Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Danger of Private Media In Egypt

The danger of private media in Egypt

Mohamed Shuman, Saturday 15 Feb 2014

Private media is in the grip of a new elite whose political interests are inimical to media freedoms and the aspirations of the people

Ten years ago, I warned against exchanging state hegemony for the hegemony of businessmen and advertisers over Egyptian media. It seems that warning went unheeded. Regression occurred in media freedoms and codes of ethics. The irony lies in that this took place after the incomplete January 25Revolution and its second wave on 30June 2013.

State media remained subordinate to the authorities and unable to switch to a media that represents the whole society with its wide spectrum. Its ability to compete and influence public opinion diminished to the benefit of private media. A majority follow private channels and the circulation of privately owned newspapers witnessed a noticeable surge. There isn't enough space to expound on the reasons for this change, which definitely reduces the media capabilities and symbolic influence of the state over public opinion. Space also does not allow me to analyse the pros and cons of this change, which I deem more negative than positive, because private media hasn't respected media freedom and its multiplicity.

Thus, the private media and several Arab and foreign channels achieved progress over state media in the battle to win the hearts and minds of the masses. Meanwhile, the former was draining the material capacities and human capabilities available to the state and exploiting them for its own benefit. Private media depends on human cadres that were taught and trained in the state media. Even many who work for private media outlets still work in state newspapers and TV channels.

This dubious and parasitic relationship reminds us of that between the private and public sector in the 1980s, culminating in privatisation, which I hope will not engulf the public media.

Researchers should study the private media's unilateral exploitation and looting of the fortunes of the state media. These fortunes could have been preserved and developed in order to transform it into a real public service. In spite of the potential, this mission has become difficult in the light of the predominance of Egyptian and Gulf "media capital," the growing influence of the private media and augmentation of networks of interests that protect it and provide its raison d'etre without bearing professional or social responsibilities.

Much evidence asserts that private media (newspapers and television channels) are in the grip of a few businessmen and advertising agencies, which play in the field of politics and propaganda more than they work in business or in media. This means that they don't aim at profit by owning a newspaper or a satellite channel; rather they acquire political status and use such media to intimidate opponents or get closer to the authorities.

The full evidence and observations cannot be listed due to space, but all of it asserts the fact that financing many newspapers and private satellite channels is absolutely disproportionate with its revenue from commercials or sales.

Egyptian and Gulf media capital transfers without accounting, transparency or checking into the sources of its funding and expenditure. Those increasing investments rely upon the idea that media is politics and industry. For owning and managing media is profitable in the field of advertisement and entertainment and offers a tremendous ability to form the interests and shape the views of the public. What is more important is gaining influence and moral authority in multiple aspects and levels, such as:

First: To get closer to prevailing powers in an attempt to contain it or strike a new partnership with it, and sometimes exerting pressure upon it in a way that prevents it from touching the interests of businessmen and the pattern of development and distribution of authority and wealth inherited from the Mubarak era. The problem here lies in the decline of the influence of state media and the prominence of the private media in the battle to influence public opinion and form its trends.

This in turn drove those in power after the January 25 Revolution to approach and cooperate with private media and wager on it.

Thus, those in power approached indirectly businessmen who own this media and they became in time satellite stars, their news and statements about the public sphere published, paving the way, I presume, for them to enter the political arena as members of parliament or political leaders.

Second: Controlling the elite and media personalities through prevention or blocking those who have opposing opinions along with critical trends from appearing while allowing those who support or are pro-authority or the interests of businessmen. Let's remember that there was a time when a number of politicians who do not belong to the Muslim Brotherhood were jumping between channels and appearing in a repetitive and exaggerated way. Afterwards, those persons disappeared or were blocked according to undisclosed agreements or understandings between private and public satellite channels.

There were satellite programme presenters and creative producers who used to appear before and after 25January 2011; then programmes were cancelled for some or the promotion and propaganda shrank for others. Instead other programmes begun to be aired by new presenters with no professional training and media codes of ethics whatsoever. The aim is to have a domesticated political and media elite that lowers the ceiling of media freedom and becomes capable of influencing public opinion through intimidation, coaxing and manipulation of people's feelings and pains.

Third: Public opinion manipulation and disinformation in a way that suits the interests of businessmen and the ruling authority, whatever these are. This requires two things: firstly, it presumes that the masses are mindless idiots; consequently, there must be others who think instead of them, falsifying their awareness and tinkering with their emotions through a domesticated media and political elite.

Masses must be scared from and averse to the Muslim Brotherhood, 25January revolutionaries and the revolution in all its meanings and aspects. For now is the time of legitimacy and building state institutions and its return in force in order to preserve the state and country against foreign plots.

Undoubtedly, people's fear of what happened in Syria, Iraq and Libya drives more citizens towards the military and the police, even if they committed excesses and errors, and even if we leave the state's institutions neither reformed nor renewed. Now, there is no voice that's louder than the voice of confronting the Muslim Brotherhood and eliminating terrorism.

Fourth: Restricting political action in media instigation and mobilisation; in other words, politics regarding the people's majority will become the passive reception of what private and public media broadcast, not participation in parties or even participation in elections. The parties are weak and the challenges of terrorism and the disturbing and idiotic Muslim Brotherhood activities shrink areas of political action. Thus, the media and talk shows become only misleading outlets for both the political elite and the people regarding political action and public debate. The masses follow in a passive way, and from one side. This in turn does not create an original and critical political and social awareness, because all that is presented is subject to the approaches and balances of the satellite channels' owners in most cases. This is in addition to self-censorship, preferences of every channel's crew on topics for discussion, and the chosen participants, which always concur with the preferences of those controlling the media, whether they are businessmen or advertisers.


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