Friday, December 2, 2011
While nearly all businesses in Egypt have suffered following the popular revolt that led to the removal of former President Hosni Mubarak nearly a year ago, that did not apply to the media industry. Nearly every week, there is either a new newspaper or a satellite television channel coming out. By Khaled Dawoud, director of Al Sawt al Hurr

 

" src="sites/all/modules/wysiwyg/plugins/break/images/spacer.gif" align="BOTTOM" border="0" height="1" width="1">Like other authoritarian regimes, Mubarak placed strict restrictions on freedom of expression and establishment of political parties. Al-Ahram, Al-Akhbar and Al-Gomhouriya, the most widely circulated three daily newspapers, as well as scores of other publications, are government-owned, and Mubarak personally appointed their editors-in-chief. More important, the state-owned television and radio were under tight control and were used as propaganda tools for Mubarak’s regime. That relatively disappeared after his forced removal on 11 February 2011, and Egyptians are now enjoying a new level of freedom of expression they never experienced before.  Rules were eased to establish political parties, and their numbers rose from 22 to nearly 60 in a few months, and each has its own newspaper or even satellite channel.

New regime
However, critics maintain that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) led by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who took over power from Mubarak, had also placed limits on freedom of expression, going as far jailing bloggers and journalists critical of the military rule, and banning the circulation of a few newspapers when they carry reports deemed extremely critical of SCAF. Privately-owned satellite television channels have also complained that army generals have placed pressure on them to ban certain opposition figures from appearing on their shows.

Privately-owned media
More than half of syndicated journalists in Egypt work for government-owned publications, which are overstaffed and continue to be seen as a mouthpiece for the regime, now SCAF instead of Mubarak. A number of newspapers owned by businessmen, such as Al-Masry Al-Youm and Al-Shorouq, have managed to compete and even overcome the circulation of government-owned newspapers during Mubarak’s last years, mainly because they reported on issues of concern to the majority of Egyptians, unlike the propaganda. They continued to do well after Mubarak’s removal, and are now facing competition from new privately-owned papers. Newspapers owned by political parties are relatively poor and are mainly used to support their leaders and programs.

Towards more quality
However, experts believe that the majority of Egypt’s newspapers lack common international objectivity standards, and depend, in many cases, on publishing rumors rather than facts. That is where organizations like Al-Sawt Al-Hurr come in. In partnership with Free Press Unlimited, Al-Sawt Al-Hurr provides training for Egyptian journalists on international standards for quality journalism, legal protection and the use of the internet to expand the scope of their reporting and checking of facts. As the media industry booms in Egypt, there is even more need for such programs.