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Is Egypt's TV media moving away from politics?

Omar Halawa , Saturday 28 May 2016
TV media
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In the past two weeks, Egypt's media scene witnessed two surprise-deals indicating that the country's privately-owned TV media may be shifting away from political content in favour of entertainment programming.

Questions loom over the future of private media in Egypt and the reasons behind the aforementioned deals, with observers speculating over whether the deals are for purely commercial purposes or are serving a hidden political agenda.

The media scene is currently facing financial hurdles as some 120 channels are facing off in an advertising market worth only EGP 3.5 billion.

Last week, Egyptian business tycoon Naguib Sawiris announced that he sold the privately-owned ONTV channel, which he established before the January 2011 uprising, to Ahmed Abu Hashima, an Egyptian businessman who also owns the largest share in private newspaper El-Youm El-Sabei.

Abu Hashima entered the media scene after gaining prominence as a new investor in the Egyptian steel market following the 2011 uprising.  

The deal comes at a time when the state is working to issue a unified law for the media. Investors are anticipating the legislation to see how they will modify their organisations in accordance with the new regulations.

For Naglaa El-Emary, an Egyptian journalist and a former director for the BBC's Middle East Special programme, a new phase is on the horizon for Egyptian media.

"It seems that the type of media that was produced following the 25 January [revolution] is coming to an end, and now a new era is starting with new concepts and calculations," El-Emary told Ahram Online.

"Bear in mind that there is no TV channel in Egypt that is completely profitable, so each businessman who decided to establish a TV channel did it to defend his own interests or reach certain goals," she explained.

"When Sawiris decided to sell ONTV, he had his own calculations, and maybe he was under pressure, as he said in press statements that the channel was not useful for him,” she said.

“Abu Hashima will definitely try to change its hard news identity and introduce more entertainment content.”

The ONTV channel started earlier this year to introduce a slight change in its programming, becoming one of two private channels broadcasting the Egyptian football premier league and announcing it would air four drama series in the holy month of Ramadan.

Abu Hashima's media firm, Media of Egyptians, issued a statement after the deal was sealed with Sawiris, saying that "it is part of a series of new projects the firm is aiming to launch, such as producing drama series and new digital media websites."

Media expert Hisham Kassem believes the main reason behind the Sawiris-Abu Hashima deal is political.

"I think that the regime is displeased with the media,” Kassem, a former publisher of the privately owned El-Masry El-Youm newspaper, told Ahram Online.

“Abu Hashima, who has good ties with the regime, decided to buy the channel in order to shift its content, especially since ONTV has some TV hosts who are considered opposition voices, such as Lillian Dawoud and Amr Khafage,” Kassem explained.

“So you will find that these kinds of shows are vanishing over time."

On Tuesday, private channels CBC and Al-Nahar announced they were merging under the supervision of one holding company that will be responsible for "drawing a new strategy for the two channels," according to officials from both outlets.

The owners of CBC and Al-Nahar have indicated that the two channels are also shifting away from solely focusing on politics.

Both channels, which were founded in 2011, include a number of renowned journalists and TV hosts who mainly report on political and hard news content, including Lamis El-Hadidi, Adel Hammouda, Khairy Ramadan, Magdy El-Galad and Khaled Salah.

"We will never stop presenting politics or news," Waleed El-Essawy, the head of CBC's board, said in a TV interview a few hours after the deal with Al-Nahar was announced.

El-Essawy said that the holding company will be reallocating investor funds in order to draw up a new strategy to go in line with the aim of implementing a shift in programming.

"For instance, CBC has a huge library of drama, and we are only able to air six series when we can be airing 12. We can invest more in introducing drama together [with Al-Nahar] instead of buying it from producers and competing with each other," El-Essawy said.

Under the new deal, the holding company will be responsible for the two channels and four other companies that offered advertising concessions and services for both channels.

Amr El-Kahky, board member of Al-Nahar, said in the same TV interview that the holding company is considering buying the airing rights for the Egyptian football league, as both channels have “significant experience in sports coverage.”

El-Kahky explained that the holding company is also approaching the Gulf media market, whether through producing special content or through launching a channel, especially since the market has potential for receiving new content and advertising space.  

Samy Abdel-Aziz, a former dean of the Faculty of Mass Communication at Cairo University, believes that shifting to entrainment does not mean the channels will stop presenting political shows or hard news.

"When TV channels decide they will produce drama series, this does not mean that it will affect the news industry, because politics can be tackled in any form of entertainment, whether a drama series or a talk show," Abdel-Aziz told Ahram Online.

Kassem, however, does not seem optimistic about the immediate future of Egypt's media scene.

"I believe that we are moving back to the 1960s TV standards, when news and political issues were presented as supportive platforms for the regime, and the state wanted people to focus more on entertainment," Kassem said.

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