenience. We in Egypt have not made use of the best methods for benefitting from new technologies to produce better media content that can attract wider audiences; we think of technology as machines or equipment used only to replace the old ones. Meanwhile, being controlled by the state and framed by its guidelines has limited our creativity and restricted our ability to produce pleasing programs.

Moreover, social media continues to be the biggest challenge to the Egyptian state; a powerful medium completely out of its control that it can’t even influence slightly, social media enables all citizens – regardless of their locations or power – to broadcast whatever they wish. Egyptians’ talent for coining short phrases that can be tweeted in a second and reach millions of citizens is more powerful than the entire expensive state media machine and its newly set up ‘electronic committee’, who have failed to stop or control this phenomenon.

As the world of media continues its immense progress, Egypt is still struggling, stuck with what is known as ‘Maspero’ (the Federation of Egyptian Radio and Television), a huge entity administered by an obsolete management that employs an estimated 50,000 media professionals and constitutes a huge financial burden on the state budget. The Federation of Egyptian Radio and Television, whose mission is to win the entire world over to the state’s viewpoints, is not even followed by Egyptians.

Egypt still has an edge in this industry due to our large number of talented media cadres (currently forced to produce state-driven programs). While most of these professionals are unhappy with the content they broadcast and with how they are managed in their respective entities, they obviously don’t have the power to transform the Egyptian media. Currently defined a financial burden in the Egyptian media industry, these talented cadres could in fact be Egypt’s opportunity to turn around the industry – on condition that it be distanced from state control.

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