'Egypt in the Information
Age' Debated at Cairo Festival
The annual International
Cairo Radio and Television Festival, held this year July 11-15, is designed
to give people in all areas of the communication industry an opportunity to be
brought up-to-date on the latest broadcasting equipment and technology. It also
allows exhibitors and traders to meet colleagues and to enter various competitions
that are held during the festival. The event is a forum for media professionals
to meet and exchange ideas and information with colleagues.
During the festival, a
series of panel discussions, spanning both technical and theoretical aspects of
television and broadcast media, were held. The object of these sessions was to
bring the decision-makers of the industry into closer proximity with media professionals
and to provide a forum for concerns.
Two such panels discussions
covering theoretical issues were held in the Cairo International Conference Center:
"The Impact of the Media Free Zone and Private Media on Arab Media" and "Internet
and Television: Integration and Competition."
The first panel took a
look at Arab media, its origins, and its development. Particular emphasis was
placed on Egypt's evolution into the new information age, with attention being
drawn to its migration from state-run media to privately owned media stations.
Also discussed in detail were the construction of Egyptian Media Production City
in Sixth of October City and the establishment of the Media Free Zone. Both these
entities demonstrate Egypt's bid to maintain its formerly undisputed supremacy
in the Arab media.
Each of the four panelists
brought a considerable store of information, and between them presented a comprehensive
picture of Arab media, past, present, and possible future. The panel was moderated
by the Head of the Nilesat Thematic Channels, Hassan Hamed.
Rahman Hafez, head of the festival and chairman of the Egyptian Radio and
Television Union (ERTU), spoke in place of Egyptian Minister of Information Safwat
al-Sherif, who was originally scheduled to participate in this panel discussion.
Hafez provided a thorough and statistical illustration of Media Production City.
He said that from the start, Arab broadcast media has always been state-owned
and run and, consequently, is a steadfast expounder of government stances and
opinions. The introduction of satellite channels in the 1990s, he said, introduced
new opinions into Arab media that do not necessarily conform with official government
stances, and competition from these private channels has led to more open media.
Work on Egypt's Nilesat
101 project started in 1987, with a footprint covering half of Europe. Other Arabic
channels began broadcasting via Nilesat, leading eventually to the need for Nilesat
102. Media Production City was built to serve the needs of Nilesat 101 and Nilesat
102, and also includes 29 studios facilitating channels spanning the Arab world
and beyond. Hafez added that if a station wished to broadcast through other means
than the Media Free Zone, such as the Egyptian TV zone, they were able to do so.
(Since the festival, though, a law has been passed stating that broadcast transmission
can only occur via the Media Free Zone.)
Emad ad-Deeb, editor-in-chief
of Al-Alam al-Youm newspaper and Orbit talk show host, talked about the information
revolution and its interactive nature. He stressed the integration of this new
information system into our everyday lives and businesses. Competing in this age,
he said, is impossible without embracing new technologies. Using mobile commerce,
telephones, PCs, and IT technology in general to illustrate his point, he stressed
the urgency for Egypt to modernize its broadcast media and bring itself up to
par in information technology and communication applications. It's important for
a new enterprise to establish whether a market exists, and if so, the size of
the market share, Ad-Deeb said, but very few feasibility studies are done when
new business ventures are pursued in Egypt. The next step is figuring out how
to make money. If a channel is not encoded, then revenue is generated through
advertising; if encoded, revenue is generated through subscriptions and advertisements.
Ad-Deeb also discussed
the difference between terrestrial channels and satellite channels. Terrestrial
viewing in Ramadan can exceed 45 million viewers. Satellite channel viewing in
this same time, on an optimum day, would never exceed two million. Egypt, ad-Deeb
said, accounts for approximately 40 percent of the revenue generated through media
channels in the region, the bulk of which is attributed to terrestrial channels.
The Middle East has a "double standard censorship policy" whereby governments
are rigid regarding terrestrial channels, but vague and permissive with satellite
channels, said ad-Deeb. The secret to maintaining a successful satellite channel,
he said, is being IT friendly and able to transmit regularly, regardless of external
Naif Korayem, head of
Communication Group and CEO of al-Manar Satellite Channel, painted a bleak picture
of Arab media, saying that from the start Arab media has been the mouthpiece of
governments. The national channels never worked in tandem with those of other
Arab countries but individually, and more often than not counterproductively to
one another. He argued that since there has never been a unified image of Arabs
in Arab media, how could the West possibly have a positive image of the region?
In 1977 the Arab League drew up an agenda for Arab media, aimed at promoting a
positive Arab image, propagating the Palestinian issue, and nurturing a comprehensive
pan-Arab understanding of world development. They were unable to accomplish this,
and consequently, said Korayem, the Arabs never projected a sympathetic self-image
to the West.
One positive, though,
is that this laid the groundwork for competition and differing political standpoints
in the new Arab satellite channels. Korayem expressed his hope that new Arab media
can project an appropriate, positive and competitive Arab image, and that they
can be on par with the "Zionist cause" technically, and with the West intellectually.
In order for new media zones to succeed, he said, appropriate legal and policy
frameworks are essential. The Jordanian and Lebanese frameworks were built purely
on economic models; Lebanon's policy, Korayem said, was such that it better facilitated
foreign investment rather than local development incentives. Korayem argued that
Arab media have tended to concentrate more on entertainment than on intellectual
pursuits, and that often there are ulterior motives behind the financial backing
of a channel. While calling for more political freedom, he emphasized the need
to protect Arab values and morals.
The final speaker of this
panel was Farouk Abou Zeid, dean of the faculty of communication at Cairo University,
who stressed that it is impossible to have a media free zone without a free media.
For Egypt's Media Free Zone to succeed and flourish, he said, it has to serve
a large number of satellite channels and stations that choose to broadcast out
of Egypt. The interests, diversity, and number of channels broadcasting via the
Media Free Zone would lead to media freedom. continued
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