Problems on hold
It looks like news presenters and talk show anchors or anchoresses on Egyptian satellite channels are in competition among themselves on who displays the weirdest behaviour on air. Not a week passes without viewers exchanging sarcastic remarks about odd situations by presenters or anchors of political, social, cultural or sports TV shows. It has become customary for many of the presenters to forego the facts and express their private views, sometimes with such fervour that they lose composure or even slip into foul language. Now and again talk show anchors would usurp the largest share of the talk and insist on interrupting their guests and enforcing their own views, a move which—predictably—irritates viewers. More often than not the guests, provoked by the anchor’s behaviour, would get angry and protest against their curtailed right to express their views. We have seen incidents where the guests would walk out of the show in protest, or even more scandalous, the TV anchor would ask his guest to leave the show. All this is unashamedly aired live, leaving the worst impression of media performance, freedom of expression and respect of difference.
All this is not standard practice. We do not come across such violations on foreign satellite channels of good repute, the likes of which we must follow as role models. We never witnessed such abominable practices throughout the first 30 decades of TV in Egypt (1960 – 1990) when channels were few in number and competition for viewership was not too harsh. We still remember in awe and appreciation the generation of pioneer anchors who, through the screen, found their way into our homes and carved for themselves niches in our minds and hearts.
I believe we are living in an era of media chaos that is at times justified by claims of freedom of expression, the viewer’s right to know, or simply by being ‘sensational’. Sometimes the chaotic practices are no violations at all; they are planned and included among the policies of the satellite channels. Worse, however, are the absence of show planning and lack of any script to guide the anchor through the sequence and contents of the different parts of the show. This leaves wide space for the anchor to freely improvise on air without any constraints.
Some media persons exploit adequately the freedom they are granted, but many other unruly ones act as though they believe their competence and charm alone are sufficient to carry the show. They think they have the right to impose their own performance even if this is incompatible with the fundamentals of fine, honourable media. Among the curious practices these anchors have invented is to address the behind-the-scenes crew while on air, under the eyes and ears of the viewers. I never spotted anything of the sort on top ranking TV channels where a professional rapport links the anchor with the crew behind the scenes, and the anchor receives instructions through an earpiece. Yet it looks like our satellite channel anchors are above instructions; they consider the crew is there only to do their bidding. They even believe that this appeals to viewers.
If we are seeking about a cultural revolution that would unchain the Egyptian mind, we must realise that freedom does not mean setting the mind loose and instating chaos, with no professional or ethical constraints. The mainstays of unchained mind are education, culture and the media, all of which in Egypt need hard work to reform. Satellite TV being a major media outlet, ‘boutique channels’ ought to be brought to line.
6 September 2015