In March 2011, the conference on Rebuilding Egyptian Media for a Democratic Future took place in Cairo under the auspices of Professor Emad Abou Ghazi, Egypt’s Minister of Culture, and the chairmanship of Dr Basyouni Hamada, Professor of Communication and Public Opinion at Cairo University and Dr Naomi Sakr, Professor of Media Policy at the University of Westminster, UK.
The conference was attended by 59 media, communication and law scholars and professionals from Egypt and 15 other countries (Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, India, Jordan, Lithuania, Palestine, Romania, Serbia, South Africa, USA, UK), as well as groups of Egyptian university students – who were addressed by 30 speakers representing 19 institutions, including universities, broadcasters, media production companies, NGOs and one intergovernmental body (UNESCO).
The agenda took the form of eight debates, the last of which produced a collective closing statement. Of the other seven sessions, some sought to extract lessons learned from previous democratization processes or to identify universal challenges of establishing and sustaining democratic media. Others focused specifically on the Egyptian context, including how to create an enabling environment for media democratization and ways of democratizing state-owned media.
Here, on SlideShare, are some of the panelists’ presentations, and you’ll find all the conference papers, reports and participant lists here. After the jump you’ll find more information about specific papers presented at the conference, and the text of the closing statement.
Steven Barnett‘s paper develops the idea that a successful public service broadcasting environment should have four main objectives: to be long-lasting rather than ephemeral; to be deep-rooted within the cultural and democratic psyche of the nation; to be resistant to political forces which (for whatever reason) might seek to undermine it; and to be resistant to commercial competitors who will seek to marginalise it and minimise its impact.
Maria Michalis‘ paper examines the public interest in relation to telecommunications and internet. It aims to establish the importance of these two sectors and show the interdependency of three elements: access to the physical infrastructure, access to content, and skills. The paper first sets out the ideal scenario and then explains why telecommunications and the internet matter. It moves on to define the public interest in telecommunications and the internet, and goes on to touch on some important issues like investment and universal service. It ends with a summary of the main points.
The lack of a credible and verifiable audience measurement system for television in Egypt has hindered the development of television, said Ali Belail. It has stunted the growth of the essential components of a healthy television environment: the channels which remain essentially one hit (peak time) wonders, the producers- the bulk of which remain on the peripheries of the mainstream unable to break into it and of course the audience who under the existing audience measurement system remain an enigma. The establishment of a universally utilized audience measurement system is an essential step that will be a catalyst for the evolution of the Egyptian television industry. It will bring into focus the weaknesses and flaws in the existing model and open the way for innovative solutions that are contemporary and indigenous.
Steve Buckley‘s paper touched upon pluralism and independence in broadcasting, highlighting legal and constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression and freedom of the media necessary for this to happen. In his own words “it includes an independent regulatory body responsible for the award and regulation of broadcast licensees; a three tier system of broadcasting: a/government controlled state broadcasting is reformed to become a public service with editorial independence, b/ private commercial broadcasting is able to operate in conditions of fair competition without excessive concentration of ownership and c/ civil society organisations are able to establish and operate community broadcasting services on a not-for-profit basis.” Buckley analyzes this theoretical framework in the context of the different global realities.
Dr. Ramy Aly‘s paper noted that in spite of the ostensible media liberalization that Egypt has undergone in the last decade, television broadcasting in Egypt remains subject to the stranglehold of the State on the one hand and co-opted religious and commercial elites on the other. The freedom to interrogate and challenge established genres and modes of representing gender, age, geography, piety, class, respectability and nationalism have been vigorously policed and regulated in Egypt in the past. However, he states, the revolution poses a number of questions about the Egyptian State’s institutional and legislative future which in turn lead to questions about the relationship between broader cultural conditions and the process of reconstituting the State in the aftermath of a revolutionary moment.
On the same topic, Savyasaachi Jain presented Fulfilling the Mandate: Guiding the Transition from State Broadcaster to Public Service Broadcaster, lessons from the Asia-Pacific region for Egypt on the efforts to transform the State broadcaster in a public service media institution.
Elizabeth Smith, Chair of the Commonwealth Media Group, offered a road map for transforming State broadcasting into public service broadcasting on her paper. What is need, she stated, is a new Plan, drawn up in Egypt, by Egyptians, setting out the stages to go through, with a time-chart for implementation:
- The first requirement is to define a new regulatory framework for broadcasting
- The second is to define the objectives for Public Service Broadcasting content
- The third is to define a governance framework which can deliver these objectives.
- The fourth requirement is to define the income sources for PSB content
- The fifth requirement is to set up widespread consultations about the draft Plan to ensure the widest possible support.
Mihai Coman‘s paper touches upon media transition in post-totalitarian countries. After the fall of communism, the media landscape in these countries has been decentralized: during this period the local publications, radios and televisions and those specialized had developed and won more and more audiences. Printed press, but especially audiovisual, constituted a privileged area for foreign investors, which lead to improvements of the technical presentation and quality of the information, making them more attractive. The lack of interest in raising professional standards is these countries is reflected in low membership of professional or owners‟ associations, the traditional bodies for debating ethics and self-regulation. Stiff competition has, presumably, hindered cooperation between the largest players and has prevented their identifying and fighting together for their common interests. Many journalists work without contracts, while those who have them are not protected by legal provisions such as the conscience clause; Codes of Ethics are rarely assumed or enforced, and internal self-control bodies do not function. Under these conditions, those who work in the press find themselves in a situation characterized by ambivalence: they share a prestigious status, but also an ingrate one; as representatives of the press they have a certain social prestige, but also are targets for pressures from the political field.
In Jane Duncan‘s paper, she examines how South Africa’s negotiated ‘miracle’ transition, which undoubtedly saved the country from bloody civil war, has provided a framework for media transformation that has both opened up spaces for media democratization, while constraining their ability to transform to the extent where they established common public spaces for deliberative debate. South Africa’s media transformation, premised as it is largely on the commercial media model with limited public service top-up, has shaped and been shaped by the growing division of South Africa into a two-tier society of ‘haves’, and ‘have-nots’, fueling social instability, especially among the youth. While broadcasting has transformed much more than the print media, owing to the fact that it is state-regulated, the initial promise of the public service broadcaster’s transformation has yet to be realized, with a reversion to elements of state broadcasting becoming apparent. The print media have, for various reasons, become the haven for independent, critical, investigative reporting, but are now under attack from the ruling African National Congress (ANC). Media diversity remains limited, owing to inadequate legislative and policy interventions, and the print media remain highly concentrated, and largely white owned. This presentation will trace the roots of this troubling picture back to the nature of South Africa’s transition, which fell far short of being a social revolution, making elements of the democratic revolution that were won vulnerable to reversal.
The conference closing statement emphasised the imperative of building a legal and regulatory environment that supports free and independent media:
There was broad agreement among conference participants, who included academics and practitioners in media, journalism and law in Egypt and beyond, that an enabling legal and regulatory environment should be created so that the media can serve the public and speak the truth. In the present urgent situation in Egypt conference participants see the need for fundamental change in order to protect the values and gains of the 25th January Revolution.
They see a need to encourage the emergence of free media which are based on international standards and principles of free expression, diversity, inclusiveness, transparency and public accountability. By diversity they mean diversity of ownership (public, commercial, community and other) as well as diversity of content and representation. Media structures should be subject to independent regulation or self-regulation.
There is an urgent need to provide, with immediate effect, fair, balanced and impartial representation of all political actors in the run-up to the coming parliamentary elections.
Egyptian media academics intend to disseminate a summary of conference contributions by May 15th, 2011, and offer their services as a resource and advisory board for practitioners and policy makers for the rebuilding of Egyptian media for a democratic future.
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