In a recent declaration, the Egyptian Minister of Education stated that he once received thirty-five missed calls from a journalist in a single day. The Minister, who declines to respond to the journalists who hound him, is a rare case in Egypt where ministers and other senior officials are usually careful to reply to journalists to avoid becoming targets of insensible media campaigns. Egyptian media is driven by whoever has more power, not by any identifiable, concrete substance!
Actually, in my opinion journalists should not reach out to ministers; each Egyptian ministry has a media department that journalists should contact for updates about the ministry. Egyptian journalists, however, believe that they are helping to advance our country by highlighting the “government’s shortfalls”; ministers should therefore always be available to respond to their inconsiderate phone calls – as if journalists were the policymakers in our country.
The real power in Egypt is in the hands of those who have widespread and free access to the public and who can offer articulate information i.e. journalists and TV presenters, obviously. The Egyptian State has therefore placed a tight grip on almost all newspapers and TV channels, making sure that they are run by cadres who are loyal to the State. However, these loyal cadres seldom abide by the ethical norms of the media business, “shooting from the hip” at whoever isn’t responsive to their nonsensical demands.
To fill up the long hours of broadcasting, TV presenters tend to use a long unsubstantiated single-perspective rhetoric that offers no focal point and lacks depth, falsely claiming that they are shaping public opinion to support the State’s mission. This erroneous understanding empowers our TV presenters to violate all established norms in their dealings with ministers and senior officials. Along with the dissemination of false information, such behavior has become an essential part and an acceptable norm of their profession.
Moreover, the over-employment that exists in Egyptian media outlets has driven the clear majority of their workforce to think only of securing their jobs – to the detriment of media merits and ethics. As in many other professions in Egypt today, these qualities are not determining factors that differentiate between good journalists and mediocre ones. The fact that most Egyptian media outlets don’t have corporate missions that they would like to safeguard leads to unpredictable acts and behaviors by media representatives.
Egyptian newspapers are now driven by advertisement revenues! Commercial personnel, along with some editors, receive substantial incentives upon selling advertisement space, some of which result in bad payments. As a result, many State media outlets carry plenty of advertisements that enrich their editors and personnel but leave their respective newspapers indebted, a policy that forces the government to pay billions of pounds every year simply to subsidize the losses resulting from false claims and superfluous arguments.
A few years ago, Egyptian print media used to present fair and comprehensive coverage of various domestic issues; editorial pages were written by knowledgeable writers (some praised the ruling regime and others criticized it). Reading the entire newspaper provided us with a rich and diversified outlook. Due to low quality editorials that flatter the State and make no room for even a few moderate arguments, today’s newspapers are only worth a cursory glance.
The number of newspaper readers is declining substantially and those who read the papers can easily differentiate facts from nonsensical blather – a well-known fact that all media representatives admit, but that the State insists on denying. Offering creditable substantiated material is the only gateway to reviving our once flourishing media industry. Egypt does not need this large number of printed newspapers and TV channels; a few good quality media outlets are better than many outlets with no substance.