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Archive for December 2011

Media ownership revisited: will a rich man’s channel cover poor people?

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Al-Hayat owner, Wafd party chairperson Sayed El-Badawi and Dream TV owner Ahmed Bahgat are not the only examples of rich business men owning media organizations in Egypt. Quite the contrary; most private media organizations whether they be broadcast or print in nature are in fact owned by big name tycoons.

Perhaps the biggest of tycoons in Egypt’s media landscape is billionaire Naguib Sawiris. Besides owning shares in Egypt’s leading independent daily newspaper Al Masry Al Youm, Sawiris also owns liberal channel OnTV which runs two extremely popular talk shows, Yousri Fouda’s Akher Kalam (Last Words) and Reem Magued’s Baladna Bilmasry (Our Country in Egyptian).

The channel, and these two shows in particular, have gained immense popularity after the revolution for their objective coverage and detailed expert analysis. OnTV is not without faults, though, for what it gains in objectivity and detail it loses in speed. The channel employs a very small amount of field reporters and as such their coverage of live breaking news leaves a lot to be desired.

The objectivity exhibited by OnTV is not down to Sawiris’s benevolence. Rather, he is a good business man and thus knows that the best way to make money would be to interfere as little as possible. Furthermore, Egyptian journalistic icons such as Reem Magued and Yousri Fouda would never allow editorial interference.

The channel is not without the influence of Sawiris, however. In May 2011 Sawiris founded the liberal capitalist Free Egyptians Party and announced that the party would be contesting the upcoming parliamentary elections. Ever since the party’s founding, campaign advertisements for it have swarmed OnTV. This advertising campaign doubled after the FEP joined with two other parties to form the liberal Egyptian Bloc ahead of the elections.

Furthermore, whenever Sawiris decides to send a message to the public or make an appearance, he always does it on one of OnTV’s programs.

Perhaps the largest indicator of Sawiris’s influence, alongside all other business men who own media organizations, on these organizations is not what they cover or how the cover it, but rather, what they choose not to cover.

For the past few years Egypt has been witnessing a surge of labor strikes daily. According to popular blogger and socialist activist Hossam El Hamalawy, there were at least three labor strikes a day before the revolution. That number has intensified to about 19 after Mubarak’s ouster.

Yet news of these strikes rarely makes it to OnTV, Dream, Hayat or CBC which is owned by by wealthy engineer Mohammed Amin who also owns Youm 7 newspaper.

The pattern of wealthy capitalist men owning almost all of Egypt’s independent media leads to them adopting an economically bourgeoisie agenda where labor strikes are discouraged and portrayed as destructive and anti-stability. Media outlets that do not engage in this are still complicit by ignoring these strikes.

The systematic ignoring of these labor movements, which are an attempt to purify and reform institutions and business as well as combat corporate greed, clearly shows that these media outlets adopt a very pro-capitalist and corporate agenda.

Most owners of independent media organizations who have made their fortunes in other industries such as telecommunications and construction are personally opposed to these labor movements, which in of itself is fine, except these owners actively derail coverage of these strikes and movements in their news organizations as part of fulfilling their personal agendas.

Written by Ahmed Aboulenein

December 28, 2011 at 10:32 am

Posted in Egypt, Media

Tahrir on TV: more than just Al-Tahrir and OnTV

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Forgive the horrible pun, I couldn’t resist.

Ever since the 18-day uprising from Jan. 25 to Feb. 11 that ousted former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak from power, the iconic Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo has witnessed major protests at least once a month, and more often than not protesters and security forces, be they police or military, clashed.

The way these protests and clashes were portrayed in the Egyptian media was extremely different from one station or newspaper to the next, to the point that one might think they were covering different events.

One recent example is the clashes that took place in front of the cabinet building near Tahrir Square earlier this month. While some outlets such as Al-Tahrir channel and the liberal OnTV showed the full brutality of the violence military officers and soldiers inflicted on protestors, others were careful to point their cameras only at the protestors fighting back bullets with rocks and molotov cocktails, labeling them thugs and saboteurs.

The privately owned CBC (Cairo Broadcasting Channel) had the best live coverage of the events, with on field camera men capturing most of the scenes that would later become iconic of the military’s brutality. Below is a clip caught on CBC’s cameras that shows soldiers beating and stripping a female protester. The video would later go viral and inspire thousands of women to hold a women’s march the very next day:

Unfortunately in contrast to CBC’s fair reporting, it provided what at best could be described as slanted analysis. CBC presenters and hosts regularly contradicted what their on field reporters and camera men told them, and in one case viewers were treated to presented Khairy Ramadan blatantly contradicting his reporter and overruling him every time the reporter corrected him.

The reporter said that soldiers had started the violence and were throwing molotov cocktails at protestors, a fact Ramadan seemed unwilling to acknowledge. Ramadan also reported that protestors had set fire to the Institute d’Egypt without having any footage to back such claims.

Furthermore, Ramadan reported the Institute catching on fire 24 hours before it did. He is now facing questioning from the authorities as to how he got such information.

Although CBC showed live footage of the military’s first wave of attack, the transmission was cut momentary after. It is unclear whether the channel did this themselves or if the authorities took them off air, but the incident was never mentioned when coverage resumed.

CBC’s biased coverage came no where near that of state owned media, however.

State TV’s Channel 1 went beyond its usual labeling of protestors as thugs and showing hazy shots of Tahrir where the viewer could not discern what was going on this time.

State TV’s  cameras were always stationed on the side of the soldiers, thus only showing the protestors throwing rocks and ignoring what the soldiers were doing.

Furthermore, Channel 1 broadcasted scenes of supposed thugs that were arrested on the scene of the clashes admitting to receiving money in exchange for attacking soldiers and burning down government buildings.

It was later revealed that those “thugs” were in fact arrested days before the clashes in relation to a completely different case and were tortured into confessing their involvement in the clashed live on Channel 1. The video below, in Arabic, details this incident:

The lack of professionalism, slanted coverage, and outright lies that State TV continues to subject viewers to are a perfect argument for why governments should never own media.

Written by Ahmed Aboulenein

December 28, 2011 at 7:22 am

Posted in Egypt, Media

And you thought Murdoch was evil: media ownership and editorial independence in Egypt

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While media ownership and editorial independence is an issue that dominates the thinking of journalists and media experts globally; the situation in Egypt seems to exemplify the strong need for a figurative “wall” between owners and  content producers at any media organization.

Egyptian journalists not only have to deal with strict publishing laws and both soft and outright government censorship, they have to balance this with the fact that their news organization’s owner usually has an agenda for owning the organization and in several cases will not hesitate to interfere in editorial policy, veto certain things or even fire a journalist or two to maintain that agenda.

Back in 2001 the government first allowed the opening of private satellite channels and prominent Egyptian business man Ahmed Bahgat ceased the opportunity and started the first such channel, Dream TV.

Since then, the trend has been for wealthy tycoons to start their own television channels if not group of channels, both a profit seeking venture but also in order to have a mouthpiece that serves their views and advances what agendas they may have.

Examples of such arrangements include the previously mentioned Ahmed Bahgat with his Dream TV and Dream 2, medicine tycoon and Wafd party chairman Sayed El-Badawi who owns the Hayat group of channels, and of course OnTV which is owned by telecommunications tycoon Naguib Sawiras.

Over the years, and especially after the revolution, there have been examples of owners interfering directly or indirectly with the running of their media organization, for more than once purpose.

Just recently on July 24, Bahgat fired prominent morning talk show presented Dina Abdel Rahman after she had an argument live with a military general. The general called in on the show and reprimanded Abdel Rahman, a veteran presented whose show was the only one to compete with state TV’s morning shows, for reading out an op/ed criticizing the ruling military council in the show’s journalism segment.

A clip of the argument can be seen below:

According to personal accounts later given by Abdel Rahman, Bahgat called her after the show and told her it was her last. She went on to start another show on Al Tahrir channel only a few weeks later.

This was not the first time Bahgat did such a thing. Bahgat, who had close ties with Gamal and Alaa, ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s sons, was known to play it safe and limit political adventurism on his channel.

In 2005, Wael al-Ibrashi, a Dream TV presenter and journalist at the daily newspaper Sawt al-Umma, was one of three journalists put on trial for publishing the initials of judges accused of condoning electoral fraud while overseeing parliamentary elections. Bahgat fired him before he was even sentenced.

Similarly in 2003, Ibrahim Eissa, host of Aala al-Qahwa on Dream TV and also editor-in-chief of Al-Dostour and was dropped from the network as part of a deal Bahgat made with the government regarding debt rescheduling in state-owned banks.

Furthermore, Dream TV and Dream 2 act as a medium where Bahgat advertises for his products ranging from televisions and heaters to apartments and villas in his Dream Land compound and rooms in his Dream Golf resort.

Sayed El-Badawi exerts control over his Hayat group of channels in a somewhat different manner. Rather than fire journalists who criticize the regime, Badawi uses Hayat to promote the Wafd party, of which he is chairman, by all means possible.

In recent election coverage by Hayat, the average time they devoted to discussing political parties has been two hours. One hour was solely devoted to discussing Wafd; its ratings, its campaign, how well it was doing, the challenges it faced, etc.

El-Badawi is not innocent of firing journalists for their opinions, however. In late 2010, El-Badawi bought the Egyptian opposition daily, Al-Dostour. When the paper’s editor-in-chief Ibrahim Eissa decided to publish an opinion piece by Nobel Peace Prize winner and opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei on the occasion of the October 6 anniversary, El-Badawi told him not to.

Eissa published the piece anyway and the next day he was fired from the paper he had founded himself a few years earlier.

Both the Bahgat and El-Badawi examples show that press freedom has a long way to go in Egypt, and not just in terms of government censorship.

Written by Ahmed Aboulenein

December 27, 2011 at 9:41 pm

Posted in Egypt, Media

Reporting the ballot box: election coverage in Egyptian media

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With the third, and final, stage of Egypt’s historic lower-house parliamentary elections approaching, local news organizations are competing more strongly than ever over who presents the most detailed, accurate and sometimes overwhelming coverage of the process.

Egyptian audiences are being regularly treated since late November to exhaustive coverage of the entire electoral process, and almost every newspaper, program and channel’s coverage goes somewhat like this:

  1. Predictions (and analysis of the previous round’s trends before the second round) start a week before election day
  2. Coverage of campaign promises and strategies throughout the week
  3. Detailed coverage of poll station security the night before, with interviews conducted with the highest ranking security official, police or military, the reporter/presenter can get access to
  4. Initial turnout numbers on election day across several voting districts
  5. Man-on-the-street interviews with voters standing in line visa-vis their choice of candidate and how they find the electoral process to be going so far
  6. A piece on the transport and storing of the ballot boxes overnight ahead of the second day of voting
  7. Stories on how turnout on the second day is less than that on the first
  8. Repeat steps 4 and 5
  9. Coverage of the boxes being transported to the counting stations
  10. Initial results from the counting start flowing and the preliminary predictions come with them
  11. Analysis of the results after they are officially announced

This is how the first and second rounds of the elections were covered, with small variations across each program or channel and the obvious limitations of print newspapers restricting them to summaries and analysis, and there is little to suggest that the third round will be dealt with any differently with the media well into steps 1 and 2 already.

However, there have been ways in which media outlets have been able to distinguish themselves from the rest of the pack.

Private satellite station CBC (Cairo Broadcast Channel), famous for its plethora of big name presenters and hosts such as veteran presenters, formerly of State TV Lamees El Hadidy and Khairy Ramadan, Al Masry Al Youm editor-in-chief Magdy Al-Galad, Al Fagr editor-in-chief Adel Hamouda, activist Abdel Rahman Yousef among others, each regularly hosting their own show, merged all of their slots into one big television slot running for over eight hours a day under the name “Egypt Votes” where the big name presenters take shifts.

A clip showing election analysis on “Egypt Votes,” hosted by Lamees El Hadidy, can be seen below:

Prominent daily newspaper Al Shorouk, already famous for its active and regularly updated online portal and website, created a second, specialized, online portal dedicated exclusively to the elections.

The website, titled “The Voice of my Country” goes beyond the cycle posted above, and offers extensive coverage of every district allowing readers to read about the electoral happenings in their local area, as well as categorizing news in several ways including district, electoral round, and by political parties or electoral coalitions allowing readers the chance to read all the news concerning a certain political party or group.

On top of that, the portal also conducts video reporting on the elections, allowing it to compete with even broadcast media. Furthermore, the website offers background information, statistics and interviews with members from every single party and coalition contesting the elections.

The "Voice of my Country" portal offers text stories as well as video reporting on all aspects of the election

Written by Ahmed Aboulenein

December 27, 2011 at 7:36 pm

Posted in Egypt, Media