Problems on hold
Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting, concluded last Tuesday, and it was Happy Eid Fitr for all Egyptians.
Now that Ramadan is over, Egypt’s media is back to normal. It has become customary for Egyptian audio and visual media to replace a large portion of usual programmes with content that caters to Ramadan times; given the long evening hours between iftar, the sunset meal that breaks the fast, and sohour, the predawn meal after which the fast starts. During these hours, viewers and listeners have the leisure to sit glued to their TV screens or media outlets. Producers spend millions of pounds to come up with shows to air during the holy month; these include entertainment, drama series, talk shows, children programmes, and others. The shows break unannounced into homes, at the click of a button, regardless of the content they carry. And why not? Do not current norms allow for anything and everything to be aired, under the pretext that monitoring or censorship is detrimental to freedom of thought, creativity, or expression?
I am no regular viewer of Ramadan shows, neither am I a seasoned critic, so I am in no position to assess any of the Ramadan works. But I do have a few observations which I cite here.
Before Ramadan began, numerous promotions were aired for shows to expect. I own that I was stunned at the language prevalent in these promos; it was at best shocking and vulgar, if not veritably insulting. As to the talk show promotions, they featured guests whom the channels claimed to be the know-all, but dialogue descended to the lowest levels of disrespect and derogation that might very well qualify for abuse and libel. In many cases, the dialogue itself turned into dispute, with tempers running unchecked replete with the most unacceptable verbal abuse. I believe such derogatory language ought never be hurled into homes without prior agreement of well-informed receivers.
The promotions which I found terrifying were aired again and again. It was as though the show producers and the channels that aired them were highly proud of their content. I could not help wondering if there were any monitoring or censorship apparatuses that saw what I saw and found so shocking. Did any of them do their job in scrutinising these shows, then agreed to air them to millions of viewers? Were the promos that unashamedly and unreservedly advertised that shocking content intended to prove that no censorship is imposed on free expression or creativity in Egypt? I could not help an inward cry that deplored the vulgarity and degradation we introduce to the children and young persons who might be sitting before the screens. What deplorable ethical standard or role models were we placing before our children? It gave me a bitter heartache to contemplate what the future of Egypt would look like based on the content I saw.
Twenty days into Ramadan, when the damage done by the disparaging TV content had become almost insupportable, the Supreme Council for Media Regulation decided to discontinue Basma Wahby’s Sheikh al-Hara on al-Qahira wal-Nass channel, on a recommendation by the Council’s complaints committee. Too bad the Council did not do its duty in scrutinising the show beforehand and banning it, instead of moving after the damage was done. More amazing than the overly tardy decision by the Council was a decision by the Syndicate of Media Persons to suspend Ms Wahby on account of her violation of media professional norms and the media code of ethical conduct. Worse, the Syndicate said that Ms Wahby had breached the law because she had exercised media activity despite her not being a member of the Syndicate, and without obtaining a permit to do so.
So it appears that no one knew anything! As though everyone concerned was amazed at the breach of law, breakdown of discipline, and scandalous behaviour only when this had been going on for a full twenty days! To say nothing of the many promotions that had been aired even before that. Is this what monitoring or censorship all about?
The above was but an example of what has come to be known as “Ramadan works”. However, it now appears we are in dire need for a mechanism to scrutinise, monitor, assess, and pass what is to be screened on TV, since it ends up unannounced in our living rooms.
9 June 2019