CAIRO: Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) hosted a round table discussion on Wednesday morning in Dokki, Giza, entitled “Egyptian Media after June 30,” that found media practices in Egypt after June 30 “unprofessional, dependent and unethical.”
The discussion, attended by several high profile media figures that shared their perspectives on the extent of professionalism in the current media landscape, was chaired by journalist and former senior advisor to the president Ayman el-Sayad.
“Has the media completely lost its credibility? It seems that every niche of the public has its own shaped media content,” Sayad stated.
Since the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi, the state closed down all Muslim Brotherhood affiliated channels. A new trend emerged in the media, as all satellite TV channels seemed to agree on a unified political message.
The main point of discussion revolved around the professional and ethical standards applied in the media profession and how this determines the role of the media, especially in the critical phase after June 30, during which all media channels were highly influential in shaping public opinion.
Sayad admitted that the media practices witnessed nowadays fall far from academic teachings in faculties, which has not even become the basis for media work. “People who work in the business are selected according to their familial affiliations and the extent of their power in the society, whether they are sons of politicians, famous media figures and so son,” Sayad explained.
Ignoring their educational background or merit, Sayad believes that at the end it all comes down to establishing “an agenda, clearly visible on different TV channels,” which naturally does not reflect any professionalism or ethical standards of journalism.
One particular example that he pointed to was a tendency by some channels to broadcast “leaked videos and recordings” in which all parties were exchanging accusations. Some journalists based entire programs on leaked recordings to serve an unknown agenda, such as Bawaba News editor-in-chief Abdul Reheem Amr’s program “The Black Box.”
The National Council for Human Rights had previously filed a lawsuit to Attorney General Hisham Barakat, against the broadcasting of leaked recordings, condemning “spying on private lives, especially without judicial order.”
“Nobody knows the sources of such recordings, but the journalist present them to the audience as the ultimate truth, without involving the person whose recording are being leaked, with no opposite opinion, taking it to a personal level with absolutely zero professionalism,” Sayad added.
Journalists have repeatedly suggested and called for the establishment of a Charter of Honor for media practionners, but doubt its effectiveness, mainly because the media is not an actual independent body. Channels, newspapers and news websites are owned by businessmen. The state also plays a major role.
Emad Hussein, the editor-in-chief of Al-Shorouq newspaper, explained that private ownership is a source of trouble sometimes. “It definitely affects the editorial policies, but then again to which extent?”
A month ago, a major problem occurred at the newspaper between Hussein and journalist Belal Fadl, over banning the latter’s article from being published, which was believed to be a direct interference from the owners of the newspaper.
Most journalists believe that media is always being used to serve one party’s motives and even if the political situation stabilizes, the media will still suffer such ethical violations.
Khaled al-Balshy, editor-in-chief of Al-Wady News, admitted that the owner has direct and powerful control of editorial policy. “If we’re seeking variety of content and opinion in media, we should start by having variety of ownership. Considering their jobs, journalists are the people who have the closest insights of what’s happening in the streets, they should be allowed and encouraged to own their business,” Balshy explained.
Despite being an independent institution, the Press Syndicate is partially funded by the state, which makes it partially dependent, according to journalist Yasser Abdul Aziz. Journalists pointed several times during the conference to the need of involving the audience in the process of improving the media system, such as establishing civil organizations in charge of monitoring media performance.
Nonetheless, the problem has a wider perspective and is not limited to suggesting solutions within conferences or discussions among media figures.
Abeer al-Saadi, member of the syndicate, pointed to the problem of the media institution as a whole, saying: “Journalists work in tough conditions starting from the company they work for, which is led by the businessmen who fund it, in addition to the absence of guarantees or protection for them, and arbitrary firing.”
According to Mohamed Galal, researcher at the CIHRS, “this kind of conferences where high profile media figures gather should be about presenting real and practical solutions, not showcasing the issue, in addition to that a real social dialogue should occur involving the audience.
“I’m afraid that media figures will reach a point where they’re only talking to themselves, on second thought … they’re already there,” said Sayad.