Yasser Abdel Aziz is a journalist and media analyst who gave several speeches on the importance of media in the world. Daily News Egypt spoke to Abdel Aziz in interview on media performance on 2016. The analyst provided an overview about the Egyptian media’s current situation and its expected developments under the new legislations approved in late 2016, as well as his view regarding them.
How do you evaluate the performance of the Egyptian media throughout the past few years, particularly in 2016?
First of all, if we come to evaluate the performance of the Egyptian media in the past period, we should view it from four angles and distinguish between positives, negatives, challenges, and fears.
Regarding the positives seen last year, let’s start with the legislative level which introduced a new legal system regulating Egyptian media as stipulated by the Constitution. Two important laws were issued which established new regulations for the press and media institutions: the media institutions law and media syndicate law. These two laws were not available before.
For the first time, these legislations allowed independent authorities to manage the media field in Egypt. Also, for the first time a regulatory body was assigned to administrate the Egyptian media, after the executive body kept regulating it for decades.
Additionally, for the first time since the 1960s, the audio and visual media outlets owned by the state will be managed by independent authorities and not executive bodies. Previously, they had been working under the supervision of the Ministry of Information, which was annulled. The same goes for Egypt’s eight national newspapers managed by Supreme Press Council affiliated to the Shura Council.
Media outlets are currently being supervised by the National Authority for Media, while the press is supervised by the National Authority for Press. Both are independent in accordance to the media institution law.
Moreover, it is also the first time in Egypt’s history for the media to have its own syndicate, as it was the only profession that did not have one. This had meant that there was an absence of the media’s code of conduct, and no means to hold journalists accountable or to discipline them.
The Media Syndicate will officially be established within the first quarter of 2017.
In addition to all that, many new media institutions have been established throughout the year. Their establishment brought hope to media workers and generated new content for readers.
In terms of issues that arose in the media sphere, the Egyptian media had seen a wave of consolidation, monopolies, and ownership transfer in 2016.
The second issue is the violation of press freedom, and the concept of relating freedom of expression to national security. This caused the arrest of journalists on charges of terrorism suspicion, the issuance of closure warrants for newspapers, pressuring TV anchors, and confiscating printed issues. On the top of that came the unprecedented court sentence against the Press Syndicate leaders.
Thirdly, a remarkable reduction was seen in content quality, as well as the deterioration of the performance of those working in the media. There were a lot of cases of invasion of privacy, as well as the usage of offensive phrases which was frequent throughout the year and was not widely addressed.
Fourthly, until now we do not have a wise media voice to address regional or world media.
Despite all the positives I have mentioned about the new legislations, there are articles that are not concluded yet. Those are significant as they include the work regulations, rights of media workers and journalists, and their freedoms.
Do you think that new legislations will crack down on the field in the upcoming years?
No, I do not. The Constitution bans punishing people for freedom of expression. We are still waiting on the government to annul certain punishments in the penal code for media violations that are unconstitutional. This legislation was recommended by the national committee that prepares media projects through the unified media law.
In addition to that, we still don’t have a law that determines what kind of information in Egypt can be circulated, and what is restricted.
In 2016, several media outlets were owned by businessmen. Do you think this will be a trend in the upcoming period to unify the media agendas?
No, it is normal that private media is owned or led by investors and businessmen. We always say that in every country, there should be both types of general and private media outlets. However, it is preferred that those investors or businessmen be from the same field, but in Egypt there are only economic investors and businessmen.
Following the flotation of the Egyptian pound, Egypt is facing hard economic conditions. Do you think that those would lead to work dismissals or cutting printed issues?
Definitely yes. Media workers and journalists are witnessing the worst period in their professional life, due to reduction in the money allocated for the media industry, and also due to the reduction in economic activities that used to supply media institutions with money. Journalists or media workers will face dismissals or salary reductions due to their institutions’ expenses and the hike in prices. That is also one of the reasons why businessmen ownership for media outlets is needed.
Do you believe that the independent media is leading a campaign against the state with the aim of exaggerating problems?
I don’t have any information about whether there is a political agenda behind any media content or not, but there are rules to the profession that should be applied. However, I did see media ethics and guidelines violated. I suggest controlling media standards, not content.
How do you see the future of media amid the political conditions?
The country is facing terrorism, economic fears, disputes over the Constitution, internal and external pressures, and examining development projects. If all these challenges become resolved, the relation between the state and the media will improve. But if not, the opposite will occur, which we do not wish. It is normal that such disputes occur between the state and the media amid all these challenges.