6 February 2011
As events on the Egyptian scene rapidly escalated since Tuesday 25 January, satellite channels seemed out of breath as they rushed to catch up. While independent channels offered coverage that ranged from the objective to the confused, Egyptian national TV appeared not to know anything about the demonstrations. Its Tuesday coverage carried details about demonstrations in Lebanon not Cairo. Until the evening of Friday 28 January when the army went into the streets of Cairo, not much about the events was aired on Egyptian national TV. But since then it began to broadcast citizens’ call for help against the vandalism they were victims of.
Viewers thus naturally browsed through the different channels to get a comprehensive view of what was going on. Al-Jazeera, the BBC, al-Arabiya and al-Hurra were major sources of information, as well as the independent Egyptian channels including al-Hayat, al-Mihwar, Dream, and ON TV. The talk shows on the Egyptian channels were especially interesting. They hosted some of the most prominent analysts as well as public and intellectual figures, who mostly focused on applauding the youthful positive stance which broke the barrier of fear, but warned of the country slipping into anarchy. Most of them supported the call for change and many called on Mubarak to step down.
On Dream Channel’s al-Ashira Massa’an (10 o’clock) the musician Ammar al-Shereei moved viewers when he directed his words to Mubarak, saying: “I know you like me, President. I am Ammar al-Shereei who wrote the music to the song We chose you when you were first elected as president, as well as Give it more freedom and songs to celebrate the 6 October Day throughout some 12 years. It has been 10 years now since I have refrained from writing such music. I now ask you to execute the changes the young people are asking you for.”
Al-Hayat hosted the writer Mahmoud Muslim who listed the errors committed by the Nazif Cabinet which allied itself with the interests of businessmen. For his party, the journalist Mustafa Shardi stressed that the demand for change was not new; it had been repeated again and again by the Egyptian media throughout the last 30 years.
Al-Mihwar’s 48 hours hosted Asmaa’ Mahfouz, the Egyptian young woman who is said to have initiated the call to organise the demonstrations, the Day of wrath. Mahfouz talked about the protests, and the hopes of Egypt’s young men and women. The channel also hosted a number of the demonstrators.
On al-Mihwar, the writer Ma’moun Fandi demanded that President Mubarak should give up his leadership of the National Democratic Party, and remarked that the aspired change should involve the entire ruling value system. Another liberal writer, Nabil Sharafeddin reminded of the Iranian plan for an Islamic Middle East, highlighting that Hamas elements sneaking into Egypt through the Gaza tunnels were responsible for attacking the prisons and letting out the prisoners.
Amid all the turmoil, the al-Jazeera office in Cairo was closed down by the authorities, on the pretext that its biased coverage promoted terror and chaos. The journalist Hany Labib reminded, in a talk on the Egyptian Channel II that al-Jazeera had propagated false news of Egyptian tycoon Naguib Sawiris fleeing Egypt, of power and water outages in Egypt, and of the rape of women in the Cairo suburbs of Maadi and Basateen. All these news had proved erroneous. Mahmoud Muslim, however, drew attention to the fact that Egyptians flocked to view al-Jazeera for the lack of credible coverage on national Egyptian channels.
The BBC offered viewers its legendary balanced, impartial coverage. It was among the first channels to report on pro-Mubarak demonstrations.
Finally, even though it seems superfluous to stress the absence of professional coverage on Egyptian national TV, it has to be pointed out as a serious shortcoming in the national media. It thus came as an unpleasant surprise that the Media Minister in the newly formed Cabinet was no new face, but was the same Anas al-Fiqi. Can this offer any hope for a much-needed media overhaul?