Mostly Harmless

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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.

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Written by Ahmed Aboulenein

December 28, 2011 at 10:32 am

Posted in Egypt, Media

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