When I became a member of the National Democratic Party (NDP) in 2003 and before I resigned from it on 11 February 2011, there was a constant complaint in the party about the press, satellite channels and the media in general as being hostile and distorting the image of the regime.
This concern had started long before that. I realised this in 1997 when the Egyptian Radio and Television Union asked me to host a programme titled Behind Events. I agreed on one condition: I would operate with complete independence. This was respected until February 2011 when the programme ended.
Mine was not the only programme. Dr Taha Abdel-Meguid was also asked to host a show that was called Dialogue Circle, as well as the late Nasr Nassar’s Face to Face. These two shows later changed and new ones were added, including the popular Just like Your House which was produced by a private company and was the first-ever talk show.
Nonetheless, complaints about the media within the party – and the state itself – continued, and it surprised me every time. I often asked why is the state complaining when it has 28 television channels and theoretically nine national institutions that issue dozens of publications and national newspapers – which are supposed to be unbiased, objective and professional. It also has critical mass that prevents the private and independent media from criticising the state and its party.
My logic was as follows: the problem is not the media or the audience, but the message, source and tools of communication belonging to the state. The message of the state was structurally warped regarding the political system and its ability to assimilate current events.
The other flaw was the economic system, distribution of wealth, etc. The source usually – Safwat El-Sherif, for example – was himself evidence of the system’s bankruptcy since he, along with a large number of editors-in-chief of national papers and other media leaders, remained in our face without change or rotation.
When there was change or rotation, they were replaced with figures who were media and intellectually inept. Even more critically, the resources enabling them to compete with the private sector that was producing media stars every day were depleted.
I am telling you this long story because the same scenario is repeating itself today. Instead of the NDP, it’s the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and the government of Hisham Qandil instead of Ahmed Nazif, and in existing institutions not obsolete ones.
It is the same rhetoric: everything is good and dandy – or on the way to becoming that. The only difference is that the media is distorting the picture and making the people despair; it is most probably implementing a foreign agenda; it is directing the masses and inciting mayhem and fanaticism; it supports the liberals and secularists against the forces of Islam and Sharia.
There is nothing new in these accusations, but what is a serious development are the assaults on media figures and the media city. While there has been similar pressure on private channels, physical assaults on the Media Production City occurring as this article goes to press by supporters of Hazem Salah Abu-Ismail, or “Hazemoun” as they prefer to be called, are unprecedented.
Despite the violence in dealing with critics in the media, the supporters of political Islam, whether the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), Salafists or jihadists of all kinds, own or control an immense media arsenal. They have two channels – Al-Nas (The People) and Misr 25 (Egypt 25) – that clearly support the MB, and a long list of others such as Rahma, Al-Hafez, Iqraa and Al-Majd. There is also a large volume of Saudi and Gulf channels that promote the same ideology.
Meanwhile, there is the FJP newspaper, Salafist party mouthpieces, and many famous websites such as Islam Online and others, as well as Islamist blogs. Finally, there is also an army of official spokesmen in the name of the party, MB and group.
Then, just as in the past, the problem is not who the media message reaches and is naïve enough to be brainwashed by biased coverage. The real problem is the message and its verity, and the source which happens this time not to be the defunct NDP but the groups and parties of political Islam that are found everywhere. In all truth, general channels are more objective and unbiased then the “Islamist” media.
The former are always keen on including an MB or Salafist representative in discussions, but this is hardly ever true on any of the “Islamist” channels where the other perspective does not exist most of the time.
The real dilemma in Islamist media begins with form. Salafist groups do not understand the difference between “tiny street corners,” mosques and television channels, while MBs talk as if they memorised the official viewpoint and therefore their delivery is flat, without truth or credibility.
And in the end, they all insist on constantly propagating three lies.
First, that Islamist forces are a sweeping majority – but this was completely disproven by the results of the presidential elections, and what has happened in the country over the past few weeks. At best, the country is divided down the middle.
Second, the conflict is between secularists and Muslims – but this is a lie refuted by all Egyptians – including Christians – who agree to Article 2 [regarding the position of Islamic Sharia law].
Third, it is a dispute between those who reject ballot boxes and election results and those who won the elections, but this is another lie.
The “National Front” that supported Morsi – and was the reason he won – is now protesting that he did not fulfil his promises and gave himself absolute powers in the constitutional declaration. They also oppose the process and substance of the draft constitution.
These are all issues of politics, democracy or clear dictatorship. Their lies do not convince anyone.