New faces but old strategy in Egypt’s media management

The exit of several A-list journalists in Egypt is part of a government scheme to replace traditional powerhouses with pro-government young professionals.
Friday 14/12/2018
Lamis Hadidi, host of “Houna al asima” (“Here is the Capital”) on the satellite channel CBC. (Lamis Hadidi’s facebook page)
Lamis Hadidi, host of “Houna al asima” (“Here is the Capital”) on the satellite channel CBC. (Lamis Hadidi’s facebook page)

The media landscape in Egypt is in turmoil after the sidelining of prominent media personalities. The exit of several A-list journalists from the media scene is part of a government scheme to replace traditional powerhouses in media institutions with pro-government young professionals.

The number of popular anchors sidelined ballooned recently despite praise for shows that discuss important issues. Most recently, Lamis Hadidi, host of “Houna al asima” (“Here is the Capital”) on the satellite channel CBC; Wael Al-Ibrachi, host of the “Al’achira Masa” news programme on Dream; and Jaber al-Qaramouti, host of “Manchette” on Al-Nahar channel, have been axed.

One of the objectives of reshuffling the media scene and obviating influential anchors is to weaken channels that depend on the popularity of their programmes and shift the power to DMC News and On Sport, satellite channels that are practically owned by government-affiliated entities.

DMC News recently merged with Extra News, becoming the state’s news channel, and On Sport replaced DMC Sport. The next stage would be the scrapping of talk shows and transforming programming on the remaining satellite channels to just offer social, entertainment, art and drama programmes.

Sources indicated that government circles recognised the difficulty of communicating with the public “through the current figures in the media landscape. It has become necessary to remove them and bring in new young faces who are neutral, did not collaborate with previous regimes and have not taken controversial positions that might hinder their credibility, so that they can be accepted by the public.”

Most of the “new faces” have participated in the youth congresses that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has periodically. Among them are Amr Khalil, Mohamed Abdel Rahman, Mourouj Ibrahim, Aya Abdelrahman, Dina Zahra and Donia Salem. Some of them, such as Rami Radwan and Iman El Hosary, have started hosting shows on DMC.

Government circles perceive most A-list journalists as the onerous legacy of the past. Most of them were in former President Hosni Mubarak’s camp and some, as the January 2011 revolution raged, flip-flopped between supporting and turning against him to stay relevant and contain angry crowds.

People in media circles said the government is trying to exclude people who have had a large role in Sisi attaining power but the president has rejected the implication that state institutions are indebted to those media people.

Mohamed el-Morsi, professor of media at Cairo University, said the sidelining of broadcasters known for their loyalty to the regime “is required because they discredit the media and the government and that the changes taking place in the media scene would be useless unless some balance between pros and cons is achieved.”

Last month, at a youth congress at Cairo University, Sisi wondered aloud: “Why are the messages of the government and state institutions not reaching the people? Why do they not believe that there are achievements? Is the issue with people themselves or with those transmitting the messages?”

Sisi’s musings had direct consequences for media personalities whom people criticised and accused of failing to bend public opinion regarding the challenges facing the country and of the government’s achievements.

For some media figures, the decision to end the programmes was sudden and unexpected. Hadidi and her TV show were on a summer break and she announced a new format for her show. She said British Ambassador to Cairo John Casson would be a guest. However, a few minutes before airtime, she was told the programme had been delayed. No explanations were given.

It looks like that the same method will be used to remove well-known media personalities even in entities in which the government is part of the management team, such as TV channel Al Yawm 7, which is owned by the Egyptian Media Group, where security personnel have interests.

Journalist Mai Al-Shami accused an Egyptian Media Group senior manager of sexual harassment. The event began a widespread debate in Egyptian media that revealed signs of company plans to end the appointments of some senior people in management and in the editorial office.

The company will use the scandal caused by the harassment allegations as an excuse to get rid of senior cadres, accusing them of harming the company’s reputation. To give credence to the theory, media people point out that Shami escalated her campaign to include other senior administrators. Egyptian Media Group has denied the accusations.

The rapid changes seem to suggest that the blacklist is still open. Observers say removing media people with years in the profession to make room for inexperienced journalists does not bode well for freedom of speech and freedom of opinion in Egypt.

The observers said the real crisis of the managers of Egyptian media scene lies in their refusal to accept that winning public sympathy requires some criticism.

They need to stop pushing for positive coverage of the government’s actions and dealing with media outlets as if they were exclusive mouthpieces for the government.

The media must express people’s concerns and problems. Morsi said the government’s experiment faces tremendous hurdles, including that the new people being promoted are relative unknowns. These recruits will find it difficult to sway public opinion and could fail in transmitting the government’s messages.