The Media Diversity Institute (MDI), in conjunction with the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), organized a roundtable discussion on Wednesday, March 12, on media professionalism after June 30. The event was held at the Safir Hotel in Doqqi.
The roundtable discussion was well attended by the public and the media. The panel featured leading media figures and academics such as Hafez al-Mirazi, Hossam al-Sukkari, Khaled al-Balshi, Safwat al-Alam, Abir al-Saadi, Ezz al-Din Ibrahim, Emad al-Din Hussein, Liliane Daoud, and Yasser Abd al-Aziz. The discussion was moderated by Ayman al-Sayyad.
The meeting was opened by MDI and CIHRS. The value of the media and its role in the current period was highlighted, with particular emphasis on the grave effects of the increasing rhetoric of incitement to violence and hatred in the media as well as the media’s negative role in exacerbating the political polarization in the country.
The moderator, journalist Ayman al-Sayyad, started the discussion by presenting to the speakers several questions which had been posted by remote participants on Twitter, allowing the speakers time to respond and to offer their views of media professionalism.
Safwat al-Alam, a professor of media at Cairo University, considered the crux of the problem to be the subjective standards used to select media workers, which have little to do with their academic and professional qualifications. Al-Alam said that the performance of the media has declined in the recent period, becoming “a media that presents a sole narrative, which is ill-suited to the democratic transition. It lacks balance and suffers from a set of serious media ills, most importantly the reliance on leaks”.
Abir al-Saadi, a member of the Journalists Syndicate, attributed the crisis to the lack of self-regulation in the media profession, as well as internal problems which affect the working environment in this field. As such, according to al-Saadi, journalists should focus on solving such internal problems before blaming outside actors for their lack of professionalism.
Emad al-Din Hussein, the managing editor of al-Shorouk, said that the editorial policies of media outlets are very often determined by the ownership of these outlets, and this is particularly true in recent months. In addition, the media has increasingly come to fill the role that should be played by political parties, as parties with influence and a public presence are notably absent.
Journalist Khaled al-Balshi, the editor-in-chief of al-Bidaya, which recently suspended publication, reiterated this point, saying that owners of media outlets are the ones who craft editorial policies, even if the laws do not allow for this. Freedom of the press has thus come to depend on the owners of outlets having diverse views, rather the media providing a platform from which everyone can express their views.
Hafez al-Mirazi rejected what he sees as state dominance of the media. “In order to have proper media in Egypt, we must have only one or two public channels, and there must be an FM radio station in every city or district to represent it,” he said. “We don’t have free and independent media—the government and national security control al the frequencies.” Al-Mirazi added that when the whole system is failing, we should not be surprised that the media is dysfunctional, too. “Television channels are created by administrative decree and shut down by security decree,” he said. “To this day, no one can open a channel without a security decree”.
Yasser Abd al-Aziz, a media expert, agreed with al-Mirazi’s refusal to hold the media and media workers solely responsible for the current situation. Abd al-Aziz expressed the belief that politicians, security bodies, legislators, takfiri Islamist groups, and media workers should share the blame, as well as the owners of media outlets and even the public, which encouraged the media’s unprofessional performance.
Abd al-Aziz said that the solution is to implement the constitutional provisions that call for the creation of a national media commission, reiterating that there should be no interference in the freedom media by any political, administrative, or security body or authority. While rejecting the idea of suspending media outlets, he added that such closures cannot be viewed in isolation from the lack of a media system and regulatory bodies, as well as the terrorist threat facing the country.
Liliane Daoud said that the attack on the media and accusations of incitement were biased, stating that it has never been the media’s job to offer solutions to societal issues, but rather to highlight their existence. Daoud expressed her dissatisfaction with the current situation that gives media workers only two options: either disappear from the scene and stop working, or work within the permissible boundaries and stop reporting on political news.
Referring to the state-owned media, Ezz al-Din Ibrahim, the managing editor of the state-owned al-Ahram, said that the national press today could be an exemplar for the ability to change, but the major problem is the dearth of training and specific programs, as well as the lack of a clear editorial policy. Ibrahim feared that the media was returning to the pre-January 25 situation by following the Mubarak-era pattern of declining professionalism and a lack of objectivity and credibility. He admitted that although three years have passed, the national press still has not acknowledged its lack of professionalism and called this “the heart of the problem”.
Hossam al-Sukkari said that the media’s current problem could be summarized as a lack of diversity at all levels, noting that the current state of the media fails to reflect the geographic, social, or political diversity of Egyptian society. He concluded by saying that readers and viewers, rather than the syndicate or media workers, are the ones who ultimately impose the rules of the game, for it is the public that chooses to follow a certain outlet, remove the channel from the television receiver, or turn it off.
The roundtable discussion was attended by nearly 200 people and was covered in 150 news stories by some 70 media outlets, including private and state-owned newspapers, radio and television stations, and online outlets.
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