The media lost another battle during the war in Sinai, when everyone raced for information in light of the military’s maintenance of their usual policy at such times. The military was only ready to feed the Egyptian and foreign media false information. The media fell into the trap so easily, without even citing the source of information so that the audience can investigate the news.
This was not the only time that the media caused confusion amongst the people, deluding many to think that Sinai is under the control of the terrorism hiding in the cloak of political Islam. What helped this was the delay in information from the military, and not having enough information.
The Egyptian military was also not ready to manage their own media, and perhaps it wasn’t their policy to heavily pump information during such events. It may be for reasons related to security. However, I believe that, after the experience, the military has to develop its performance concerning information to the different media. This way, everyone would get in touch with the updates of what’s happening at once, whilst keeping the most sensitive information which would alert the other side with information they shouldn’t know.
In fact, away from all of this and the bad media policies, the Egyptian media has been in decline for four years, professionally and morally. Many entities gave up their professional ethics and followed the wave of “these are the audience’s demands” during technological openness. Media institutions now work hard to follow two targets: the first is the scoop, which has been absent for the past four years, and the second is fulfilling the needs of the audience with “porno” news and sinking in the details, within a feverish race to get a higher ranking and the likes.
The truth is that the behaviour of the Egyptian media in these recent years cost it so much credibility compared to 10 years ago, especially after businessmen-owned independent media showed up. These media work as per ethical and professional determinants which gained credibility and the trust of the reader. This led government-owned media to take a different path so that they do not lose the trust and interest of the readers.
This, of course, applies to television as well as websites and print newspapers. This was a reason for many people to watch comedy and entertainment channels instead.
However, this should not by any means be dealt with using the force used with the media through the terrorism law which will be issued soon. This law is a threat to journalists, in which they would go to jail if they were to violate the constitution or the laws en force.
This brings us back to 1996, when the regime wanted to tie the hands of journalism with laws. Since then, the relationship between releasing workers in the journalism profession from prison and the state has become the most important.
Every time a conflict arises between the two parties, the state re-attempts to put restrictions on journalists just as is currently occurring. Unfortunately, many try to push the law to be issued, which will bring us back to a state controlling all journalists’ abilities.
I have a feeling that what happens with the media now has been planned for some time. We all know that the Egyptian media has made unintentional mistakes, but the escalation was much more than the mistakes each time. It is as if the state was anticipating any mistake to take the chance to issue more restricting laws.
The matter is more complicated than this, and the two parties need to reconsider the way they deal with the changes and updates. This would happen on condition that the state provides information and the media stay unbiased. However, what happened in the media coverage during the Sinai incidents is not worth all these attacks, especially that the state is more responsible than anyone for the mistakes of the media during the last four years, not just the latest coverage.
Despite all of this, we have to admit that the Egyptian streets are in dire need of new information channels that would regain their trust in neutral and unbiased news, where the new generation would seek information.
Workers in the profession also need to reconsider what they promote, and the method in receiving and broadcasting information. They also need to be re-qualified and to feel independent, to be able to re-gain the bases of “independent journalism”, and so that we go back to separating capital from the editorial departments, which are now more combined than the government and its newspapers.
The state has also to follow a new method in pumping information to the media, without differentiation or lack of information, which would lead to publishing extra information that would be false or manipulating workers’ abilities. The information should lead to trust between the media and the state, which will consequently have a positive effect on the citizen’s trust.
I do realise that what I am asking is too dreamy, but I also know that we have youth in the media who are able, if given the chance, to be the tool for positive change amongst the media parties. This youth are especially capable, because they have unlimited abilities which could be the cornerstone for a new era for the Egyptian media.
In the two visits to Germany when we accompanied the presidential delegation and during the Global Media Forum organised by Deutsche Welle, the Egyptian media delegations were strongly accused of being biased to the state, whether right or wrong.
Independent newspapers were also accused of following the state to defend the regime and the people who follow it. Accusations were pointed out to businessmen who own these institutions and that they had an ambitious and professional plan to turn these newspapers and channels into a power in favour of their own interests. They do this without considerations of the responsibility and ethics of the profession for their readers who find themselves victims of deception.
The truth is, despite attempts for defending the profession, many of these accusations are true. Since the rise of the 25 January Revolution and the polarisation between the conflicting parties in ruling the country, things have not changed. As for the pro-Al-Sisi media and the businessmen supporting him, they have worked extremely hard to distract the people from any failure they made, using minor or sub-issues. They would also make a strategic attack to calm the streets.
The anti-Al-Sisi media, on the other hand, mostly works outside Egypt, but they have eyes on the inside and pick up on everyone. They have strategies to pull down the whole regime and disrupt the credibility of its supporters. They have largely succeeded, especially with the repeated failures and the lack of a radical change in the state’s performance, in many projects like the administrative capital and the one million units, among others. There are many examples that clearly say that the state has failed, which gave the other party a chance to doubt the regime’s performance and its ability to develop the state.
This issue needs everyone to take a step backward and determine the losses we bore in favour of satisfying the authority. We need the media to be unbiased and credible again, and to maintain the distance from the authorities of whatever form, in order to stop the bloodshed in the media.
Emad El-Sayed, Egyptian journalist