The angry public response to recent comments made on TV, which were deemed offensive to people of Upper Egypt—the southern part of Egypt—was to be expected. The comments were made by TV presenter Tamer Amin during his talk show on the independent satellite channel al-Nahar TV. The incident did not surprise me, not because I in any way underrate Mr Amin’s shocking gaffe or the affront it carried, but because I see it as one on a long list of similar shocking violations and slipups made by presenters of so called “talk shows”. In fact, the many talk shows that have become notorious for improvised spontaneous talk invariably leave me perplexed, wondering about the role of the production team and the director of the show vis-à-vis the presenter’s unruly behaviour, violations, and lack of discipline. Such unchecked behaviour was unheard of during the golden age of Egyptian National TV, nor among renowned international presenters. Personally, I never encountered it whenever I was hosted on talk shows on satellite channels, but that was before 2017; after that I took a personal decision to refrain from participating in talk shows on television.
Every time I was hosted by a talk show for some 20 years between 1997 and 2017, I witnessed firsthand that decent respectable measures were strictly and professionally in place. I observed the huge effort put in by the production teams assigned with planning and timing the show segments, and preparing their content. The work involved drafting that content, be it news, reports, investigative material, or interviews. This was done in coordination with the directing team. A script was written for the presenter to follow; and the production team would discuss with the show’s guests the nature of their contribution to the topic they were being hosted to talk about. One can only imagine the size of the scripted papers this process generated; the presenter would hold a copy as he or she sat in front of the camera, while the production and directing personnel each held a copy behind the scenes to follow up. The presenter was always expected to respect the script, which represented the full product to be presented to viewers, without changes or improvisation. It always drew my attention while I was being prepped by the production team prior to filming, that in addition to clipping small microphones to my clothes and to the presenter’s, the presenter would get an earpiece to be able to receive instructions and remarks from the control room during filming or live broadcasting so that the show would come out exactly as planned.
I have had the honour of meeting fine talk show presenters, Egyptian and non-Egyptian alike, and I have seen how seriously they studied their scripts, and how they reviewed it prior to broadcasting. They were always keen to abide by it, confident in their experience and in the communication link with the production and directing teams. Never over these two decades have I seen any of the presenters who hosted me on Egyptian or non-Egyptian satellite channels go off script, or attempt to show off his or her own special skills or personal opinion, and never did any of them belittle or affront a guest. All these prominent presenters would masterfully carry out the show as planned, and capably manage the interview without overwhelming the guest. Do you know why? Because the strange, regretful measures of today had not yet found their way to media performance. These new measures which came under the prerogative of “freedom” freed presenters of fetters one and all; presenters could freely and repeatedly interrupt their guests, impose their opinions, and volunteer personal views to the point of differing with the opinion of experts among the show’s guests. Such measures were left to fester and exacerbate without any attempt to curb them. Not to mention other nuisances during the show, major among which is the domination of advertisements over the show’s content. But this is another issue that should be looked into another time. Originally, the rule was that the advertisement segments intercepted different segments of the show, but today, under the pretext of “modernity”, advertisements freely encroach on the time of the show without any respect to viewers.
Let me repeat that Mr Amin’s gaffe that spurred the anger of the public, columnists and the media, is not a lone incident. It is true that the Supreme Council for Media Regulations (SCMR) dealt with his affront, and immediately called him out for questioning. He was suspended for two months, a penalty was imposed on the satellite channel which hosted his talk show, and the entire issue was referred to the public prosecutor. With all due respect to the action taken by SCMR vis-à-vis this particular violation, there is an urgent need to set standards for satellite channels and talk shows, and to place rules that would ensure discipline, oversight, and accountability. Unfortunately, talk show tycoons behave as if the satellite channels that air their shows have handed them private “boutiques” where they can do whatever they please. I hope the SCMR would revive the time-honoured roles of production, directing, and discipline, and quell the haughtiness and supremacy practised by many talk show presenters.
5 March 2021