After following media coverage inside and outside Egypt on the Muslim Brotherhood’s threats of igniting a revolution of the wretched on 11 November, I can say that there are strange exaggerations driven by two groups: the first are those good-willed people similar to the bear that killed the gardener, and the second group is the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters.
The first group is the most important, because it disseminates and broadcasts its media messages in newspapers, on satellite channels and internet sites working inside the country, and influences wide segments of the public.
This media coverage by the “bears” has repeatedly spoken of the expected failure of the Muslim Brotherhood’s call for demonstrations or a revolution on 11/11. It has also attacked the Muslim Brotherhood’s opportunism and their attempt to exploit the rise in prices in order to destroy stability and tarnish Egypt’s image abroad.
Consequently, the media has called upon citizens not to respond to or engage with the Muslim Brotherhood’s subversive calls. All this is sound and logical. However, the media should present these messages in lower doses and in various styles to the audience, instead of through an orator or religious advocate who is speaking to the audience through screens and giving his religious rulings on anything and everything.
Speaking too much about one issue and using the same style can lead to boredom and a lack of interest, and may also lead to unexpected results or have an adverse effect.
One unintended result can be to give the issue more weight than it deserves, making the public fearful of leaving their homes on 11/11 (i.e., exaggerated attention on this event is transformed into scaring people away).
This scenario has been repeated several times in the years following the 2011 revolution and even during the era of former president Hosni Mubarak.
In 2008, media outlets warned the public not to respond to calls for strikes on 6 April, prompting many to stay indoors and not send their children to school, which contributed to the success of the calls for a strike.
Not only does media exaggeration lead to misunderstandings among the public, but it can also put pressure on security chiefs and government officials, affecting their decision-making processes.
But what’s more strange lies in the unexpected consequences of media exaggerations in two matters: first it may lead some people to sympathise with the Muslim Brotherhood or drive them to know more about the event through other means of media, or social media, according to the mechanism of sympathising with the victim or that the forbidden is unspeakably desirable.
Second is that exaggerated media coverage creates pressures on the media itself and its personnel. This means that due to repeatedly tackling the same issue and warning the people, media personnel will themselves believe in the gravity of the day and will deal with any coverage of 11/11 as a big and major event.
When the promised day comes and everybody discovers the mediocrity of the event and the falsity of the Muslim Brotherhood’s threats, the majority of the “bears” media personnel group will believe that their efforts in raising awareness and warning people were among the most important reasons in the failure of the Muslim Brotherhood’s call!
In reality, there were many calls made by the Muslim Brotherhood post-30 June that didn’t succeed because the people lost faith in the Muslim Brotherhood discourse.
All the previous Muslim Brotherhood calls for revolution or the overthrow of the incumbent regime failed miserably, but unfortunately due to media exaggerations, the country, the security bodies and the media became confused. This was because of exaggeration in the warning, scaring people and consequently alarming the government itself.
In brief, my message is that in light of the scientific rules of crisis management, it is advisable neither to play down nor overestimate the anticipated danger, if there is a real danger. Events should be dealt with quietly, relying on planning and scientific thinking, and what’s more important is getting verified data and having emotional stability.
Patriotic media plays an extremely important role in being accurate, disseminating true information, and achieving emotional stability among audiences, decision-makers, and media personnel themselves.
The writer is dean of the Faculty of Communication and Mass Media at the British University in Egypt (BUE).