A media code of ethics is not enough
Mohamed Shuman, Tuesday 23 Jul 2013
The media in Egypt neither created the crisis nor the polarisation of society, but improving the current media environment is more urgent than a media code of ethics

In his last speech, deposed president Mohammed Morsi suggested issuing a media code of ethics, and what an irony it also appeared in the army's statement, despite the difference in perspective and context and despite its incoherence and illogicality. The media, as some claim, was not a factor in the speedy and tragic collapse of Morsi and his group. On the other hand, a media code of ethics is not the solution to the present state of polarisation in society. We have a media that transmitted the failure of Morsi and his group to the general public, on the other hand, there is a media that praises imaginary achievements. In both cases, there are exaggerations and infringements whether in the way of transmitting or fabricating events and achievements.

A number of reports recorded a deterioration in the levels of media freedoms and its professionalism, an increase in politicising news content, influence of businessmen and advertising agencies, to the extent that it became difficult to have access to neutral, unbiased, fair and balanced information in most of what our media presents, even the Arab media covering Egyptian matters. Whatever the manifestations and reasons for the deficiencies in our media and whatever the results are, media is and will be a subsequent element to the political crises and division which hit the nation since January 2011, which were augmented during the Muslim Brotherhood's reign.

Moreover, the media's influence will be on a minimal scale and relative in relation to the crisis and problems of the economy, frailty of the State, absence of security, collapse of basic services and increase in citizens' suffering. Consequently, I believe that conducting political and economic reforms is more urgent than reforming the media. This does not mean to be silent towards infringements and problems of our media. My intention is putting the media in its right place according to the priorities and preoccupations of the nation, and not to place the burden of Morsi and his group's failure on its shoulders, nor to endow on the media the honour of playing the main part in the second wave of the revolution, which I wish will succeed in the aspect of changing the regime and achieving social justice.

There is no need to treat the media in the next stage through Mubarak's and Morsi's vision towards the media, namely as the wizard who creates and transforms realities on the ground and is able to manipulate the hearts and minds of the public, thus can be blamed for every crisis or failure that befalls the regime. What is really strange about this way of thinking is that it abandons its formal logic and attributes any achievement to the regime. I wish this way of thinking would be abandoned and the reality of media's role in society and politics should be grasped, respecting the freedoms and rights of media personnel in acquiring information and the free expression of opinion.

In this context, the closed religious channels must be permitted to air once again, the Muslim Brotherhood newspaper must be allowed to be published and not to tighten the noose on the freedom of foreign channels and its reporters because the confiscation and banning contradict the objectives of the 30 June Revolution of freedom of opinion and expression. There is no reason to use double standards, for the freedom of media is for all, in spite of the infringements concerning the usage of such a freedom or committing professional or ethical mistakes at this stage because I see the following:

First: The mistakes and infringements became after more than two years a daily practice in our public and private media and cannot be treated by closure or banning because the technology of communication and new mass media lessen the effect of closure or banning and it turns the afflicted by it into heroes and icons for freedom of opinion and expression.

Second: A media code of ethics cannot be issued or activated in the current media environment with its governing laws and the agencies that supervise its practices.

Third: The beginning should be made by the interim president issuing a law to form a Higher Council for Media, that supervises all the public and private media, its members should be independent experts and includes representatives from the Coptic Church, Al-Azhar, media syndicates and the Egyptian Writers Association.

Fourth: Aiming at cutting expenses and guaranteeing total separation between the government and media, it is necessary to abolish the Ministry of Information, where the Board of Trustees of the Radio and Television Union should supervise the work of public and private channels, the Higher Council of Journalism should supervise national and private newspapers. But this should take place after changing the membership of the two bodies in order to guarantee the representation of the whole spectrum of society, in addition to independent experts who are not party members.

Fifth: The interim president should issue a law that allows the establishment of more than one syndicate for those working in radio and television. There are a number of syndicates under construction which are waiting for a law that permits them to be launched officially. There is no doubt that the appearance of such syndicates will pave the way for conducting dialogues and agreements on a media code of ethics and a binding code of conduct for media personnel and it also provides mechanisms for self accountability and monitoring.

Sixth: Issuing laws that prohibit monopolies by having constraints on the ownership of individuals of means of mass media and guaranteeing transparency concerning the ways of financing means of mass media and its budgets and other laws that determine the proportion of advertisements in relation to the entire broadcasting space or the newspaper pages.

Seventh: Those suggestions can be further developed and the suggestions of the Press Syndicate and media personnel can be adopted at the time of making constitutional modifications. The modifications should include the abolition of imprisonment in crimes of publishing and expression, abolition of newspapers confiscation and channels banning, introducing new clauses that allow citizens to have free internet services with certain bandwidth, establishing the rights of individuals and institutions to launch TV channels, internet sites, blogs and electronic newspapers with notification along the lines of newspapers.