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Egypt: Political-media money and parliament

The trinity of money, politics and media, which looks set to win large in parliament, is a clear threat to public service media and likely will drive it into the ground if allowed

Mohamed Shuman , Thursday 19 Nov 2015
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Views: 1768

Most media experts and professors, along with the audience, complain of media chaos that led to encroaching on the private life of citizens, a decline in media credibility, offending all media personnel, and — the most dangerous aspect — a turning away from following the media and a loss of respect for it.

I believe that the media chaos is due to the marriage between capital, politics and the media, where less than 10 businessmen own the most important advertising agencies and the most followed means of media, and maybe the most influential. Some of them own and manage parties at the same time in a phenomenon that crystallised after the January Revolution and that can be called "political-media money."

Within this phenomenon, capital employs politics and media to defend its interests, meaning that both media and politics are just tools for realising capital's interests. Consequently, capital does not care about the professional or ethical in media or politics. It deals in buying, selling and searching for profits, regardless of people's concerns and interests, or media personnel concerns, their love towards their profession and their endeavours to defend freedom of speech and expression.

In short, pragmatism controls capital's behaviour towards media and politics. I am speaking here about media and politics because it is impossible to separate media from politics, and it is hard to have politics without the public domain and free media.

Previously, I have warned of the dominance of the trinity of money, media and politics over parliament before the holding of the first stage of legislative elections, due to the huge financial and media capabilities of this trinity.

In addition, it is capable of circumventing regulations on the elections and the permissible limits in financing electoral campaigns for individual candidates. Unfortunately, this is what happened in the first stage. I can claim that OnTV broadcast propaganda for the Free Egyptians Party and its candidates that far exceed the permissible maximum limit in electoral campaigns, if the real market value of these advertisements were estimated.

The Media Performance Evaluation Commission identified four satellite channels — namely, OnTv, Al-Faraeen, Al-Kahera Walnas and CBC — as committing excesses. But the strange thing is that the Higher Elections Committee (HEC) demanded only that these channels apologise, in a real and flagrant waste of its credibility, and in violation of the law that should be applied to all.

It is noticeable that this committee, which supervises the elections, did not impose penalties on parties and independent candidates who used political money in influencing voters in a way that is proportionate to the many incidents observed by the media in different voting centres.

I hope that the HEC exerts more effort in the second stage of the elections in recording all forms of excesses and applying the law very strictly on everyone. There is no need for an apology approach, which is not suitable in the face of media chaos and the influence of the trinity of politics, media and money.

However, I expect that the trinity of money, politics and media will gain a large and influential number of parliamentary seats. Perhaps it will harvest the majority of seats, or come close to it. Thus, this will pave the way for it to form the cabinet or at least have an effective mass in parliament that enables it to affect the process of legislating and monitoring the government's performance and that of state bodies.

Of course, the media, subordinate to capital, will serve its representatives in parliament, manipulate the awareness of the public and drive it to support the ideas and demands of the trinity of politics, media and money.

In this context, I am worried about the anticipated effects of political-media money members of parliament standing against any attempt to achieve social justice or to support the public sector and its development. It is likely that the trinity's members of parliament will be against any expansion in the state's role in the economy, and also against any encroachment on the advantages that were acquired by the practitioners of crony capitalism under Mubarak.

In the political sphere, I believe that the trinity will stand firm against Egyptian foreign policy moves aimed at increasing cooperation with Arab Gulf countries and fulfilling Egypt's commitments towards defending pan-Arab security. This trinity may also hinder Egypt's approaches towards Russia, India and China for the benefit of continuing inherited relations with Washington from the Mubarak era.

In organising the media, trinity members of parliament will not take a stand in support of issuing laws that activate what was written in the constitution in a way that ensures media freedom and protects it from monopoly and the predominance of advertisements. On the contrary, they will work for issuing laws that assert the monopolistic nature of some media entities and some practices of advertising agencies.

I also fear that those members will wage a war on state media and tighten the noose on it in a way that will not enable it to reform and develop in order to be a public service media, leaving it unable to compete, burdened with debts and administrative problems.

Undoubtedly, it is in the interest of the trinity of politics, media and money that state media be sold or liquidated and the process of dwarfing it continue. For developing it will harm the dominance of this trinity over the hearts and minds of Egyptians, as well as over the biggest chunk of advertisement revenues.   

Here the trinity will almost be repeating its stance towards the public sector where it opposed and is still opposing with all means available developing public sector factories and companies. It has bought all that could be bought in the privatisation process and benefitted from it.

I expect that the trinity will not demand the privatisation of Egyptian Radio and Television Union (ERTU) or the national newspapers —which are suffering financially — because they are economically unfeasible. Consequently, it will continue to hinder their development and rob the state media of its cadres. It is a legally covered robbery where hundreds of media personnel, trained in the state media, work in the private media. These form the biggest percentage of personnel in the private media where very few of media personnel were trained by private media.

I hope that the state realises these dangers and realises the importance of keeping intact the Egyptian Radio and Television Union and the national newspapers, after restructuring and developing them in a way that represents a refined model of public service media able to compete with private media and the Arabic-speaking foreign media. I say "hope" because the state does not have a vision or a conception that can be applied in the field of media.

The writer is dean of the Faculty of Communication and Mass Media at the British University in Egypt (BUE).

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