Egypt’s media can’t resist spicing up stories

Almost a decade ago, I was involved, among others, in organizing a large political conference in Egypt in which my former political party hosted a few hundred well-known liberal politicians hailing from all continents. At the time, I naively assumed that the Egyptian media would be greatly interested in reporting on the conference’s deliberations. I was shocked when the media completely ignored the substance of the three-day conference, while providing substantial coverage of a tiny problem that had occurred during the conference.

Eventually, I came to understand that “spicing it up” is the reality of the Egyptian media, who often look for exciting elements that can be circulated widely – at the expense of presenting any substantive content. In fact, if no element of excitement can be found, the media itself will add the required flavor, justifying their actions by claiming to be fulfilling their readers’ desires. With time, the Egyptian media went from simply adding the spicy flavor to cooking up an entire story that may make good reading (even though parts of it have no basis in fact).

The confusion between what is fact and what is fiction is considerable in Egypt, which should prompt readers to properly appraise the veracity of any published report. I personally tend to crosscheck what I read against other sources to make certain that I am getting the true story. Nevertheless, I have been trapped many times into crediting false narratives! I finally decided that since journalists often advocate for “freedom of expression”, I too deserve my “freedom to believe”. Now I use my “judgment” to evaluate the material that I read – I am better off living with my own private “devised beliefs” than being the prey of fabricated narratives.

A single school of thought currently dominates the Egyptian media: a tendency to address audience’s emotions, at the expense of candid reporting. This approach, designed by our media celebrities, capitalizes on their personal talents in their “talk shows” and does not oblige them to impart any actual substance. As a result, media content has been stripped of any intellectual thought or comprehensive reporting, overwhelmed by people who are, quite simply, loud on TV.

Egypt is probably one of a tiny handful of nations where TV screens and microphones are handed over to presenters to deliver hours-long monologues about their private views on all matters of life. No one appears to have noticed that this type of directed media not only has low creditability; it also no longer appeals to audiences! The media style of screaming instructions and ‘do’s and don’ts’ at Egyptians is also being used by the State opposition media; their naturally destructive messages are better served by this media tactic.

I eventually learnt that dealing with the media requires a special talent, particularly in Egypt. Nevertheless, regardless of their personal talent, if the media platform in place is a deceitful one, TV guests are obliged to work within this corrupt environment. President Al Sisi once pointed out that it does not make sense for corruption to be widespread in all Egyptian government entities with the exception of the media, which happily highlights weaknesses in all fields, but disregards its own faults.

Since Egyptian media credibility is diminishing and fabricated news is widespread, it does not matter which channel is more trustworthy. The media has a significant role to play in educating citizens by presenting multiple perspectives to help them understand life’s realities better. This aspect is completely lacking in Egypt – not because of any shortage in talented media representatives, but because we believe that our current media tactics serve our nation best.

The pervasiveness and prevalence of fake news among Egyptians make it quite difficult to differentiate between fact and fiction in our lives. Leaving Egyptian audiences ignorant on many issues does not mean that they will always buy into the State’s arguments. On the contrary, people become more susceptible to the fabricated narratives emitted by the State’s enemies. Reforming our media content and outlets will benefit the State more than anyone else.

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