Regardless of the ongoing debate about the broadcast ban imposed on one of the Egyptian private satellite channels, there have for long been calls to reform the media, both official and private, and to put an end to that rampant lack of professionalism in several outlets. This, in fact, was one of the main demands of the January 25 Revolution.
There is a big difference between freedom of expression and the irresponsible pursuit of sensationalism. The main mission of the media is to report facts and give voice to different opinions and to do so objectively and in a way that respects the audience and serves the interests of the community.
I watched on a relatively new Egyptian satellite channel a presenter that addressed the audience for more than 10 minutes. She kept repeating the phrase, “I want to say…” several times. She criticized, condemned and threatened the demonstration staged by Islamists who demand that the constitution include application of Islamic laws. I recall seeing her voicing her sentiments and opinions a few days after she disappeared during the revolution.
My question to the minister: Is this objective media? Can this be called media or journalism in the first place?
This has nothing to do with whether I condone or condemn the demonstration since peaceful protests have become everybody’s right after the revolution. I am talking about a type of private media that now resembles a state within a state. And we certainly don’t want an official media that replaces the formerly ruling National Democratic Party with the now ruling Freedom and Justice Party. We simply want an independent media that raises the people’s awareness and respects them.
True there have been attempts at reforming the official media, but they remain naïve, superficial, and unoriginal. If we can copy programs and ideas from other channels, it is very hard to do the same with performance and content. There are very few professional presenters while the others are neither intellectual nor charismatic and some don’t even have the ability to conduct an interview and are only satisfied with imitating others. The good amongst them is not properly trained and the bad should not be on screen to start with. Keeping unqualified staff is bound to lead to failure. There are professional and civilized layoff ways and they are definitely better than going on like this.
In TV journalism, it is well-known that presenters should not express their personal views and should pose questions objectively and never level accusations without proper investigation. Most importantly, they should be professional enough so as not to choose a trivial topic just because it is sensational like “A Salafi Sheikh threatens to destroy the pyramids and the sphinx,” “marriage via You Tube,” “breastfeeding a friend”… etc.
There was a time when a famous TV show intentionally provided a wrong translation to spread sedition and it was actually believed by many viewers. This could have led to irreversible damages and no one was held accountable. There are several other examples and the list goes on forever.
There is a difference between the opinion page in a newspaper, and which is known to offer personal views, and a satellite channel which claims to be professional while it instigates millions of viewers. This is much more dangerous than the actual use of tanks and missiles like Marxists and Nazis used to say.
I don’t know how presenters that have been loyal to the former regime can be left to tamper with people’s minds. Unfortunately, a large portion of Egyptians do not scrutinize what is said and by whom. At times they defend a certain cause and at others they condemn another and when you ask them where they got the information from, the reply is, “That is what they say.” This is where the real danger comes from.
Of course there are talented professionals in Egypt, but those other mercenaries remain a real danger and people might find that out after it’s too late.
Your Excellency, at the time of wars, revolutions, and crises, the media cannot be left like that, for it becomes a threat to national security. Isn’t what is happening in Sinai and Gaza enough? Any reform has to start with the media.
Dictatorships used the media to brainwash the people and democracies imposed a certain level of censorship on the media during wartime. We do not want a clampdown on freedoms, but we want a responsible media that observes the standards of professionalism and objectivity. Would you do that? Or would you keep following in the footsteps of the National Democratic Part only to wake up to another revolution when it would be too late?
(The writer is a senior presenter and current affairs producer at Al Arabiya TV)