Egypt's state news television building Maspero (Photo: Al-Ahram)
The Egyptian parliament's media, culture and antiquities committee held a hearing session Sunday to review efforts being exerted to rid the country's Television and Radio Union -- known as "Maspero" -- of massive debts.
Minister of Planning Hala El-Said told MPs that Maspero's debts have skyrocketed to EGP 32 billion and that the time has come for the government to settle these debts.
"In coordination with the National Investment Bank, we have devised a three-year plan that is based on financial and institutional reform," El-Said said.
"The plan emulates the experiences of other countries which succeeded in improving the performance of their official television and radio channels, such as England and the United Arab Emirates."
El-Said said much of the land and property assets owned by Maspero will be sold to repay part of its debts.
"We are also negotiating with private sector partners to help in upgrading Maspero's performance in both form and content, injecting money and turning it into a self-sufficient institution," El-Said said.
However, the financial reform of Maspero does not mean ridding it of redundant employees, the minister added.
"We will set up a fund to ensure that all employees get their due retirement and pension rights," she said.
Amgad Baligh, Secretary-General of the National Media Authority (NMA), which oversees state-owned audio-visual media, radio, and digital media institutions, said the reform plan began this week by launching "Channel One" in a new form.
"We aim to make it the number-one news channel in Egypt," Baligh said, noting that "work is also under way to upgrade the Egyptian Satellite Channel and the Nile News Channel."
"We hope that we will be able at the end to bring Egyptian viewers back to their national television channels," Baligh said.
Head of the Media, Culture and Antiquities Committee Osama Heikal said "the reform of Maspero" should be a matter of national security.
"Egypt is facing media attacks from everywhere and now it is high time for Maspero to be at the forefront, defending Egypt's interests and creating a kind of consensus on national issues," Heikal said.
Lamees Gaber, an appointed MP and a writer, argued that "reform efforts will never be enough to save Maspero of its problems."
"It is not just a matter of financial debts, but it is primarily a matter of content and openness," Gaber said, arguing that "private television channels have left Maspero dying and that privatization could be the ultimate panacea for Maspero's chronic diseases."