Egyptians do not trust their media

The plan of Egyptian satellite channels to expand their Arab influence by introducing two new channels − eXtranews and ONlive TV − collided with the official desire to control them.
Saturday 24/08/2019
Billboards advertise “Watch iT,” Egypt’s first video-streaming app, in Cairo. (AFP)
The next challenge. Billboards advertise “Watch iT,” Egypt’s first video-streaming app, in Cairo. (AFP)

CAIRO - A study by the Department of Mass Communication Research of the National Centre for Social and Criminal Research in Egypt reported that 40% of young Egyptian respondents said they watch Arabic satellite channels and that 11% were attracted to foreign TV channels because they distrust local channels and find their content boring.

Although the study, which involved a sample of 1,500 people in Egypt aged 18-35, pointed out that 49% of respondents said they watched Egyptian channels, they were focused on movies, serials and football games but uninterested in political, social and economic programmes on those channels.

This means that almost half of Egyptians do not turn to local media controlled by official bodies who seek to promote official policies.

The government centre responsible for the study called for improving Egyptian media and content and insisted on the importance of having an Egyptian public satellite channel in tune with the spirit of the times by offering objective presentations of all opinions.

It stressed the need to produce content focused on the concerns and aspirations of young Egyptians so they can rely on local media to develop political and social awareness.

Hassan Emad Mekkawi, professor of media at Cairo University, said Egyptian satellite channels suffer from relying on a single style and approach in dealing with fast unfolding events. Thus, there are often the same topics, issues, questions and answers — and even the same guests — on all channels, which lead to mistrust and causes audiences to shun the channels.

Mekkawi pointed out that alternative opinions were absent from the media scene in Egypt so people tune to other platforms where some degree of diversity and professionalism is available to satisfy their desire for the truth about what is going on around them, even if those platforms do not have a high rate of confidence.

Even circles close to the government express displeasure with Egyptian state-owned news media, regarding them aimless and weak.

Poet Farouk Guweida, who is also a contributor to Al-Ahram newspaper, said in a recent article published by private newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm that “Egypt’s public information ranks last in terms of performance, professionalism and serious coverage.” Ironically, Al-Ahram had refused to publish Guweida’s article.

Many state-owned media outlets in Egypt failed to keep up with fast-evolving events in Sudan, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, Syria, Yemen, Iran and the Gulf. Their reporting on those events was superficial at best and well below the analytical depth and seriousness required by the importance of these events to Egypt.

About 10 years ago, Egyptian channels enjoyed widespread popularity in the Arab world. Now, they have become unable to deal with targeted campaigns led by channels financed by Qatar and Turkey on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Egyptian channels have limited their role to denying rumours perpetrated by the other channels without going into extensive discussion to convince the public of the wisdom of the government’s positions and choices.

Observers said the weakness of state-owned media led to the loss of many foreign political battles. The points of view purported by countries opposed to the Egyptian government are dominating public opinion in Egypt and overshadow official attempts to correct the public mental image of what is happening at home.

The sympathy shown by Algerian football fans during the recent Africa Cup of Nations tournament in Egypt towards former Egyptian player Mohamed Aboutrika, an analyst on the Qatari channel beIN sports, illustrated the government’s failure to deliver its messages. Aboutrika has been placed on Egypt’s terror list because of suspected ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, his lawyer told Reuters.

Fans cheered Aboutrika’s name during the games, which proves their vulnerability to the narrative developed by Muslim Brotherhood’s media that describe the former professional player as a “politically oppressed individual” rather than a citizen whose fate would be decided by the legal system. Aboutrika lives in Doha.

The problem is not limited to reporting about foreign events but involves news of terrorist events at home. Egyptian viewers find it difficult to find relevant content on local media channels. On many occasions, other Arab channels were quicker than Egyptian stations in reporting unfolding events in Egypt.

Mekkawi explained that the plan of Egyptian satellite channels to expand their Arab influence by introducing two new channels — eXtranews and ONlive TV — collided with the official desire to control them. Both channels were well-received at first but ONlive had to close and eXtranews was kept as a mouthpiece for the government.

Journalist Mohamed Said Mahfouz said young Egyptians have been attracted to various symbols and figures. Mahfouz, a member of the Training and Education Committee of the Journalists’ Union, said diversification of digital content display and continuous innovation in terms of presentation and ease of use by online media have made winning back television audiences nearly impossible.