Brilliant article providing insight into how media in Egypt is run. Posted by The Guardian's Austin Mackell, read on.
As Egypt's deeply flawedparliamentary electionsapproach and the revolution struggles to maintain momentum, the battle over the media – and TV in particular – is of great importance. In a country with an illiteracy rate of 40%, television is the main andmost trusted sourceof news. This is not lost on Egypt's activists, who are busy looking for ways to reach those outside the informed and critical Twitter/Facebook circles that have been thecentral means of spreading dissentso far.
Alaa Abd El Fatah, the prominent blogger who iscurrently imprisoned, was among a group of activists hoping to set up a nonprofit broadcaster in Egypt. Such a channel would still be vulnerable to direct military intervention (troops have entered TV studios on at least three occasions, and in the case of al-Jazeera Mubasher they seized equipment andforced the channel off air). It would, however, prevent the military rulers and other establishment figures leaning on a single owner or group of owners to control the channel's coverage.
That practice – in some ways more insidious than outright censorship – is said to be rife. The activists are not alone in making this accusation; prominent journalistYosri Fodarecently cancelled his showAkher Kallam("The Last Word") saying that if he couldn't tell the truth, he would say nothing at all. Unfortunately, such journalistic integrity is far from universal in the Egyptian media. More common is what Foda described as "cheap and propaganda-style journalism". The most extreme form of this is to be found in the government media which have made themselves accomplices in state terror.
It is hard to imagine a more perfect example of media malpractice thanthe events of 9 October. Unarmed protesters were being shot and crushed to death under army vehicles, literally within spitting distance from the famousMaspero building, where state media is headquartered.
Meanwhile, inside, state TV anchor Rasha Magdy was reporting the opposite: armed "Christians" had attacked soldiers, killing three, she said. She went on to call for "honourable citizens" to come to the streets and defend the army – directly inciting sectarian violence.
State TV's malpractices, including showing tranquil shots of the Nile during the January uprising whilemassive protests filled Tahrir Squarejust a few blocks away, and coverage of the 6 October holiday celebrating Egypt's "victory" in the 1973 war with Israel can border on the absurd – though in reality they are no laughing matter.
A former state TV employee told me recently how explicit commands would filter down from management to report a story a certain way, or to ignore it, or to wait for an official statement – the reading of which would be as far as coverage on that issue went. "I felt like a liar for a long time before I decided to quit," she said, adding: "We didn't actually cover Tunisia until Ben Ali fled".
Despite a protest and sit-in by some state TV employees in the months immediately after Mubarak's fall, calling for wage increases and a purge of the higher echelons, this culture of obedience has survived but with one distinct change. Before the instructions had come primarily from the ministry of information; now, they come almost exclusively from the military.
Just as worrying as these workplace practices however, was the manner in which my acquaintance got her job in the first place – through a connection she describes as her "godfather" in the organisation. This is typical of the culture inside Maspero, where networks of nepotism, rather than professional merit are what determine employment and promotion.
These networks of client-patron relations – reminiscent of ancient Rome or the modern-day mafia – are not limited to state TV, but infect every element of Egyptian bureaucracy, business and society and are the wire that holds the old order in place. Before this revolution can be complete they will all need to be challenged. The state broadcaster is a perfect place to start.